Both teams sent out their best men on the field for this Champions League 1st Leg. The result was 2:1, Borussia Dortmund won the match. Possession of PSG was ineffective due to Dortmund’s compact defensive play. Dortmund were able to use speed and space behind to create a threat to PSG’s goal.
In this tactical analysis, I will mainly focus on the strategy and tactics of both teams. The analysis will cover the defending and attacking aspects of both the teams.
In attacking, PSG generally used a 3-2-5 formation, with width provided in the front line by two wing-backs, Thomas Meunier and Layvin Kurzawa. Neymar and Ángel Di Maria occupied the half-space zone, against the 5-4-1 defensive formation of Dortmund.
Dortmund used a 3-2-5 as well against the 5-4-1 defensive formation of PSG, with Raphael Guerreiro and Achraf Hakimi occupying the width in the front line. Jadon Sancho and Thorgan Hazard, Erling Halaand formed a trio unit in counter and positional attack.
Paris Saint-Germain in possession
PSG had possession of 53%. They didn’t encounter much trouble when building from the back due to the mid-block that Dortmund chose. They brought the ball successfully to the midfielders while they encountered troubles of penetrating the midfield line of Dortmund. Dortmund had a compact four-man midfield line, against two midfielders of PSG, blocking forward passing channels. This situation made PSG’s midfield couple difficult to pass forward. What’s more, Dortmund’s compact line also caused a lot of possession loss for PSG in the midfield line area.
The solution for this unable-to-pass-forward situation was the dropping back of Di Maria and Neymar to create a numeral advantage in the central area in the midfield, becoming 4v2 or 3v2 in the central area in midfield. Then they would try to turn and link up the ball to play to the more advanced area. However, the marking of Dortmund was tight, Neymar and Di Maria didn’t have much opportunity to receive the ball facing the opponent’s goal. They couldn’t turn. Therefore they had little chances to create threats and fed the ball to the forward in the 1st half.
So in the second half, Neymar dropped deeper in front of the Dortmund midfield line. This allowed him to receive the ball facing Dortmund’s goal. When Neymar got the ball facing Dortmund’s goal, this was a trigger to pass the ball forward. The forward Kylian Mbappé and other front line players would immediately search for space behind Dortmund’s defensive line. This kind of action posed threat and pressure to Dortmund’s defensive line.
When PSG was in possession, two wing-backs pushed to the front line. However, they didn’t contribute much in the attacking phase. On the right flank, Meunier was unable to perform individually with only the back pass in the 1v1 situation on the flank, which made the play quite predictable and easy for Dortmund to defend. Before receiving, his body shape was already faced towards the back, with no intention of trying to beat the opponent in 1v1 on the flank.
On the left flank, Kurzawa could use his speed and dribble to create an opening in the counterattack. However, in the positional attack, he was unable to use 1v1 situation to create some changes on the flank, while just kept passing the ball back too.
Paris Saint-Germain out of possession
The team would immediately counter-press the ball when lost possession. Due to the formation encountering, it would be more like a man-to-man marking. This means PSG could always press quickly to the ball carrier of Borussia Dortmund, and the players who didn’t carry the ball would be marked and had no space receiving the ball. This kind of approach successfully helped PSG regain a lot of possession in the Dortmund’s half.
However, due to a lot of possession lost in the midfield area, the trio defenders found themselves dealing with counters quite often, but they could use the tackle to get away from danger in the middle third and the last third. The midfield players and defenders together had 21 tackles, which helped them stop Dortmund’s counter and fast attacks, and also helped PSG to regain possession.
Dortmund in possession
They used the flank quite often. Hakimi was the main target player in the flank area. Due to the high block that PSG set, Hakimi could use the space behind the defence in the flanks, especially Kurzawa was in an advanced position. He could run toward space behind Kurzawa and PSG’s defensive line and received the ball there. Dortmund used width effectively in the front line with Hakimi’s talent, which created the first goal in the second half.
Erling Halaand’s performance was stunning. Scoring two goals, he was effective in terms of finishing, with a total of four shots, two in range. His brilliant first touch and speed were his greatest weapon. In the second goal, he opened his body with just one touch that enabled him to shoot in a shorter time and created space for execution for himself.
In this match, Emre Can and Axel Witsel were the midfield duo. They had their distinctive role and completed their tasks successfully and effectively. Witsel used a conservative approach in the midfield with square and back passes to keep possession.
He also gave a lot of passes to Can, who was the key player in dictating Dortmund’s possession upfront. Can provided the front line with his accurate forward passes even when he was under pressure. His accurate forward pass led to the first goal of Dortmund.
Dortmund out of possession
Dortmund sat on a mid-block and didn’t set their block high. However, the block was compact, and this prevented Paris Saint-Germain’s midfielder from passing forward. Especially the midfield line, they were compact and blocked every forward passing channel to the front-trio. PSG midfielders were forced to pass back or play square due to the compact block of Dortmund. The compact block also created a numerical advantage in the ball area, which allowed Dortmund’s players to have the opportunity to win possession.
Along with the compact midfield line, Dortmund forced inside in the midfield area for PSG’s midfielders to go in, and this reduced the unpredictability of PSG’s attacking. Two side midfielders blocked the passing channel to the width and their body shape showed towards the inside, allowing PSG’s players to dribble inside. Then the two central midfielders would press and try to win possession in the midfield area.
Dortmund’s defending tactics limited PSG’s front trio’s performance and they used speed to create trouble for PSG. PSG’s midfielders were unable to create threat and Neymar and Mbappé’s performance was limited.