Yellow Wall: Haaland heroics overshadow clever Dortmund defensive strategy vs Sevilla – tactical analysis
Sevilla and Borussia Dortmund were expected to display attractive football and put on a show in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 meetings. And that’s exactly what happened. Borussia Dortmund got back on track after a few disappointing performances lately and got an important 3-2 away win against a Sevilla team that have been impressive in LaLiga this season.
Borussia had actually listened to the critiques and changed a few things in their strategy that helped them stop Sevilla’s best performers in attack. On the other side, the Julen Lopetegui side didn’t show the needed creativity that could’ve brought them a step closer to the next round.
Despite conceding twice, the Germans displayed an outstanding defensive performance which was the key to their final success. Additionally, the excellence of the youngster Erling Haaland, who scored two of their three goals underlined the success of their smart approach.
It seemed like the Spaniards had control over the game (or at least that’s what the possession data shows) but it was actually Borussia who navigated Sevilla’s movement through their defensive actions. While the Spaniards had more of the ball, they didn’t manage to break through the BVB efficiently and ended up on the losing side.
Line-ups and formations
Sevilla started the game in more of a 4-2-3-1 formation out of possession used a back-three in their build-up Bono covered the goal, while Sergio Escudero, Diego Caros, Jules Koundé and Jesús Navas supported him upfront. In midfield, Fernando and Ivan Rakitić had the main responsibilities in the build-up, while Joan Jordán moved to the more advanced areas. The attacking line consisted of Papu Gómez, Youssef En-Nesyri and Suso.
The Spaniard had more of the ball throughout the game, constantly pushing forward and trying to break through Borussia’s block. This turned out difficult to them despite their experienced attacking players. The club’s leading goal scorer En-Nesyri didn’t manage to place well in the advanced areas and failed to provide the needed explosiveness in attack, despite the team’s frequent crossing efforts. After conceding, the team started playing more aggressively but their lack of creativity in attack stopped them from exposing BVB’s defence. Their overcommitment there though caused them some trouble against BVB’s young and pacey attacking players who were looking to use the gaps that Sevilla leave very smartly.
The Germans on the other side opted for more of a 4-1-4-1 and had to change strategy early on after conceding in the seventh minute. They quickly regrouped and focused on their defensive actions while increasing their awareness to take advantage of each opportunity that occurs in attack.
Marwin Hitz was on the goal, supported by Raphaël Guerreiro, Mats Hummels, Manuel Akanji and Mateu Morey. The central midfield was occupied by Emre Can in the defensive midfield role and Mahmoud Dahoud and Jude Bellingham, while Jadon Sancho and Marko Reus had slightly more advanced positions covering the wings. They all worked together to deliver to Haaland upfront.
The team didn’t put their efforts into their attacking actions but used their opportunities wisely and the chances came naturally, many of the times thanks to their pace and strong off the ball movement.
Why was Borussia’s defensive approach successful?
What brought the Bundesliga team a step forward in this game was their defensive approach. After conceding early on, the team dropped drastically deeper in a 4-4-2 out of possession, making sure they limit the spaces between the lines and don’t allow any room for movement to Sevilla’s attacking players.
The team wouldn’t apply intense press but would rather stay deep and keep their defensive structure aiming to not leave any gaps that the experienced Sevilla players could exploit.
There were two factors that helped them in executing their defensive duties well. One of them was the Spaniards’ approach and lack of ideas but the more important one was BVB’s attackers’ outstanding support.
The attacking trio has been criticised for the lack of defensive support from their side throughout Dortmund’s poor run lately and it looks like that was something they have considered against an attacking team like Sevilla. Immediately after the conceded goal, their behaviour changed and they started to constantly drop back and form another line of defence, trying to stop the opposition’s attacking efforts early on. This was crucial in securing the wide areas. The Rojiblancos played with width and BVB’s attacking players were key in preventing the opposition from breaking through the flanks and from sending accurate crosses. Sancho, Haaland and Reus disturbed Sevilla’s players and provided additional support with their positioning and press.
