Following last week’s high-scoring win over Augsburg, there was certainly an expectation approaching this game that once more, there would be goals. And it didn’t disappoint. Borussia Dortmund ran out as convincing 5-1 winners over FC Köln, as Dortmund managed ten goals over two consecutive games for the first time since September 2018, when they were on their way to an incredible 26 goal streak over six games. Erling Haaland was once more the talking point as he came on again as a second-half substitute and managed to hit two goals, taking his tally to five goals in a total of 57 minutes for Borussia Dortmund. As much has Haaland is worth mentioning, and this analysis will most definitely do that, there was plenty more going on in this game and this tactical analysis will look at the tactics used by both head coaches Lucien Favre and Markus Gisdol, as they battled it out at the Signal Iduna Park on Friday night in the Bundesliga.
Dortmund continued with their 3-4-3 and named an unchanged side from the team that beat Augsburg the week before. Köln, themselves buoyant from their 3-1 win over Wolfsburg last week also named an unchanged side, lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
How Hummels’ direct passing opened up Köln
Favre wanted to use the space that Köln left behind their backline, particularly with the pace of their front three, to catch them cold, and they did exactly that, scoring within the first minute. A pass over the top from Mats Hummels into Marco Reus allowed Dortmund to catch Köln on the break. In the image below we can also see how high Raphaël Guerreiro was positioned. Thorgan Hazard has moved inside very close to the midfield, and with Raphaël Guerreiro pushing high and Jadon Sancho and Hazard goal side of Köln’s defensive midfielder, they could quickly create a 4 v 3 from this pass.
From this position he would be able to move forward into the box in the latter stages of this move, and do so unmarked. With Reus receiving, Sancho moved into the space behind to receive.
Sancho was truly excellent throughout the day, and it’s incredible that the hype around Haaland has seemingly now pushed Sancho to the back of people’s minds, but this performance just backed up how he is one of the most exciting young talents on the planet. Travelling with the ball in the 18-yard box, he then showed poise and vision as he picked out Raphaël Guerreiro with a beautiful pass. Sancho finished the game with a total of 14 assists and 14 goals already this season.
Dortmund were direct in their approach throughout the day, and Hummels in particular carved open the Dortmund defence with his excellent range of long passing. 90% of his passes were accurate on the day, and four of his attempted long passes were too. The image below shows his most common pass links, with 20% of his passes going towards the final third.
It was another Hummels long pass that set up the second goal too, as he picked out Reus with a simple ball over the top.
The positives and negatives of Dortmund’s 3-4-3
Since the beginning of December, Favre has been using a 3-4-3 more frequently, which is not something Dortmund have used under Favre, other than in the 2-0 loss to Inter Milan in the Champions League back in October.
A look at Dortmund players’ average positioning from this game show us how they set up. Hakimi and Raphaël Guerreiro push high and provide width in attack. This allows the front three of Sancho, Hazard and Reus to play close to one another and rotate positionally, for example, it was not unusual to see Sancho operating in the centre-forward role.
Hummels acts as the fulcrum of their build-up play from the back and it suits Dortmund when the opposition defence leave space in behind. Throughout the game, Dortmund’s build-up play looked to encourage Köln’s press forward as Dortmund circled the ball but inevitably would work it back to one of their back three.
Neither Witsel nor Brandt made a habit of showing for the ball, with one of the back three, usually Hummels, looking instead to play directly into one of the front three as mentioned earlier. Below you can see how closely positioned both Reus and Sancho are to Brandt and Witsel, allowing themselves space in behind to attack from the direct pass.
Witsel and Brandt were fluid in their positioning and would rotate with Hakimi or Raphaël Guerreiro in order to receive the ball in the less crowded wide areas. Their rotation wasn’t just to free themselves, however, but to open space for one of the front three to drop into and receive from.
In the image below Witsel and Raphaël Guerreiro have rotated positionally, with Witsel playing a simple pass back to Akanji.
With the space this rotation has created, Hazard is able to drop in and receive the pass from Akanji between the lines and the gaps in midfield.
