Bundesliga 2019/20: Borussia Dortmund vs Union Berlin – tactical analysis
I try to be as balanced in my analysis and cover both sides as much as possible, but that’s very difficult with such a result. Borussia Dortmund continued their impressive start to the second half of the season with a dominant 5-0 win over Union Berlin. They put on a display of swift attacking football, breaking down Union Berlin with a mixture of patient buildup play and rotational play with quick interchanges as “wonderkid” Erling Haaland scored his sixth and seventh Bundesliga goals with Axel Witsel and Jadon Sancho also notching, whilst Marco Reus scored a free-kick after Haaland was brought down in the box.
Borussia Dortmund continued with a 3-4-3 with the only change from last week’s win being Haaland replacing Thorgan Hazard. To accommodate this change, Reus was taken out of his false nine role and used as a wide forward along with Sancho.
Yunus Malli and Marius Bülter came in for Marcus Ingvartsen and Anthony Ujah, as Urs Fischer played a 5-4-1 with Christopher Lenz and Christopher Trimmel playing a little deeper than they had the weekend before in their 2-0 win over Augsburg.
How Dortmund used their possession
Dortmund stuck with three at the back which meant that Raphaël Guerreiro and Achraf Hakimi continued as wing-backs and had to provide width in attack, whilst also support build-up from the back.
Witsel and Brandt would essentially operate as a double pivot with the ball in the backline, with both dropping deep, whilst Dortmund’s back three spread far across the width of the pitch. The wide centre-backs looked to play into their midfield two or would use an open wing-back, to play forward, however, the goal was to create space centrally, between the midfield and forward line for Dortmund to play directly into when they had the opportunity.
We can see an example of this below as Witsel and Brandt are both sat close to Dortmund’s back three. Raphaël Guerreiro receives the pass and immediately looks to play forward with a diagonal pass to Haaland. With Haaland dropping deep to receive, Reus and Sancho would look to support, either by coming narrow as an option or pushing behind the centre-forward, looking to receive in the space now created behind the Union Berlin backline from this run.
Union Berlin were compact all game, and this created space either side of their wing-backs. Sancho and Reus, in particular, would operate in the half-spaces. This allowed their own wing-backs to push forward and create overloads in advanced wide areas.
When the ball itself was in advanced areas, Union Berlin’s compactness became ever more apparent and Dortmund were able to quickly recycle possession and exploit the space creating a numerical overload when the wing-back pushed forward and overloaded as we can see Raphaël Guerreiro doing so below.
Union Berlin averaged an 18.1 PPDA over the course of the game and looked to ensure they had a back five defending Dortmund’s front three at all times, as we can see below despite the ball being with Dortmund’s centre-backs.
Last week Dortmund had a lot of joy with Hummels, in particular, being able to play well-placed long passes over the top of the opposition defence for the forward line to run onto. Union Berlin were wary of this and their defence sat deep to try to prevent this, which did leave lots of space in midfield.
With Haaland playing, the home side wanted to create this space for the forward to run into, therefore Dortmund looked to bring Union Berlin forward when they were sitting back defensively. Dortmund were incredibly patient in possession and would play to and fro from defence into midfield and back again in order to lure them forward and manipulate the space in behind, as we can see Witsel doing in the image below.
It wasn’t easy, but when they were able to create enough space in behind they would immediately looked to penetrate it. Reus would drop deep in the hopes of bringing a defender slightly higher with him as the analysis below demonstrates. With the ball worked to a wide area, with an excellent angle for a through ball behind the Union Berlin defence, he quickly looked to make a change in direction to provide this option to Hakimi.
For the first 20 minutes of the second half, the game was actually relatively in the balance. Berlin had had chances and in the first fifteen minutes of the second half they were averaging 0.47 attacks per minute, compared to the home team who were averaging 0.27. Dortmund needed a third goal to put the game to bed.
They did so by hitting Union Berlin on the counter and finally managed to penetrate space behind their defence. It’s already been proven in Haaland’s short Bundesliga career so far that you can’t leave space behind for him to run into. As he did, he rounded the keeper and was brought down. Reus tucked away the penalty.
Rotational play and third man runs
Dortmund were truly excellent in their movement off the ball and decision-making on the ball, which caused Union Berlin problems from the first minute. They were bold in how they wanted to play, but were patient, and waited for the right time to exploit Union Berlin’s defence.
Dortmund looked to use positional rotations to create space to play forward, and Witsel and Brandt were particularly key in facilitating this. Through the use of third-man runs, they were able to fill the space created by players rotating and cut through Union Berlin’s defence with ease and pace.
With their back three spread wide, as we can see in the image below there were plenty of forward options as well as space in the backline itself. The example below shows Manuel Akanji playing into Brandt who drifts into the right-flank, opening up a central passing channel. A simple one-two with Akanji, and the centre-back was able to break the lines with a pass directly into the space vacated by Brandt where Haaland could receive and continue the phase.
In fact, it was Dortmund’s speed with which they broke forward with their rotational play and third-man runs that set up the fourth goal – a goal which was the result of just under 20 passes.
Below we can see Witsel looking to drift into the left half-space whilst Haaland comes across too, as Dortmund work the ball quickly through the channels with swift interchanges.
It was Haaland who in fact picked the ball up, such was Dortmund’s awareness to using third-man runs that both Witsel and Haaland looked to move into the same area.
There were more examples of this immediately after as Haaland slipped in Sancho, with Witsel continuing his run into a central-attacking area where Sancho could pick out the midfielder for another assist.
Axel Witsel has rightly received plenty of plaudits for his performances, but Julian Brandt highlighted why he can be just as devastating, albeit in a different way.
On top of his work within Dortmund’s approach with rotational play and third-man running, Brandt was key in moving the ball forward with his commitment to pass and dribble forward. Particularly in the first half, Brandt looked to drive forward when in possession and was able to consistently break the lines, whilst also create attacking opportunities in doing so, as the images below show.
As he breaks forward he brings Union Berlin’s defence even more compact as they look to swarm him, and he looks to release Sancho down the left.
He was a creative force in and around the box and chipped in with two assists over the course of the game.
His awareness of what is around him in regards to space and players is very strong. Below he makes the decision to slip in behind Union Berlin’s backline, and receive just inside the 18-yard box.
Without scanning he knows that Haaland is going to fill the space directly behind him and his no look pass is what is needed for Haaland to find enough space to get on the end of the pass and finish despite Union Berlin crowding the area.
Union Berlin fans will no doubt be worried by how easily they were pulled apart by the home team, however, if you had told them that after 20 games they’d be six points clear of the drop zone then I’m sure they’d have taken that. They will need to dust themselves down as they face Werder Bremen in a vital game in their next Bundesliga fixture.
It was another strong performance from Borussia Dortmund and they will be feeling confident as they close the gap between themselves and the top of the table. Haaland and Sancho continued to shine, Witsel and Brandt looked strong in the middle together, and a clean sheet will be very welcomed.
However, even though this was an emphatic win and put them only three points off of the top of the table, fans might have been concerned by the reactions of both Hakimi and captain, Reus, after they were both substituted in the second half.