After a small break in club football, Bundesliga returned with a big battle of Borussia Dortmund vs Bayer Leverkusen. The 4-0 result suggests an easy victory for the home side, however, the reality is far from it. Dortmund has a rough first half as they displayed a nervous play which manifested in a lot of errors in the first stages of the match. However, the first goal helped them a bit.
After the defeat against Union Berlin in the previous game, Borussia Dortmund collected a much needed three points which allowed them to step up to the second position on the table. This tactical analysis will reveal the major tactics of both sides and the crucial patterns of their play.
Lucien Favre deployed the usual 4-2-3-1 formation with only two personnel changes. Compared to the last game, now Witsel formed the double pivot with Thomas Delaney instead of Julian Weigl. Also, Łukasz Piszczek was benched and Achraf Hakimi switched to the left-back position thus Raphaël Guerreiro occupied on the right.
On the other hand, Peter Bosz also used a 4-2-3-1 system where Julian Baumgartlinger paired up with Charles Aránguiz. However, Bosz tweaked the base 4-2-3-1 formation which will be covered in this analysis.
The guests showed the intention to disrupt the opponent’s play in the early phases, therefore, they pressed high up in the opening minutes. In order to stop Dortmund’s first phase of build-up, they formed a 4-3-3. With the three players of Karim Bellarabi, Kevin Volland and Kai Havertz in the first line of the press, they could cover Dortmund 2-1 back staggering.
For Dortmund, Favre asked Alex Witsel to stay deeper, offer a pass option to the centre-backs which created a 2-1 staggering at the back, whilst the full-back moved forward, positioned higher up on the wings. Here, Dortmund tried to build out from the goalkeeper with short passes, but Leverkusen forced the ball wide with ease and with a simple shifting they were able to force the opponent to a long ball where Paco Alcácer had a disadvantage compared to the Leverkusen defenders.
When the ball moved to the wing, Lars Bender moved out to cover the opposite full-back, Baumgartlinger marked Brandt and Aránguiz followed Reus in the centre. Whilst on the far side, Witsel covered by Nadiem Amiri.
Dortmund out of possession
Most of the time, they pressed high after an opponent’s back pass. In the high pressing sequences, it was difficult to press effectively and to stop the opponent’s early build-up phase due to Leverkusen superiority in these situations. The away side had a 3-2 staggering offered them a superiority which could be enough to outplay Dortmund’s press in the most cases since the home side pressed with the four highest players in a 4-2-3-1 shape. Whilst Leverkusen had the centre-backs, the left-back (Wendell) and both midfielders (Baumgartlinger and Aránguiz) stayed deep to offer central option.
In the defensive phase, Dortmund’s aim was to keep the lines in a compact shape therefore, Dortmund shifted side to side to close down the ball side as the images highlight below. As you may see, Dortmund formed a compact mid-block in a 4-4-2 shape as Julian Brandt and Jadon Sancho fall back on the wings into the second line during the defensive phase whilst Reus stayed next to Alcácer. In the occasion below, the second line shifting to the ball side to cover the options there thus forcing the opponent back.
The attacking phase
Dortmund tried to attack with pace when they had the ball, advanced quickly to the final third to score. Primarily, Favre’s men using the wings to attack. In the situation below, they win the ball back and transitioning quickly defence to attack.
Moreover, as I mentioned Dortmund relied on the wings to create chances. Also, they had a direct playing style. Once they are able to get behind the defence, they used medium or low crosses to create shooting opportunity to the attackers in the penalty box.
With the medium or low cross, they could utilise for example Alcácer’s abilities to score. In here, Alcácer and Reus also arrive to the box but the latter one scored as Alcácer let to ball pass him.
Asymmetric attacking setup
One of the most interesting tactical elements in this game was the Leverkusen and Peter Bosz’s attacking structure which was some sort of a 3-4-2-1 formation. They achieved it with Wendell staying deep and thus formed a back three with Sven Bender and Jonathan Tah. Therefore, Bellarabi was responsible for the left-wing in attack.
Meanwhile, Lars Bender was positioned much higher on the right throughout the whole game. This allowed Havertz to occupied narrow. Also, Amiri moved wider and often dropped to the left half-space rather than playing in the #10 space.
Attacking pattern: verticality and deep runs
In Leverkusen’s possession play, you may see the pattern to overload the wings. This time, it occurred mostly in the left-wing. They doing that to create a breakthrough or make the opposition defence unbalanced that they could exploit. As the image highlights below, five or six players from Leverkusen were positioned in the left side.
Due to the fact that Dortmund had a narrow shape and Leverkusen’s attempts to overload one side, it pulled the home side’s defensive block to the left-wing which in return, created huge space on the right. Therefore, Bosz’s men often tried to exploit it through switching to the opposite side and taking advantage of the opponent’s shifting momentum which allowed vertical passes.
Here, Tah tried to find Havertz in the channel with a high ball behind the opposition defence.
A moments later, another attempt to found Havertz with a vertical ball but he got tight marking by Delaney and Reus was able to arrive in time and block the pass.
Although these situations showed, Havertz was always the target but this attacking pattern go vertical ball did not attached solely to him. Another occasion, where Tah targeted Volland in the channel.
Borussia Dortmund defended well and eliminated most of Leverkusen’s attempts which resulted in a low threat to the home side’s goal. Bayer Leverkusen had chances mostly from counter-attacks thus they produced only a 0,49 xG (expected goal) overall. Dortmund were able to maintain their compact defensive block which was hard to break down. On the other hand, Dortmund were effective in front of the opponent’s goal. As usual, Dortmund highly relied on the flanks in their attacking play, therefore, it was no surprise that all of the goals came from wide areas. Also, three of the goals occurred from a sort of counter-attacking situations.
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