Despite the fact that Borussia Dortmund have only lost one in their last five games, Lucien Favre’s tactics were called into question recently, with an ultimatum of sorts being implied by CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke. After the 4-0 drubbing in Munich, Dortmund looked to rebound against bottom-of-the-table Paderborn but quickly went down three goals to none. Despite the three-goal comeback to tie, Dortmund’s boss has to improve his side if he’d like to keep his job. In order to better understand BVB’s troubles, it becomes important to understand how Dortmund work as a whole through this tactical analysis.
For this scout report, we’ll analyse Favre’s tactical struggles and we’ll start with how Dortmund look to build from the back in order to progress. Through their most recent run of games, they’ve played in a 4-2-3-1, with Weigl and Witsel acting as holding midfielders in front of Shulz, Hummels, Akanji, and Piszczek. In front of the holding midfielders are Hazard, Brandt, and Sancho, with Gotze as the main striker. Dortmund have some flexibility in how they attack. They start at the back to draw the defence out, creating more room for them to play into. At times, this requires them to send a pass over the top if they’re being placed under pressure.
With the two holding midfielders, Dortmund look to support their back four in order to progress forward. They exercise patience in moving the ball around and looking for space to exploit, even if that requires them to move the ball from left to right on the field.
When in possession in their opponents’ half, Dortmund’s priority is to get the ball into the area just outside of the 18-yard box close to the goal line.
Understandably so, the majority of their crosses come from outside the goal area in the attacking third. What’s important to consider is where those chances are coming from, as a majority of their most recent goals have come from closer to the end line.
Against Inter Milan, a quick switch into space allowed the ball to be played in Gotze, who quickly crossed the ball into the middle to Achraf Hakimi, who finished cooly. These are the types of goals that Dortmund looks to create on a consistent basis. A well-timed 1-2 into that exact same space against Inter gave Dortmund their third goal, also scored by Achraf Hakimi.
Dortmund consistently push forward in defence, looking to press in order to win the ball back quickly in the opponents half. While this can be effective, this analysis shows that teams who have been able to break the first line of pressing cause a lot of problems for Dortmund.
Against Bayern, one pass into the centre of the park eliminated six Dortmund players from being able to defend, and both teams were off to the races. Bayern and Paderborn both took advantage of beating the first line of pressing, and they were able to put a total of seven goals past Dortmund. Consistently, both teams also attacked down the left flank, using these tactics to exploit and isolate that side of the field.
Against Paderborn, Dortmund continued to press when their opponent was in possession in their own half. While committing players forward, Dortmund failed to pick up three Paderborn players in the middle of the park, who quickly moved the ball and then again attacked the left side of the field.
In both of these images, both Bayern and Paderborn’s players have entirely too much time on the ball in the centre of the field. This time, paired with the number of players committed forward, causes Dortmund to have to make long recovery runs into their own half.
In the Champions League especially, Dortmund’s most used weapon is Hakimi. He’s averaging a goal for every 90 minutes he plays, which is three times as high as his Bundesliga average. He’s also the teams leading scorer in the Champions League, which should cause for some panic. That being said, his blazing speed makes it incredibly difficult for defenders to slow him down.
Against Inter Milan, he was able to beat his defender with a quick move and find Jadon Sancho who had done well to find himself with space in between the lines of defenders. Sancho quickly plays the ball back to Hakimi into space, where he scores what would be the game-winner in the three-goal comeback.
While he has the ability to play with teammates to get himself into scoring positions, he’s also able to provide them with some incredible assists. Dortmund find themselves using Hakimi’s side a lot more frequently to attack, with 58.9% of their crosses coming from the right-hand side.
He averages twice as many crosses per match as anyone else on the field. While opponents need to respect his ability to cross the ball, meaning they must press him, they also need to be aware that he can run right by them in order to get into a goal-scoring area.
Against Freiberg, Hakimi waited for the defence to collapse on the ball carrier before exploding into space. The defenders panicked, and they sprinted over to press him. Because he was in such a dangerous area and consistently creates goal-scoring opportunities from these spaces, the defenders had no choice but to rush into the tackle. Hakimi cut the ball back, beat his out-of-control defender, and finished off the opportunity into the back of the net.
While Dortmund struggle with counter-attacking, Achraf Hakimi has been the bright spot for the team. Against Slavia Prague, Hakimi received the ball outside of his own 18-yard box. He quickly played it into the centre of the field and took off.
As Brandt receives the ball, Slavia Prague’s defence collapses on him. As they collapse, he lofts a ball forward for Hakimi to run to. Hakimi ran the length of the field with the ball, drifted through the box, and finished the chance to take a 1-0.
Unfortunately, that’s the bulk of BVB’s counter-attacking success. Dortmund play a possession-based style of football, so they tend to veer away from counter-attacking too often. When they do, the counters tend to be slower-paced and often do not end with a shot on target.
Their best counter in recent gameplay came against Wolfsburg. After splitting two defenders, Thorgan Hazard dribbles down the centre of the pitch and plays a quick 1-2 with Julian Brandt. Hazard gets the ball back but struggles to get off a quality shot as the ball actually bounces off of the defender before landing in behind him. Most likely, Dortmund do not spend a lot of time training this, which is why the attacks seem slower and less organised.
In terms of defending counters, Dortmund struggle against pacey attackers, particularly when their centre-backs are exposed. Against Paderborn, two of the goals came from quick counter-attacks, primarily because of the opponent’s speedy attackers.
Off of a corner kick, Dortmund commit eight players forward. As the headed ball came out towards the right, Paderborn was able to quickly play it up the field to Kai Proger, who ran right past Nico Shulz before playing it into Streli Mamba, who finished for a goal.
Later in the half, Dortmund ran into the same problem.
An errant pass found its way to Paderborn’s right-back, Jamilu Collins, who was not pressed immediately. As Collins controls the ball, Gerrit Holtmann breaks up the pitch. He beats Julian Brandt to the ball, and simply runs by him on his way to finishing his team’s third goal in the half.
Dortmund appear to struggle to press as a cohesive unit, which becomes a problem when they commit people forward. A quick turnover that isn’t immediately pressed leaves their slower defenders exposed, which Paderborn took advantage of. The quick fix is to make sure those opponents are being pressed immediately. The best way for Dortmund to do that is to make shorter passes. If they’re looking to build possession, this will allow them to keep the ball more consistently, assuming that these are easier passes to hit. Additionally, if they do turn it over, their players are much closer to the ball, which will allow them to press quickly, preventing teams from being able to take advantage of their pacey players.
Dortmund obviously have a load of talent at their disposal with the likes of Marco Reus, Jadon Sancho, Achraf Hakimi, and others. If Lucien Favre wants to get himself off the hot seat, some defensive cohesion with their pressing will help limit the exposure of their slower backline. While teams will continue to attack that right side of defence, they want to work to have Witsel and Wiegel slow down those transitions and control the midfield a bit more. A more compact press should see them control more of the midfield, and in return, keep goals out of their net.
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