This is one of those peculiar matches where Borussia Dortmund were lagging in the score at half-time and win the game in the second half. On matchday 18, these two teams met in the WWK stadium. Before this match, Dortmund were in the fifth position in the Bundesliga table with 30 points. Augsburg were placed in the 10th position with 23 points.
Unlike the position on the points table, Augsburg were in-form coming into this match, winning five of the last seven matches. Dortmund’s away form was poor coming into this match. This tactical analysis will provide the tactics used by Martin Schmidt to take a lead in the scoreline and provide an analysis of the changes made by Lucien Favre to pull off a comeback.
From the start of the season, Lucien Favre has fielded different players in different positions trying to get the right combination for Dortmund. In this season he has used 4-2-3-1 formation frequently. And from matchday 12, he has used the 3-4-3 formation. In this game, he went with three centre-backs Manuel Akanji, Matt Hummels, and Lukasz Piszczek in front of Roman Burki at goal. The midfield line was made up by Raphael Guerreiro, Axel Witsel, Julian Brandt, and Achraf Hakimi. Thorgan Hazard and Jadon Sancho were on the left and right flanks, with Marco Reus in the middle.
Martin Schmidt this season has used a 4-4-2 formation and 4-2-3-1 formation frequently. In this game, he started with the back of four Philipp Max, Tin Jedvaj, Jeffrey Gouweleeu, and Stephan Lichtensteiner with Tomas Koubek in between the sticks. The midfield duo were Rani Khedira and Daniel Baier. The front four consisted of Ruben Vargas and Marco Richter in the left and right flanks, Fredrik Jensen in the middle, and Florian Niederlechner leading the attack up front.
Augsburg’s resilient press
Augsburg pressed high in the initial 30 minutes of the game. It is evident from the pressing intensity stat, passes allowed per defensive action in 16 to 30 minutes of Augsburg is 12.5 whereas that of Dortmund is 63.0. Augsburg planned to let Dortmund keep the possession, as is clear from possession stat, Dortmund enjoyed 65% of the ball. They pressured the centre-backs of Dortmund to play out wide and then overload the flank to win the ball back.
An example is shown in the image. Marked in blue are Dortmund players and marked in red are Augsburg players. Augsburg players have overloaded the flank. High pressing was employed by Augsburg, pressurising the back three. Either Niederlechner or Jensen would press the player on the ball, the other would mark Witsel. This eliminated Witsel’s effect in the centre of the pitch.
As shown above, Witsel was man-marked, and Brandt was against two midfielders of Augsburg, Khedira, and Baier. Hence, Reus had to come deep to eliminate the numerical advantage in the midfield.
Augsburg attack down the left flank
Augsburg broke the deadlock first at the 34th minute. Hazard misplayed a pass that was collected by Vargas and a counter-attack started on the left flank for Augsburg. Though the misplayed pass resulted in a goal, the situation just before the goal is interesting.
All passing options into the opposition half were closed down rapidly. And Vargas was running in to cover the backpass as well. Vargas collected the ball and provided a cross from the left-wing, Niederlechner had positioned himself well in between the space of Hummels and Akanji for the tap-in goal. The combination of left-winger Vargas and left full-back Max was efficiently used in this game.
Two of the three goals scored by Augsburg came by the left flank cross. The second goal scored on the 46th minute was from outside the box. Total shots taken by Augsburg in the match were 13, out of these nine are taken from outside the box. This is an important characteristic as it provides an insight into the attack. Only four shots were from inside the penalty area, out of which two were scored. In the third goal also a 2v1 situation was created on the left flank and again Niederlechner scored on the 55th minute.
Vargas received the ball on the left flank, in a counter-attack. Hakimi was a little late to fall back and nullify the numerical advantage as shown in the image. Vargas takes on Piszczek, pushing him more inside the box while Max made an overlapping run to provide a passing option on the wing. The ball was passed to Max and the goal is scored through the cross from Max and tap-in by Niederlechner.
Dortmund creating chances
Dortmund also pressed high; Sancho and Reus would mark the centre-backs with Hazard on Khedira. Hakimi and Guerreiro would press as soon as the ball was passed to the full-backs.
When the ball was passed on to the flanks, Augsburg would push their full-backs up the pitch to overload the flanks. This created a gap in the half-space. Dortmund players exploited this gap and had good scoring chances in the first half.
In the image above, Max was out of position, and Hazard exploited the half-space. The defence line of Augsburg ass getting stretched. After the third goal of Augsburg, Erling Haaland came in with Piszczek getting subbed off. From the start of the second half, Dortmund shifted to 4-2-3-1 formation.
The effect of the high press is it provides a huge amount of space to the opposition if they break through the press. Like in this situation:
Brandt was constantly being marked by Baier but in the above situation, Brandt made a simple turn to get off from Baier. Jedvaj stepped out of his position to press but the ball was quickly passed to Sancho. Hazard can be seen occupying the gap left in the defence line. The quick break of pressing gave Dortmund a lot of space and time to attack creatively. Sancho cut in from the wing and took the chance in this situation, which just floated above the crossbar.
Dortmund exploiting the high defensive line
Three minutes after coming on the pitch, Haaland scored his debut goal in the Bundesliga. Gouweleeuw stepped out of the defensive line to put pressure on Haaland who dropped deep to take an overhead pass. Ricocheting, the ball fell to Sancho’s feet who took advantage of the gap created by Gouweleeuw’s absence.
Gouweleeuw was out of position and Haaland ran in to collect the pass and scores. This example shows that the centre-backs became more varied in Haaland’s presence and did not hesitate to step out and defend the forward.
In the second half, the high defensive line of Augsburg was exploited by Dortmund. If we refer to the key passes of Dortmund in the second-half we can see, a pass from Hummels directly to the final third.
The compact formation and high defensive line are observed in the image below. The defensive line is shifted more towards the right side. Hakimi has tons of space to exploit and stretch the defensive line more.
Here is a timely run by Sancho, springing the offside trap and a precise pass by Hummels levelled the score-line. The high defensive line of Augsburg made the formation quite compact in the centre of the pitch. This enabled them to defend through passes, and also put pressure on the midfielders of Dortmund hence acquiring the centre of the pitch. But the drawback of this would be the vulnerability towards the overhead passes.
In the above image too, the high defensive line of Augsburg was exploited. This was the second goal of Haaland. Another thing to note here is space and time that Witsel gets to choose the pass. Niederlechner is covering Sancho, hence giving Witsel time to pick out his pass above the defensive line to Hazard, who passed the ball in the end for Haaland to tap-in and score. Haaland went on to score a hat-trick, ending the match at 3-5 scoreline.
Augsburg played immensely well, given the calibre of the Dortmund team. Martin Schmidt’s tactics worked and Augsburg deserved the lead that they got. But defensive frailties of keeping a high defensive line was highlighted here. And the pace of Dortmund’s attack with Haaland leading from the front initiated and completed an epic comeback. Dortmund earned all three points, but they still trailed their rivals Bayern Munich. The win did help them get back on the right track and continue their push for a UEFA Champions League spot next season.