Borussia Dortmund could celebrate a hard-fought “Arbeitssieg” in the Bundesliga on Saturday as they defeated SC Freiburg with 1-0. Even though Dortmund had more ball possession for most of the match, they didn’t create many high-quality chances. The guests played quite courageously and were an equal opponent over long stretches. Even xG-wise, it was only the goal of Jadon Sancho (0.61 xG) that made the difference: 1.58 – 0.84.
In this tactical analysis, we will examine why Dortmund struggled to get into dangerous areas and create high-quality chances. This analysis will further point out Freiburg’s tactics in attack and take a look at the role of Raphaël Guerreiro.
Lucien Favre opted in for his usual 3-4-3. He only changed once with Julian Brandt replacing Erling Haaland, who was groggy during the week and therefore, missed some training sessions. Consequently, Hazard took over his position upfront, while Brandt started on the right side.
Freiburg’s coach Christian Streich changed four times compared to the disappointing loss at home against Düsseldorf one week ago. Lienhart, Heintz, Sallai, and Petersen started for Koch, Kwon, Waldschmidt, and Höler. In terms of formation, he deployed a 3-4-3 shape as well and emulated Dortmund’s approach in some way.
Dortmund struggled a lot to create high-quality chances. At the latest since Favre changed to a 3-4-3 this season, his team has been relying even more on their strengths during transition phases in order to find offensive success. However, in this match, the guests barely allowed any quick counter-attacks and Dortmund struggled to progress the ball from their build-up.
Despite occasional high pressing situations, the team of Christian Streich defended in a deep 5-4-1 block for most of the game to minimize the spaces, where players like Julian Brandt and Jadon Sancho could occupy in. The example below illustrates the depth of Freiburg’s last line and the difficulties of breaking through.
As soon as Dortmund tried to progress the ball into higher positions in the half-spaces, their attackers were approached by a defender, mostly even two.
Freiburg didn’t allow Dortmund’s attackers time on the ball to turn and create something. This slowed the game down and had the consequence that the attackers could rarely pick up speed and show their technical abilities in 1 vs 1 situations. On occasions, as shown above, Dortmund had to play backwards and built up again.
Another consequence was that Dortmund almost never came into spaces behind Freiburg’s last line. The guests did a very good job and especially the impact of right-back Hakimi could thus be limited – over the last weeks one of the best and most productive Dortmund players. The result? 10/16 shots (62.5%) came from outside the box. This is particularly impressive as Dortmund are the team that shoots the least from outside the box with only 31.25%.
With all the praise for Freiburg, it must also be noted that Dortmund were far from brilliant. In general, if they made it into the final third, they often played too complicated instead of opting for the “easy” solution. Below we can see an instance, where they were too focused on playing through the middle and didn’t occupy the wings.
In addition, the man-oriented defence of Freiburg inevitably created some spaces that were, however, too rarely effectively occupied. In the system with Hazard as the nominally highest player and Sancho as well as Brandt dropping into deeper spaces at times, it became difficult to break out dynamically behind the opposing full-backs.
In this instance, as Hakimi received the ball on the right side, he is basically left with three options. He could either play with Brandt or Can or try to make a little dribble away from his opponent to go for the long ball.
What he did here was to play the ball to Brandt, who then passed to Can. Can could then play the ball into the space behind Freiburg’s full-back. However, until then, Hakimi has already stopped his run and Hazard just realized what was going on as the ball was already played. Thus his opponent had an edge and intercepted the ball.
The role of Raphaël Guerreiro
While Hakimi was praised a lot in the previous weeks for his deep runs behind the opponent’s defence, it was Raphaël Guerreiro who played a very interesting role against a deep-lying opponent. Freiburg never really knew how to cope with him as he frequently changed his position, switching between left-back and the centre.
Here, Guerreiro is in possession on the left side. Sancho makes a deep run offering a passing lane down the flank. Both have direct opponents with Schmid defending Guerreiro and Gulde defending Sancho.