Further forward, whoever was in the centre-forward position, most often Reus, would, of course, operate as a false nine, dropping deep into the midfield to either receive or create space behind them. The image below shows Reus doing exactly that.
For Dortmund’s third goal, Reus dropped deep bringing the centre-backs slightly higher than they would perhaps have liked to have been. With the ball on the left-flank with Hazard he was able to whip the ball all the way across Köln’s defence to find the onrushing Sancho without it being intercepted as Köln’s centre-back duo, Bornauw and Czichos still tracking back to get in position.
So in attack, the 3-4-3 is excellent at stretching the opposition both horizontally and vertically, whilst providing plenty of space to thread the ball through to Dortmund’s dangerous front three in a variety of ways, quickly and effectively.
However, there are negatives to the system and they have conceded goals whilst using this system so far that have demonstrated a propensity for mistakes and carelessness.
With how high Raphaël Guerreiro and Hakimi get, they are naturally vulnerable on the quick break, and at times Köln were able to manipulate the positioning of Dortmund’s back three with runs across them. It must be said that the positioning of the back three as part of this system still requires a lot of work, and better teams than Köln will punish them.
The image below shows how Akanji gets brought across by the run from Köln’s Mark Uth opens up space to the left of Akanji where Köln have numbers waiting. The space between Akanji and Raphaël Guerreiro allows this to happen.
Again the image below highlights questionable positioning, with Piszczek brought out wide there is space between himself and Hummels. Raphaël Guerreiro struggling positionally here, and space appears for Noah Katterbach to split the defence with a pass.
Köln were disappointing
It would be unfair to say Köln were bad. Dortmund were very good, and Köln had nothing to answer to what was thrown at them. They were pretty ineffectual, particularly going forward.
As mentioned above, there were question marks over the positioning of Dortmund’s back three and Köln were able to split them. Jonas Hector came with an effort in the 70th minute, stealing into the space between Akanji and Hummels to meet the cross with a header towards goal.
However, they struggled to create truly threatening opportunities regularly and, although the shot map below, shows a number of shots within the 18-yard box, they still took too many efforts from outside the box, rarely threatening Bürki’s goal.
Their goal, however, certainly had more to it than a lapse of concentration from Dortmund’s defence. As Dortmund cleared the corner, Uth brought himself back on side on the left-flank and was played in immediately. It was done so swiftly that I couldn’t help but wonder if Köln’s opposition scout had picked up on Dortmund staying narrow and not picking up the corner taker should they clear the initial corner. Uth received the ball over the top, and with time and space finished emphatically.
It has to be said that when Haaland came on, there was palpable anticipation any time the forward even came close to the ball. Scoring twice and continuing his electric start to life in the Bundesliga, it feels like we are witnessing something incredibly special that perhaps will be spoken about in years to come. The most noticeable thing about Haaland is his instinct for goal. He is truly an outstanding finisher and has outperformed his 1.71 xG over these two games. However, it will be much more pertinent to observe his goalscoring prowess against his xG over a longer period of time.
For his first goal, he highlighted his instinct by reacting so quickly to pounce on the rebound before the defence could react.
If you watch it in real-time you will see he moves a second before the strike thinking the shot will come early. However, he checks himself and moves again as the shot is actually taken, and anticipates the rebound coming his way.
Haaland has pace and operates in the space between defenders. When Dortmund have the ball in wide areas particularly it is an easy option to play the pass behind the defence if they have a high line, where Haaland can curve his run and latch onto the through ball.
Dortmund continued their impressive start to the second half of the season and will be quietly confident of their chances as they now sit just four points adrift of league leaders RB Leipzig. There were standout performances across the pitch for Dortmund, and other than Haaland, both Hummels and Witsel were excellent. The latter finished with a 96% pass completion and completed all 17 of his forward passes, something his teammate Julian Brandt needs to work on.
Köln will be disappointed to have lost in such a manner and fans will be concerned they might have already lost the momentum last week’s victory brought them.