Bundesliga 2022/23: Werder Bremen’s unbelievably late comeback against Borussia Dortmund – tactical analysis
Bundesliga 2 promotion winners, Werder Bremen, arrived at Borussia Park on Saturday having not won a Bundesliga match for 528 days. Before the 107th meeting between the two teams, Borussia Dortmund were one of two teams in the league to have won both of their opening two matches. Werder Bremen were massive underdogs having only managed two draws so far with both their matches ending 2-2.
Bremen found themselves 2-0 down by the 77th minute, continuing their streak of conceding two goals in each match. After having looked comfortable for the majority of the match Dortmund conceded the three goals in a dramatic and unbelievably late comeback for Bremen with the goals hitting the net in the 89th, 90+3rd and the 90+5th minute.
This tactical analysis will uncover the statistics behind Werder Bremen’s incredible comeback, alongside an analysis of the effect Borussia Dortmund’s tactical changes had on the outcome of the match.
Dortmund had three changes, all of which had an impact on their win against Freiburg off the bench. Bynoe-Gittens had his first Bundesliga start, after coming off the bench to score in Dortmund’s comeback versus Freiburg, and was chosen over Donyell Malen on the left wing. The next change was the Belgian right-back Meunier, who was replaced by Marius Wolf who had also come off the bench to score the last goal in the 1-3 win. The third change in the starting 11 was Julian Brand, who assisted the second goal, swapped for Thorgan Hazard on the right wing.
During the match, Edin Terzić made five substitutions, two of which were due to injuries as Mats Hummels was removed for Niklas Süle in the 62nd minute, and Mahmoud Dahoud only lasted 18 minutes before Emre Can took his place. The rest of the changes were attacking substitutions, all of which occurred before Bremen’s first goal.
Bremen just made one change to their starting lineup from their draw with Stuttgart, with Gruev being replaced by Christian Groß in the centre of midfield. Ole Werner had a huge influence on turning around his team’s fate with all of the goals being scored by his substitutes. One of which was Oliver Burke who scored his second consecutive 90+5th minute goal off the bench.
Both Dortmund and Bremen used the same formation from their previous matches for the entire 90 minutes. However, although Dortmund’s formation didn’t change, the high-pressing tactic that Edin Terzić’s side employed in the first half disappeared in the second half, after lacking the impact the German manager would have expected.
Dortmund’s first-half press
Dortmund employed their usual high press against Bremen, hoping to capitalise on Ole Werner’s side’s build-up play and leaky defence. The system which Dortmund used to press was very similar to their fellow Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich, as BVB pushed lots of players forward to put as much pressure as possible on Bremen’s backline.
The high press was effective with it forcing Bremen into playing 19% of their passes as long balls and causing Ole Werner’s side into losing the ball 10 times in the opening 45 minutes. For all of Dortmund’s success in limiting Bremen to long passes, halting Die Werderaner from creating chances proved difficult.
As a result of their high press, Dortmund would find themselves short at the back to defend against the long passes that they were forcing Bremen into making. When the ball was launched upfield it would bypass the entirety of the Dortmund midfield and attack, rendering the press useless if Dortmund don’t win the aerial battle and gain possession of the ball. This is the main reason for Werder Bremen’s 6 shots in the first half to Dortmund’s 2 because the high press didn’t eliminate the attacking threat that Bremen possessed.
Because the ball was not progressing through the thirds, the midfield of both teams was completely opened up. Bremen’s midfield found it the most difficult to adjust especially because they utilise a man-marking system, which won’t prevent spaces from opening up on the pitch because the players are easily dragged around. Along with both teams being stretched vertically, the two systems employed by the two managers relied on using the wide channels of the pitch, which further increased the gaps on the pitch.
By exploiting these spaces left in the midfield, Dortmund were able to score the first goal just before half time. The goal came just after Bremen almost capitalised on a long ball with the through ball inches off putting the striker 1v1 with Kobel.
Instead, the ball was collected by Kobel and rolled out to pass to an unopposed Dortmund defence. Emre Can then drove with the ball towards the halfway line while Marco Reus peeled off the outside of the Bremen midfield, who at this moment were a compact four in the centre of the pitch. Marco Reus then progressed the ball still unopposed to Julian Brandt on the right wing who drove inside to the edge of the box before hitting a spectacular shot to put BVB one nil up.
This is a moment where stretching the match with their high press enabled Dortmund to create a goal-scoring opportunity. Other than this goal, BVB were only able to pass into the final third 10 other times just 4 more than Bremen’s 7.
For all their defensive work, BVB were getting very little in reward and only managed an xG of 0.08 to Bremen’s 0.7. Along with the lack of attacking output, Dortmund were playing a highly demanding playstyle as they stretched the pitch through a high press and a deep defensive line. In response to the lacklustre first half, Edin Terzić’s side reduced the press and granted Bremen the majority of the possession for the second half.
Second half switch
With the tactical change in the interval, Bremen’s possession rose from 40% to 59% which was a reverse of the two sides in the first half. The reduction in Dortmund’s PPDA from 4.8 to 10.3 (worse than Bremen’s 9.8) allowed Ole Werner’s side to attack BVB with shorter passes, to break down the compact but open Dortmund defensive shape. The majority of the space for Bremen to exploit was in the wide channels, which played right into their 3-5-2 system.
