Borussia Dortmund’s season has begun to stutter in recent weeks. Coming into the fixture against bottom side 1. FC Nürnberg, Die Schwarzgelben were without a win in four games, having suffered a 3-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League as well. Their previous league game had seen them draw with Eintracht Frankfurt, and with Bayern Munich breathing down their necks with a win over Augsburg, Dortmund desperately needed a win from this game.
Boris Schommers sent his side out in a 4-1-4-1 formation aimed at stifling Dortmund. Ondrej Petrak sat just ahead of the centre-backs, while the full-backs rarely looked to get forward.
Lucian Favre had a number of players missing for this game, with captain Marco Reus and Chelsea-bound winger Christian Pulisic missing out. Raphael Guerreiro started on the left wing, as Abdou Diallo was shifted out to left-back and Marius Wolf came in at right-back. Maximillian Philipp replaced Reus in the lineup, as Mario Gotze led the line.
Nürnberg frustrate Dortmund
The tactical pattern of this match was established from the very start; Dortmund monopolised possession, while Nürnberg retreated into their own half, looking to protect their own goal. The home side were extremely well-drilled and compact, forming two narrow banks of four and often defending with 10 players behind the ball, forcing Dortmund into sideways and backwards passes without much penetration.
Ondrej Petrak was a crucial cog in this Nürnberg system. The Czech midfielder slotted in between his team’s defence and midfield, helping to further congest space between the lines and not allowing Gotze or Philipp time on the ball. On top of this, the two wingers, Matheus Pereira and Yaya Kubo, were extremely diligent defensivel. They dropped back to cover the Dortmund wide men, which in turn allowed Nürnberg’s full-backs to maintain their shape.
Another facet of Nürnberg’s defending was their extreme reluctance to press Dortmund high up the pitch. Nürnberg players would only look to engage with the Dortmund man in possession once he was in their own half. They were quite happy to let the away side have the ball in deeper areas.
The statistics bear this out. All of Dortmund’s back four had over 100 touches of the ball: Marius Wolf (118), Dan-Axel Zagadou (111), Julian Weigl (121) and Abdou Diallo (101). Weigl had the most touches of any player in the game. This shows how content Nürnberg were to have Dortmund monopolise possession in non-threatening areas.
Philipp fails to take his chance
This has been one of the best seasons of Marco Reus’ career, as the German has propelled Dortmund to the top of the league with his goals, creativity and leadership. However, his injury-enforced absence has coincided with a dip in Dortmund’s form as well, and Die Schwarzgelben have struggled for creativity.
Max Philipp has been drafted into the side in recent weeks to replace the captain, but the former Freiburg man has struggled to have any sort of influence on Dortmund’s attacking play. He only managed 27 touches of the ball before being taken off in the 63rd minute, and his touch map (shown below) displays his complete lack of influence.
One of Reus’ greatest strengths is his ability to find space away from markers, whether by dropping deep and then spinning in behind or by drifting to the flanks to create overloads. Philipp displayed none of that dynamism on Monday night, playing in rigid, straight lines that played right into the hands of Nürnberg.
As mentioned earlier, Ondrej Petrak kept a lid of Philipp throughout his time on the pitch. A lot of it was down to Philipp’s lack of imagination and nous in his positioning and movement.
With Mario Gotze always looking to drop deep from his position as striker, intelligent movement beyond him was the need of the hour. Philipp failed to provide this, and in doing so, further illustrated Dortmund’s dependence on Reus.
This was an extremely damaging result for Dortmund in the Bundesliga, as they now lead Bayern by only three points. Their failure to score against a Nürnberg side who had previously conceded 46 goals in 21 games laid bare their reliance on sidelined captain Marco Reus, while the likes of Jadon Sancho and Mario Gotze could not open up the massed ranks of the Nürnberg defence.
Their next assignment, against former manager Peter Bosz’s Bayer Leverkusen side, will be a far greater test of their defensive credentials as well. The Black and Yellow will need to come through this test with flying colours if they are to retain hopes of lifting the Bundesliga title in May.
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