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UEFA Champions League 2020/21: Shakhtar Donetsk vs Borussia Monchengladbach - tactical analysis tactics

UEFA Champions League 2020/21: Shakhtar Donetsk vs Borussia Monchengladbach – tactical analysis

Group B in the UEFA Champions League has turned out to be the most surprising and unpredictable group. Matchday three saw the meeting of group leaders Shakhtar Donetsk host second place Borussia Monchengladbach. Both teams would have expected to be fighting for the Europa League third place position but through good positive starts have put themselves in the position to potentially challenge to qualify for the knockout stages.

Shakhtar can be most pleased sitting on top of the pile and propelled themselves into this position with an unexpected 3-2 win over Real Madrid in round 1 of the competition, following this with another positive 0-0 draw with Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan side last week. Gladbach are also on an unbeaten run against the same opposition. Marco Rose will feel his side could be on maximum points but for his side inability to close out both games as they conceded goals in injury time on both outings leaving them with two draws coming into this game.

Both teams are in good form winning their respective matches in their domestic leagues so it makes for an intriguing game as they battle for top spot. That initial outlook for the game quickly faded within 7 minutes as Gladbach dominated the game and made the breakthrough. Rose’s side put a further 5 goals past Donetsk with Alanssane Plea capping his day off with a hat-trick.

This tactical analysis will provide a breakdown of this game focusing on the tactics of both teams and will explain how Shakhtar Donetsk setup was inefficient and how Borussia Monchengladbach captalised on this poor structure . This analysis will also look at how Macro Rose’s side controlled the game out of possession, in terms of their defensive shape and also their clever pressing system which punished the Ukrainian side.


UEFA Champions League 2020/21: Shakhtar Donetsk vs Borussia Monchengladbach - tactical analysis tactics

Luís Castro set up his side in a 4-1-4-1 formation for this European clash. The Portuguese manager rested majority of his team and made 10 changes to the side that comfortably dispatched Mariupol 4-1 on Friday. The impressive 19-year-old keeper Anatolii Trubin who made some key saves against Inter replaced veteran Andriy Pyatov between the sticks. Valeriy Bondor and Davit Khocholava came into the heart of the defence to replace Vitao and Mykola Matviyenko respectively.

The young exciting Brazilian duo of Macros Antonio and Tete came into the side in place of Alan Patrick and Vladyslav Vakula. The only player to retain is spot from the weekend game was Taison who played as the lone striker with support behind him from club captain Marlos.

Gladbach lined up in a 4-2-3-1 for this game in Donetsk. Macro Rose did not have the luxury to rest his entire team as his side had an important game against Bundesliga leaders RB Leipzig, he did however have one eye on this game as Rose looked to freshen up his team by making three changes to the side that won 1-0 on the weekend.

His first change was at the base of midfield with Christoph Kramer coming in for Patrick Herrman. The Austrian’s other changes came at the top half of the pitch as Lars Stindl took up his role in the attacking midfield position replacing Breel Embolo. Macrus Thuarm was Gladbach’s last change replacing Gladbach’s sole goal scorer on the weekend, Hannes Wolf, to take up his position on the left wing.

Shakhtar’s inefficient structure 

Luís Castro’s decision to rest his team for this game went against him as his team lacked intensity and were quite flat from the start. As a result Shakhtar were unable to apply pressure and effect the ball as Gladbach were able to stroke the ball around with ease. However, a much bigger problem to Shakhtar’s game was the inefficient tactics they employed out of possession. Coupled with the lack of pressure on the ball from the first two lines who were quite passive, Shakhtar’s defensive line played extremely high. This inefficient structure created large spaces and potential opportunities in behind that Gladbach could easily play a direct ball over the top to runners attacking this space.

We can see below, how Shakhtar’s quite odd shape out of possession created huge spaces in behind for Gladbach’s attacking players to exploit. Florian Neuhaus who is a very adept passer of the ball is able to receive the ball of his backline, turn out and dribble into space due to the very passive Shakhtar midfield not applying pressure on the ball enabling him to lift his head up and assess how to progress the ball forward.

UEFA Champions League 2020/21: Shakhtar Donetsk vs Borussia Monchengladbach - tactical analysis tactics

Shakhtar’s defensive line is also pushed up extremely high behind which you can see above creates a large open space in behind for Gladbach and on this occasion Neuhaus to potentially exploit. Shakhtar defensive line needs to drop back as there is no pressure applied on the man in possession and failed to recognise this on many occasions.

Castro realised there was a problem but instead of making a small tweak to the structure he made significant changes to how his side setup almost trying to rectify the two problems independently which disjointed his side even more. Castro instructed his forward and midfielders to come out of their passive approach and press Gladbach high up the pitch aggressively.

Instead of creating a vertical compact shape to make their press effective, his defensive line that was once so high had dropped back deeper which made it easy for Gladbach to evade and play through Shakhtar’s press as there was space created in between the lines for the German side to find players and play out from the back. We can see this disjointed shape below as Shakhtar try to aggressively press Gladbach.

UEFA Champions League 2020/21: Shakhtar Donetsk vs Borussia Monchengladbach - tactical analysis tactics

However, Gladbach are able to play through this press easily as Shakhtar’s defensive line has not pushed up to squeeze the pitch instead have dropped deep leaving numerous Gladbach players free in between the lines. Gladbach play the ball to Jonas Hofmann who is free and Gladbach have numbers forward to launch an attack as Hofmann switches the play to Thuram and the move ends with Plea scoring a goal, punishing Shakhtar’s poor structure.

