Push Notification


Bundesliga 2020/21: Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke 04 - tactical preview - tactics analysis

Bundesliga 2020/21: Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke 04 – tactical preview

It is probably the most powerful derby in European football: Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke 04 – a fixture with lots of tradition. And, it is that time again: On the matchday 5 of the Bundesliga season 2020/21, there will be the prestigious Revierderby between Borussia Dortmund and FC Schalke 04. Kick-off is at 6:30 pm CET in the Signal Iduna Park in Dortmund.

The signs ahead of this match could hardly be more different. While Dortmund is ranked on place 3 with 9 out of 12 points in 4 matches, Schalke could only get one point out of 4 matches. After two matches, former Schalke coach David Wagner was fired. New head coach Manuel Baum could only get one point out of two matches.

But, the current form of Borussia Dortmund is not that good as it looks like. They only lost one match in Bundesliga, but also lost the Super Cup final against their big rivals FC Bayern and the first match against Lazio in the UEFA Champions League. Adding to that, in a derby, everything is possible and fans from all over the world will look forward to this match.

This tactical analysis will look at both sides’ attacking and defending tactics, all with the aim of finding their strengths and weaknesses. The analysis will also look at which line-ups both sides could use.

Possible line-ups

Bundesliga 2020/21: Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke 04 - tactical preview - tactics analysis

Dortmund´s struggle against compact shapes

Since the arrival of Favre as head coach, Dortmund have massive problems against teams with a compact shape. Favre is well known for his playing style based on combination play. Therefore, he does not like to see his team playing on the wings. But, he rather wants his team to play through the centre. With Emre Can, Mats Hummels, Axel Witsel and Jude Bellingham, Dortmund have quality players who can build-up the game from the back. However, especially against deep-lying opponents, they struggle to find the right solutions.

This issue appeared in Dortmund´s last match against Lazio once again. In the situation below, Bellingham is in possession trying to build-up Dortmund´s game during an offensive transition. He passes the ball vertical to bring it into an advanced area on the pitch as quick as possible. However, Lazio tightened up space in this area and could intercept this pass. As a result, Lazio could start a counter-attack immediately. The better option would have been a horizontal pass to Meunier to use the whole width of the pitch and to play on the right wing instead of through the center.

Bundesliga 2020/21: Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke 04 - tactical preview - tactics analysis

So, for Schalke, it will be essential to stay deep in their own half and to form a compact shape in the phases without possession. By doing so, they also reduce space between their lines. These are the moments Dortmund will want to prevent.

In the image below, we can see how Schalke defended against Union Berlin. In a 4-3-3 shape, Vedad Ibišević was the most offensive player in Baum´s team. Nevertheless, he started defending within Schalke´s own half. That is why Schalke were in a compact shape with reduced space in between the lines. However, by doing so Schalke leaves space on the wings. Favre will have to adapt his playing style to give his team the opportunity for more offensive actions.

Bundesliga 2020/21: Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke 04 - tactical preview - tactics analysis

Schalke´s coordination problems

Another simple reason for changing Dortmund´s playing style is Schalke´s communication issue. Even under new head coach Baum, they are extremely vulnerable to crosses by their opponents. Against RB Leipzig and Union Berlin, most of the goals they conceded were scored after crosses. Schalke seem to have a big coordination problem. Especially their backline is vulnerable. Even if they are in numerical superiority, they are weak in defending crosses.

In the following situation, Schalke have eight players and their goalkeeper against five Union players within the own box. At the first look, it seems like they form a compact shape. But, at the back post, two Union players are completely free. With one movement, one player can run through the centre towards the first post and heads the ball into the back of the net.

Bundesliga 2020/21: Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke 04 - tactical preview - tactics analysis

So, to be successful against Schalke, crosses are the most dangerous weapon. Even if Favre is not a fan of high crosses into the box, Dortmund have enough players who are able to head the ball into the goal.

In the image below, Meunier has lots of space and time to cross the ball into the box. With Giovanni Reyna, Axel Witsel and Erling Haaland, three players are using a well-timed run into the box to provide passing options. Especially Witsel and Haaland are known for their good headers. These movements with lots of offensive power will be the key to score.

Bundesliga 2020/21: Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke 04 - tactical preview - tactics analysis

Counter-attacks as opportunity

Dortmund is likely to be in possession most time of the match. Nevertheless, Schalke will get their opportunities. By staying deep and trying to get back possession, they will need to be quick in their offensive transitions. Dortmund´s backline is staying very high and their wing-backs are struggling with coming back into the back-five in time. These moments will be important for Schalke to exonerate and maybe to get their goal-scoring opportunities.

In the image below, Dortmund is in a defensive transition. Their backline is staying high, their wing-backs are too offensive and can’t come back to form a back-five in time. That is why Dortmund’s centre-backs are facing a 3-vs.-3 situation and Lazio can exploit much space on the wings.

Bundesliga 2020/21: Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke 04 - tactical preview - tactics analysis

Even if Emre Can is ready to play again and Manuel Akanji might play, the backline will need to coordinate much better to avoid those situations. Schalke will look for exactly these moments.


Dortmund are the favourites – not just on the paper. But, a derby is always special. Favre will need to change the playing style of his team as they will need to play more on the wings – not just in the upcoming match against Schalke. If Schalke will use their counter-attacks wisely, they can score goals. Dortmund will need to have better coordination in their own defence and to punish Schalke´s communication problems.