A few seconds later, Dortmund has progressed the ball to the left side, where Jadon Sancho is in possession now. Guerreiro has moved into the centre of the pitch, preparing for a deep run behind Freiburg’s defence. This position switch allowed Dortmund to not only progress the ball higher up the pitch, but also to escape from the man-oriented coverage as both Schmidt and Gulde lost track of their opponents.
This switch happened several times, but it wasn’t only Sancho, who occupied the left-side when Guerreiro moved inwards. Frequently, he also switched with Hazard or as in the next instance, Axel Witsel. Here, Emre Can is in possession and Witsel is the one, who moves to the side.
As the sequence goes on, Guerreiro moved further inwards and eventually got an open shot from 20 meters.
Freiburg’s offensive approach
In the first half of the season, the team of Christian Streich profited from a mix of luck and efficiency, which made them one of the most surprising teams. That being said, in the second half, Freiburg really struggles to score goals. Even on Saturday, they had some promising transition moments and even a huge chance through Nils Petersen but failed to find the net.
However, during the first 15 minutes of the game, Freiburg had a very hard time to effectively progress the ball. Dortmund pressed them relatively high up the pitch and didn’t allow much time on the ball. In these situations, Freiburg tried to build up with their back three supported by Höfler und goalkeeper Schwolow.
After Dortmund scored their first goal, they sat a bit deeper, so that Freiburg were able to build up calmer. They did that by switching into a 4-1-4-1 formation with one of the central midfielders dropping deep next to Lienhart while the outer centre-backs became full-backs and the full-backs became wingers. All of them are circled in the image below.
The next example illustrates that even better as Dominique Heintz received the ball on the left side with oceans of space in front of him. As Grifo moved towards the left they were able to create numerical superiority with Günter, who is not in the picture but sat on the left flank. Again, the shape of the build-up was clear – the actual outer centre-backs Heintz and Gulde as full-backs – then the actual full-backs Günter and Schmid in more advanced positions.
The intention of Christian Streich and his team was apparent. They wanted to create overloads on the wings, exploiting Dortmund’s focus on the centre. In fact, Freiburg were able to create some relatively dangerous situations in that way as often nobody of the defence felt responsible for the advancing outer centre-backs.
However, their best chance started with a pass from Gulde from the last line to striker Nils Petersen as Dortmund didn’t press. As Petersen forced Hummels to follow him, this opened up space for Grifo who had a 1 vs 1 situation with the keeper.
The art of tactical fouls
It might be nothing more than a yellow card in the match report and unnoticed by many, but the tackle of Emre Can in the 67th minute was actually very important. What happened was that Dortmund just lost the ball inside Freiburg’s penalty area after a promising counter-attack. Since both full-backs were in the penalty area and Piszczek positioned high up the pitch, the BVB was extremely disorderly at the back. Freiburg tried to take advantage of this and quickly outplayed the midfield.
As you can see below, if Can would have been taken out of the game as well, the guests would have created a highly promising 3 vs 2 situation. Consequently, Can’s tackle was essential to avoid what could have become the equalizer. Again, this tackle didn’t get much attention and Can won’t get any praise for it in the media, but internally I’m pretty sure that everyone knows, how important this tactical foul was.
Notwithstanding the loss, in essence, Freiburg showed a really decent away performance. As this tactical analysis showed, they limited Dortmund’s attack to very little besides the early goal. Additionally, they also had some good moments offensively but couldn’t create huge chances. This fits a bit to the course of their second half of the season so far, having scored only four goals in seven games. However, if you put this match into context, Freiburg has already amassed 33 points and won’t have to worry about relegation for the rest of the season.
Dortmund on the other side showed some indications of a relapse into previous matches of the first half of the season. Instead of going for the second goal intensely and confidently, the Black and Yellows were too passive for many parts of the game. They can call themselves lucky that Nils Petersen didn’t punish them for that. With this victory, Dortmund stay on the heels of Bayern and Leipzig and continues to fight for the championship.
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