Mittwoch, 18.01.2017

Borussia Dortmund’s recent issues

Borussia Dortmund finished the first part of the season in disappointing fashion. The Schwarzgelben scored three consecutive draws in the Bundesliga before going into the winter break, confirming that they are still heavily struggling with the losses of Mats Hummels, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ilkay Gündoğan. Yet the departure of these three superstars has not solely caused Dortmund’s recent issues.

Thomas Tuchel has a few top-notch prospects on hand—particularly in the attacking department—but BVB need more than the raw talent of Ousmane Dembélé or Raphaël Guerreiro in order to consistently dominate their Bundesliga opponents. Following a 1-0 win over rivals Bayern Munich in mid-November, Dortmund lost to Frankfurt, beat Borussia Mönchengladbach, and drew with 1. FC Cologne, TSG Hoffenheim and FC Augsburg.


Line-ups vs Cologne, Hoffenheim and Augsburg

At first, it seemed as though Tuchel’s side recovered from a terrible month of October, where they failed to win a single league match. But at the end, Dortmund were not effective enough in different phases of the game, which cost them points over and over again. The most important weaknesses of the team in recent matches included:

  • Inappropriate build-up structures
  • Ineffective spacing in midfield
  • Inconsistent movement at the back

Looking for an opening

Since the away match at Frankfurt, BVB had 58 per cent ball possession on average, per Squawka. Normally, Dortmund looked like they were completely in control, but in fact they were one bad touch away from losing the ball and conceding a goal. The likes of Frankfurt and Cologne figured out how to defend the Schwarzgelben in their first phase of the build-up.

Especially when BVB tended to play short passes to Łukasz Piszczek or Erik Durm on the wing, it became rather easy to shut down all passing lanes within an instant. And even if that did not happen, the options Dortmund’s full-backs or wing-backs had were limited. A diagonal pass attempt to move the ball to a winger was how Dortmund continued the build-up, thus when entering higher zones opponents could put pressure on the ball-receiver and intercept the subsequent layoff pass attempts. Dembélé in his new role as an outside-in striker, however, can offer a stronger threat because of his ability to maintain ball possession even when he is outnumbered in small pockets. His quick combinations with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could be a key to create more goalscoring opportunities in upcoming months.


Frankfurt’s player knew when to withdraw from the coverage of one play in order to attack another, especially when the possibility of isolating a Dortmund full-back at the touchline arose.


It did not work out in that scene, yet it provided evidence that Dembélé’s positioning in the half-space yards away from the touchline can help Dortmund’s entire attacking game. The Frenchman is closer to Aubameyang and attacks a weak spot of most defences.

As an alternative to build-up plays through the wings, Dortmund occasionally tried to advance down the middle. Against Frankfurt, for instance, Julian Weigl tried to initiate attacking plays by moving through the middle or playing the ball behind the opposing midfield line. And if the ball reached Mario Götze or Gonzalo Castro, Dortmund looked dangerous. But the risks Weigl took in those situations was fairly high. Plus, you should not be forced to pull out high-risk ground passes every time you want to enter the space in between the opposing lines. For a team like Dortmund, there have to be various ways to bypass the first and second block.

Yet Tuchel apparently set up systems in which both higher-positioned midfielders were far away from Weigl and the defenders on many occasions. Stretching the own formation and leaving a big gap between the lines hurt Dortmund’s ability to move the ball across central zones. The big gap was usually caused by Götze’s positioning, who, for whatever reason, often stood too wide to the left when playing as the second centre-midfielder against both Hoffenheim and Augsburg. During the home game against Augsburg, Götze started as a left-sided midfielder, which left Weigl on his own and resulted in the 21-year-old having to cover too much space. After a while, Tuchel ordered Götze to move back which improved Dortmund’s build-up play and counter-pressing ability significantly. Götze and Weigl created small triangles in cooperation with the centre-backs and therefore offered more and safer passing options.


A tight coverage and an advancing midfielder attacking the passing lane were enough to neutralise Dortmund’s efforts here. Weigl had dropped between the centre-backs–BVB played a 4-3-3 against Frankfurt–and no one followed up with a move into the free zone.


Ginter was out of options after receiving the ball from Sven Bender, as the Hoffenheim player close to him quickly shut down the passing lane to Dembélé who also moved away from Ginter. Meanwhile, both Götze and Reus stayed in their spots. Neither of them moved towards Ginter which would have created a free man either in the right half-space or on the far side.

Otherwise, by letting the ball circulate around the opponent’s first block the team neither became dangerous offensively, nor were safe from turning the ball over when getting outnumbered at the touchline. Add to that Roman Weidenfeller’s ball-playing weaknesses, with the veteran replacing the injured Roman Bürki from mid-November until the winter break, and it is apparent that especially Dortmund’s system that includes a back five needs strong involvement of both centre-midfielders in the build-up.

That said, BVB showed glimpses of improvement when the right wing-back in a back-five system moved up the pitch early on and allowed the right-sided centre-back to go wide. Thus the three defenders could play around a two-man block and set up short advances through the half-spaces, as it was seen against Hoffenheim. Julian Nagelsmann’s side narrowed the pitch by pushing the own back line forward, which then forced Marc Bartra, the most offensively ambitious centre-back, to play deep passes after advancing a few yards. In other matches, however, a free defender who is able to push through the half-space can usually be helpful to disrupt the opponent’s defensive structure.


A quick switch of sides allowed Bartra to bypass Hoffenheim’s first block. However, Dortmund only made use of those crossfield passes a few times, although they were 3 vs 2 when they did not give one of the opposing midfielders enough time to advance and shut down the half-space.