Gladbach’s right side oriented attack

Along with the fact that Shakhtar’s structure was inefficient, Gladbach exploited this well with how they progressed the ball forward. In possession, the German side set up in a 3-2-5 formation with one of the double pivots dropping into the defensive line. This allowed Gladbach’s right-back Stefan Lainer to push high and wide up to the forward line, which either spreads the opposition backline creating space in the half-spaces and centrally or if the defensive line stays narrow leaves the Austrian full-back free on the wing.

Shakhtar’s defensive line did the latter which opened up space on the right wing for Lainer to attack into. With Shakhtar so narrow horizontally, Rose spotted this opportunity especially down the right with Lainer pushing forward to overload this wing as an avenue to create chances. We can see this clear tactic from the German side to overload the right wing below, as Neuhaus has dropped in between the centre-backs who have split wide, Lainer is then able to push forward high and wide.

UEFA Champions League 2020/21: Shakhtar Donetsk vs Borussia Monchengladbach - tactical analysis tactics

Shakhtar’s defensive line is quite narrow Plea also notices this and so peels out to this right wing with right-midfielder Hofmann (who has moved infield slightly) and Lainer to exploit this space and create an overload. As aforementioned there is space in behind as the Shakhtar defensive line is also extremely high and so Gladbach have three willing runners ready to attack this space as shown above.

It did not take long for Gladbach to find the free man in behind on the right and exploit this opportunity that was presented to them through good positional play from the full-back and the poor defensive structure that Shakhtar employed as it resulted in the breakthrough goal, which we can see below. Neuhaus again drops back into the defensive line, which enables Lainer to push high and wide down the right wing.

UEFA Champions League 2020/21: Shakhtar Donetsk vs Borussia Monchengladbach - tactical analysis tactics

Hofmann is clever with his movement as he moves centrally (he is the player central in the offside position above) with this movement and Shakhtar’s narrow shape it opens up acres of space down the right as Lainer makes a blindside run, Neuhaus spots his full-back free on the right and plays a lovely long diagonal ball sending his side up to the final third. Lainer is in so much space that he is able to compose himself and pick his head up to find Plea arriving at the edge of the box to finish past Trubin in the goal.

With Shakhtar playing so narrow and the defensive line being so high there were ample opportunities for Gladbach to exploit. The German outfit found a clear avenue as they targeted the right flank with Lainer’s movement coupled with Hofmann and on occasion Plea and Stindl even drifting out to attack this space. We can see from the graphic below the sheer volume of Gladbach’s attacks came down the right.

UEFA Champions League 2020/21: Shakhtar Donetsk vs Borussia Monchengladbach - tactical analysis tactics

We can also see with that how effective they were down this side creating a staggering 74% of their xG attacking down this flank, as Shakhtar struggled with Gladbach’s movement and positional play on this side. Ultimately Castro failed to address and stop the flow down this side which was an extremely fruitful avenue for the German side to build and create attacking opportunities.

Gladbach’s efficient pressing system and rigid defensive shape

Marco Rose’s side were not just effective with the ball but out of possession they also excelled. Shakhtar when they were in possession found it difficult to break down the German side as they played in a 4-4-2 mid-block in these defensive phases of play.

Gladbach did really well to shut off the central areas as Neuhaus and Kramer pushed up on Marcos Antonio and Marlos as Stindl keep close tabs on the lone sitting midfielder Maycon. Shakhtar were unable to progress the ball forward and were subjected to playing the ball from side to side with little penetration.

Even on the occasion when Gladbach were not organised in this defensive structure, like on a counter attack situation the German side were able to recover quickly, slow up the Shakhtar attacking effort enabling their players to get back and set back up in this defensive shape.

We can see this in the move below as Shakhtar have a countering attacking opportunity, Gladbach recover brilliantly and force the Ukrainian side back all the way back to their backline and as shown Gladbach are able to push up and reset in their defensive shape. Shakhtar’s passing options are blocked off as a result.

UEFA Champions League 2020/21: Shakhtar Donetsk vs Borussia Monchengladbach - tactical analysis tactics

In attempt to create a passing option to progress the ball, lone striker Taison (highlighted in red) drops deep to create a numerical advantage but Gladbach’s shape is so well organised they have blocked off this option effectively. From this potential transitional move Shakhtar attack was stopped.

This move was their most sustained piece of possession in the first half as they kept the ball for over 2 minutes and tried to create an opportunity but they were forced back as they played with the ball in their own third as shown above before getting impatient and trying to play forward, Gladbach’s well organised defensive shape made it easy for them to intercept this attempt to regain the ball.

After the interval, Donetsk made a triple change which aided them in keeping the ball as they enjoyed more than 57% possession. But still having less of the ball Gladbach still controlled the game and created pressing traps through their efficient pressing system forcing the Ukranian side into areas where Gladbach were set up to surround the ball, win possession high up the pitch and punish on the transition like we see below.

UEFA Champions League 2020/21: Shakhtar Donetsk vs Borussia Monchengladbach - tactical analysis tactics

Thuarm does well to press the Shakhtar central defender from the inside to force him out wide. Gladbach’s right sided midfield players are sitting off but waiting to press Shakhtar’s left-back who appears open to his teammate in possession. As the Shakhtar centre-back releases the pass, Christoph Kramer and Valentino Lazaro (who has just come on as a sub) press aggressively and surround the ball as Lazaro nicks the ball off the Shakhtar player into Kramer and Gladbach punish the Ukrainian side as this move ends in their 6th goal, such a ferocious and effective pressing system .


Exactly as the scoreline suggests there was a huge gulf in quality, on the sideline in how both coaches organised and setup their respective teams on the night which transcended to the state of play on the pitch. Gladbach exploited clear deficiencies in Shakhtar’s structure and completely dominated the Ukrainian side as they led 4-0 at the half-time break.
Gladbach while not having as much of the ball after the interval controlled the game out of possession with their well organised defensive structure and clever pressing system which ultimately made it a very tough night for Luís Castro and his side.