Borussia Dortmund have had a scintillating season so far, sitting pretty at the top of the Bundesliga having ended 2018 as the Herbstmeisterschaft (winter champions). Bayern Munich have been breathing down their neck though, as the Bundesliga sees a proper title race for the first time in years.
Die Schwarzgelben came into this away game on the back of a 5-1 thrashing of Hannover 96, while Eintracht Frankfurt, the home side, had only managed a 2-2 draw away to Werder Bremen. Both sides boasted two players each in the running for the Torjagerkanone – Luka Jovic (13 goals before this game) and Sebastien Haller (11) for the hosts, and Marco Reus (12) and Paco Alcacer (12) for the visitors. This game promised to be one full of action and surprises.
Adi Hutter put new signing Martin Hinteregger straight into the action, on the right of a back three, while Sebastian Rode faced his parent club. Frankfurt’s much-vaunted front three of Sebastian Haller, Ante Rebic and Luka Jovic all started.
Lucien Favre has had injury problems at the back to contend with, as Manuel Akanji and Dan-Axel Zagadou were still both missing. Julian Weigl was drafted in alongside Abdou Diallo at centre-back, while Raphael Guerreiro played on the wing, with Achraf Hakimi occupying the left-back slot. Former Barcelona forward Paco Alcacer, Marco Reus and Jadon Sancho formed a pacy front three.
Frankfurt’s pressing unnerves Dortmund
Adi Hutter’s sent out his side with clear instructions to disrupt Dortmund’s passing out from the back, with Die Adler’s narrow front three helping to overload Dortmund in central areas. Frankfurt’s front three would shut down central passing lanes, forcing Weigl and Diallo to either go wide to the full-backs or clear long down the pitch.
Frankfurt’s system was geared towards this. Playing a 3-4-1-2, they forced the Dortmund defence to stay narrow in order to counter the threat of their three forwards, which in turn created space for their wing-backs on the flanks. This was even more evident down Dortmund’s right, where Jadon Sancho did not track back as much as Guerreiro did on the opposite side.
Playing a two-man midfield of Axel Witsel and Thomas Delaney was another factor which allowed the Frankfurt press to be successful. Neither of the two players is extremely mobile, and they had to contend with Luka Jovic’s movement from a number 10 role as well. The image above shows this; note how Haller and Jovic have both gone beyond Witsel and Delaney, with Rebic on the ball.
While Frankfurt’s goal came from a long ball downfield and a calamitous mix-up between Diallo and Weigl, Jovic’s relentless pursuit created the opportunity as well. However, Dortmund did manage to break the Frankfurt press on multiple occasions, with a tactical tweak helping them out in this regard.
Die Schwarzgelben combated the Frankfurt press by dropping Witsel in between the centre-backs. This allowed them to cope with Die Adler’s front three, and also enabled the full-backs to get further up the pitch to push back the opposition wing-backs.
Reus is everywhere
Marco Reus has had one of his best seasons so far. Hhe kept up the pace here as well, scoring his 13th league goal of the season to briefly take him level with Jovic at the top of the Bundesliga scoring charts. Playing off Alcacer as a support striker, Reus covered the width of the pitch, combining with both Guerreiro and Sancho, as can be seen from his touch map below.
The most eye-catching feature of this display was the Dortmund captain’s ability to continuously and consistently find space between the lines. He was almost always in space when receiving the ball, which allowed him to either pick out a runner with a pass, or run at the backtracking Frankfurt defence himself.
Another key aspect, one which has become somewhat of a trademark under Stoger, is Dortmund’s incredibly direct style of play. Passes are always geared towards getting the ball forward as fast as possible, with players moving off the ball to create room for that elusive run in behind. This was present in abundance at the Commerzbank-Arena, as can be seen below.
The above image is a brilliant example of their co-ordinated movement. Alcacer comes deep to receive the ball, with Reus and Guerreiro making runs into the space he vacates. Meanwhile, Sancho is looking to stretch the Frankfurt defence by making a run down the right flank. Alcacer eventually flicks the ball on to Guerreiro, who passes it to the onrushing Reus. The German ends up toe-poking the ball just wide of the post.
Despite only picking up a point at the Commerzbank-Arena, Dortmund still managed to extend their lead at the top of the Bundesliga table, due to Bayern Munich’s loss to Bayer Leverkusen. This was an exciting game, where Dortmund were let down by their finishing. On another day, Marco Reus could have had a hat-trick in the first half itself. Nevertheless, they did well to cope with a talented and well-drilled Frankfurt side, and look well on course to keep their place at the summit for quite some time.
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