Wild and flustered in defence

All issues in the attacking department aside, Dortmund went behind in seven consecutive matches across competitions before the winter break. Some might point to Weidenfeller’s errors which surely made things worse, but there is more to BVB’s defensive struggles. This season so far, they have not been able to establish a high press that is intense and sophisticated enough to force early turnovers and an effective counter-pressing strategy due to the aforementioned stretched formation when they were on the ball.

This inevitably led to many situations where Dortmund’s defenders had to try avoiding opposing breakthroughs at the offside line. Unfortunately for them, they often made wrong decisions or had clear communication issues. Concretely, when defending transition or counter-attacks, at least one centre-back rushed forward with the intention to stop the ball-carrier while exposing a lot of space, as Dortmund’s defence had not set up a mechanism where an advancing centre-back is protected by fellow defenders who slightly move towards the gap. Especially when employing a back five this kind of mechanism has to work as the possibility of dynamically protecting the central zones is one of the essential advantages of having an additional defender in the middle.


Frankfurt produced a quick transition attack, as both Weigl and Sokratis moved towards the ball-carrier, therefore exposing big portion of the central space. The free man received the ball, but could not score thanks to a Weidenfeller save.

As explained in our analysis of RB Leipzig, Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side, for instance, is very goal-oriented in their defensive approach, as opposed to a strategy where a team intends to cover a bigger portion of the offside line. Dortmund’s defensive concept looked rather half-backed and their man-oriented scheme relied on the defenders’ individual quality, which seems risky given the performances players like Matthias Ginter and Bartra deliver at the moment.

In case opponents broke through Dortmund’s back line and had the chance to deliver cross passes, BVB tended to neglect the space at the edge of the penalty area, as too many players moved into the box or went into man-to-man coverage mode. This issue has been weakened Dortmund’s defence for seasons and is nothing new, though. Not every problem arose within the last few months, yet most of them did.


Moments prior to Frankfurt’s first goal against Dortmund.


Granted, questionable refereeing decisions and frequent injuries did not help Dortmund’s chances to close the first half of the season on a high note. Nevertheless, structural problems are mostly responsible for mediocre performances and therefore the loss of points. Tuchel could make tactical adjustments and try to increase the team’s defensive intensity during the winter break. Apart from a viable centre-midfielder to fill the Gündoğan gap, Tuchel can choose from a variety of players and fill roles flexibly, which allows him to employ different systems.

rasenschiller January 11, 2017 um 7:16 pm

I apologize in advance for using German in the following lines, it´s just easier for me:

Guter Artikel, der auf einer tieferen Ebene die Probleme des BVBs analysiert. Man hätte sich auch mit diesem Konzept “durchwurschteln” können und ohne den Bürki-Ausfall, den durchaus auffällig benachteiligenden Schirleistungen und günstigeren Ansetzungen (5 mal auswärts nach CL) so gut 6-7 Punkte mehr haben können. Bei den Bayern finden sich ja ähnliche Probleme, die haben wegen des Fehlens obiger Faktoren und auch wegen individueller Klasse (Lewi, Hummels) und günstigeren Ansetzungen (Heimspiele nach CL) nur eben die Punkte geholt.

Du nennst die folgenden drei Punkte:
Inappropriate build-up structures
Ineffective spacing in midfield
Inconsistent movement at the back

Auffällig ist, dass alle drei mit fehlenden Abläufen, fehlender Eingespieltheit und tlw. auch Erfahrung zu tun haben. Gemeinsames Training -und davon gibt es in der Rückrunde deutlich mehr- sollte da schon etwas verbessern.
Persönlich denke ich, dass man aus Gründen defensiver Risikominimierung auf Bender/Sokratis trotz ihrer Schwächen im Tiefenaufbau zurückgreifen sollte mit 4er-Kette, assymetrischem Spielaufbau (Schmelle links hoch, Pisczek eingebunden und Weigl (leider alternativlos)/Götze/Guierrero/Castro als Gelenkstellen/Aufbauspieler nutzen sollte. In den drei abgebildeten Aufstellungen sieht man, dass Weigl extrem undankbare Aufgaben hatte, da er nur einen Spieler als Passoption nach vorne hatte und daher oft der Pass zurück gespielt werden musste. Zwei der o.g. Spieler neben ihm dürften zum einen das Zustellen von Weil weniger effektiv machen, da dann immer noch einer von zwei Spielern (Götze/Guierrero/Castro) zur Verfügung steht. Oder ist das zu einfach gedacht. Beim 5-2-3 Ansatz entstehen ja durchaus interessante Räume, aber die wurden ja kaum bespielt.


Todti January 17, 2017 um 11:57 am

Ich glaube, das größte Problem ist (oder hoffentlich war) das Bewegungs- und Positionsspiel der zentralen Mittelfeldspieler und deshalb waere es meiner Meinung nach einfacher, dies schematisch mit einer 3-1-2-Staffelung im Zentrum zu lösen. Das hätte mehrere Vorteile:
– Weigl und damit auch die Spieler vor ihm müssen nicht zurückfallen, wodurch sie in für sie natürlicheren Rollen spielen können;
– wie CE beschrieben hat, kann der Aufbau so relativ breit gestaltet werden, wobei trotzdem über die Flügel aufgerückt und das Einrücken der vordersten Spieler ermöglicht wird;
– bei der Dreierkette könnte man die Schwächen von Sokratis/Bender leichter kaschieren bzw. sie weniger exponieren;
– sobald die Herausrückmechanismen besser abgestimmt sind, sollte die Dreierkette auch defensiv für mehr Stabilität sorgen; und
– falls Weigl zugestellt ist, sollte es durch die Präsenz in den höheren Zonen auch möglich sein, Weigl von einem der Halbverteidiger aus zu überspielen.

Ich denke, das ist zumindest kurzfristig die einfachere Lösung. So könnte das in etwa aussehen:


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