That, combined with the limited spaces between the lines resulted in better coverage and less space for the Sevilla players to use their strong link-up-play and attacking triangles to expose the opposition.
Sevilla’s lack of plan B in attack
As mentioned, the second reason for Borussia’s success in defence was Sevilla’s attacking approach. While the Spaniards are usually very successful in their forward ventures, they do slack versatility which often makes them predictable. An indicator of a possible future problem was also the poor performance of El-Nasyri, which immensely decreased the team’s efficiency in front of the goal. His inability to position well off the ball and provide options to his teammates centrally resulted in them struggling to utilize chances. Sevilla’s dependency on him could turn out as an issue if he gets injured or is just too tightly covered by the opposite team.
The Rojiblancos focused their build-up and attacking actions on the flanks, trying to use their usual link-up-play and crossing to expose the opposition. Including BVB’s attacking trio in the defensive actions though ruined their plans. Despite having more of the ball in the opposition half, they found it hard to break through using their attacking triangles. Borussia often forced them to switch play and look to expose the underloaded side, but and their movement as a unit often anticipated their actions and prevented them from creating chances.
Even when they did manage to shoot, very few of their efforts were on target which deepened their struggles. That’s mainly a result of Sevilla being forced to shoot from distance, due to the opposition’s mid to low block and their inability to exploit the spaces between the lines. That’s underlined by their shot zones data – 58% of the Spaniard’s 11 shots have been outside of the box.
Julen Lopetegui tried to initiate a change in the second half though. He introduced subbed all three of his attacking players and introduced Luuk de Jong, Munir El Haddadi and Óliver Torres, completely committing the team’s actions to attack. He tried bringing more explosiveness using De Jong’s positioning in the box and his aerial abilities. He, later on, changed Jordan for Óscar Rodríguez too.
It took some time for the team to adjust but this did increase their efficiency in front of the goal. They pushed even harder and used De Jong’s movement off the ball to expose the opposition. This strategy worked out and the team scored for 2-3 in the 84th minute. That’s when Borussia started got out of their well-structured block and started pressing more intensely in efforts to trouble Sevilla’s build-up and prevent them from equalising. Their PPDA changed from an average of 33 throughout the game to 11 in the last 10-15 minutes of the game.
After their second goal the emotions took over and Sevilla started being very hasty and aggressive, which took off of their precision failing to reach the draw.
Borussia’s counter-attacking efforts and Haaland’s excellence
Contrary to Sevilla, Borussia utilised their opportunities very smartly and did what they do best –
After conceding the first goal and changing their defensive approach Borussia really focused on taking advantage of Sevilla’s high positioning and possession-based approach. They saw an opportunity in exposing the opposition on a counter on a few occasions and it is safe to say that it worked due to Sevilla’s overcommitment in attack. The Borussia players are experienced in exposing their opponents on speed and with Sancho’s and Haaland’s presence, they managed to do it against the Spaniards too.
They were vulnerable due to their back-three approach when in possession. Although they tried defending in a 4-4-2, they did sometimes fail to get back on time and fell victim to Borussia’s pace and passing. The Germans break through Sevilla’s unusually shaky defence using quick transitions and through balls to Haaland who scored twice after similar situations.
Haaland impressed again, scoring his seventh and eighth goals in the Champions League this season. He also assisted Dahoud for Borussia’s equaliser. Supporting the team’s defensive actions and dropping deeper to their own half didn’t take off of his explosiveness in attack and all of his three shots in the game were on target. His intelligent positioning and confidence on the ball resulted in him creating the German’s best opportunities in the game, completely dismissing Sevilla’s defenders.
Borussia Dortmund introduced an improved defensive approach and the attackers’ contribution to it helped them in keeping the attacking Sevilla side away from the goal. The Spaniards on the other side struggled in their creativity and failed to provide different options in attack, as our analysis showed, sticking to exploiting the flanks and switching play which helped BVB in their road to the win.