In the first half, Bremen struggled to create quality chances because they couldn’t beat the Dortmund press to progress the ball on the floor. Once Ole Werner’s side had more time on the ball, there were numerous patterns which the Bremen could use to create opportunities. The first of these was using crosses from the wide channels. In the second half alone, the north German side increased their output from 3 crosses with 1 successful to 9 total and 5 successful crosses. This was not a huge rise but presented a different option to their direct long balls, they were restricted to using in the opening 45. In contrast to Dortmund, they had no impact from crosses with all their 11 during the match 0% were successful.
Another weakness that Bremen exploited was the space between the lines of the Dortmund shape. This is synonymous with the 4-4-2 mid-block structure which Edin Terzić’s BVB employ because the players are all alone on the same horizontal lines, and stepping out of position to press opens up a gap in between the unit.
There were multiple instances where Bremen exploited the gap afforded to them from the Dortmund shape. The chances created when progressing the ball through the middle of the pitch were higher quality and along with the crosses meant Die Werderaner could remain unpredictable for the majority of the second half. Unfortunately, Werder Bremen couldn’t capitalise on their 18 positional attacks before Guerreiro scored Dortmund’s second long-range strike in the 76th minute.
Up to this point, Dortmund hadn’t had a single shot in the second half versus Bremen’s 4. Along with their attacking output being reduced, Dortmund’s construction of attacks decreased as their long pass percentage rose from 7.4 to 13.1, following their more conservative tactics Despite their issues, Dortmund were leading by two goals and it looked as though they would hold out the match with what would have looked a comfortable 2-0 win. However, the Bremen attack were just missing the finishing touch to their chances.
In the last 6 minutes, Werder Bremen were finally able to capitalise on all the chances they had created with their possession, taking advantage of the two patterns previously spoken about to score in the dying embers of the match.
The first goal that Bremen pulled back was initially from a high press to force Kobel into kicking the ball straight out of play. From the throw in Bremen built up the attack from the defence, and progressed the ball past the front two of Dortmund, who were applying a sluggish press. With a pass splitting the Dortmund midfield, Schmidt was able to get in behind the Dortmund defence after a cheeky first-time flick by Burke over the top. The ball was slightly overhit forcing Schmidt to take a shot from a shallow angle. Kobel parried the ball back out into the box which Schmid immediately crossed towards the penalty area. The cross was blocked and fell to Buchanan on the edge of the box, who had ran past the Dortmund midfielder to capitalise on the chance, scoring a sweet half volley into the top right corner.
The second goal in the 90+3rd minute exploited the space that Dortmund conceded in the wide channel for defensive solidity through the middle of the pitch. After Dortmund once again played an unsuccessful long ball up field, Bremen were able to pick apart the BVB shape with some quick short passing. By this point, the Dortmund players looked lost as if they had no idea of what their role was in the system.
Both teams were looking to score and were pushing bodies forward in search of a goal. Dortmund were hoping to kill off the match which in hindsight they should have just attempted to hold onto their lead and pulled their attacker back into their own half to contain the pressure while looking to catch Bremen on the counterattack.
Instead, Bremen progressed the ball into the final third, slicing through the Dortmund midfield with ease. From the centre, they spread the ball to the right wide channel where Pieper was completely unmarked. With both Bremen and Dortmund players flooding towards the box, Pieper sent a teasing cross towards the D. Schmidt made a perfectly timed run, but once again was left unmarked by the Dortmund defence, to meet the cross before guiding a header into the bottom corner.
Dortmund’s final mistake came as they looked to rectify throwing away their three points by sending more players forward to get a late winner. With the structure of both teams all over the place at this point, if either team could muster up a final chance anybody could snatch a win.
Perhaps with Dortmund being at home, they felt obligated to instigate the impetus to seal the game. In doing so once they lost the ball inside the Bremen half, their midfield was non-existent allowing Bremen to pass directly to the feet of their striker. Numerically it was a four versus four but Bremen had the advantage of Burke being on the blindside of Wolf. With Wolf unaware of Burke’s movement, the Scottish international ran between the full-back and centre-half of BVB to get on the end of Weiser’s perfectly-hit through ball. Once on the end of the defence-splitting pass, Burke just had the keeper to beat as he blasted home the winner at Kobel’s near post.
Dortmund had plenty of warning signs before these three goals, but Edin Terzić was unable to find a solution before Bremen overcame their two-goal deficit.
Borussia Dortmund will be devastated to have let a two-goal lead slip in the last six minutes of the match, but they only have themselves to blame for their tactical mistakes. Edin Terzić struggled to impact the game with his substitutions as he saw his team collapse in extra time.
Werder Bremen on the other hand would have hoped to capitalise on their statistical advantage in shots and possession earlier in the second half, however, Ole Werner will be over the moon with the result and the influence of his substitutions on the match.
Dortmund have some major tactical issues that need addressing, with the shape and structure of the team all over the place, gifting the opposition space to exploit. Along with that, the Dortmund attack relied heavily on long shots and individual brilliance which is not a suitable tactic for the season. Both managers will be able to take a lot from the match as Edin Terzić looks to challenge the top of the table, compared to Ole Werner whose Bremen side hope to remain in the top flight after their promotion.