Spurs comeback victory over BVB seals Group H
Dortmund’s struggles under Peter Bosz continued Tuesday evening after conceding two second half goals to Tottenham, officially eliminating them from the Round of 16. For the North London club, this result clinched the top spot of Group H, having already earned a spot into the knockout rounds prior to kickoff. The result also prevented BVB from getting their first win in this year’s Champions League campaign.
Bosz used his customary 4-3-3 formation with Gotze and Kagawa being the high 8’s in the group. BVB were missing a number of usual suspects, as Sokratis and Piscezeck were missing from the backline due to injury, while starlet Christian Pulisic was out with a thigh problem. Raphael Guerriero was positioned as a left winger rather than in the deeper roles that he occupied under Thomas Tuchel. Mauricio Pochettino’s starting XI was as expected with Toby Alderweireld out of action. Both wingbacks were changed from the North London Derby this past weekend, alongside Harry Winks and Son Heung-Min getting the start. Dier was placed on the right of the three center backs, moving from the central role he had against Arsenal.
BVB started the match with a higher press led by Aubameyang reared by the two wingers, which allowed for access to the back three of Spurs and prevent them from building up. If the ball was passed back to Lloris, the press would continue onto him so that he would be forced to play the ball long and Dortmund could potentially win possession around midfield or playing the ball out of bounds.
The advanced positioning of Rose and Aurier made it so there were not any real short options out wide, while Eriksen and Winks each tried to get a foothold of the match in the halfspaces when on the ball side in the initial stages. This was covered well by the center midfielders with their cover shadow, alongside Schmelzer and Toljan who occupied intermediate positions between the two options so they could pressure if the one of them received the ball.
Unlike the last leg where BVB had the large majority of possession, time on the ball was shared evenly between the two clubs. For the first stages of the game, Tottenham had the ball for a greater amount of time than Dortmund before the home side settled into the game.
The compactness and high line that was set by Bosz’s team denied Spurs any viable method of progressing through the midfield, so much of the distribution from the back line was aerial and direct. This led to the ball in the hands of Burki and some deep build ups for Dortmund. Most of Dortmund’s attacks that led to anything productive were originated from the left side, where Marcel Schmelzer had considerable influence.
BVB Fluidity gets the Breakthrough
For those attacks that were productive from the right, positional rotations would occur during the consolidation of possession near the half way line. An example of this is where Toljan would run move linearly to occupy the right halfspace, while Gotze would drop deeper into his zone. Yarmalenko then pops out to the wing in this instance to unbalance the opponent. Other instances had Yarmolenko pinch inside with Toljan overlapping, and Gotze moving to Toljan’s spot.
Many of their best attacks involved Yarmolenko when the Ukrainian drifted centrally. With Spurs converting into a 5 chain in the back out of possession, these movements would force Danny Rose to decide whether or not to follow. Yarmolenko would drop so at times that he would occupy positions similar to an attacking midfielder or one of the 8’s, but his positioning served as one method that Dortmund could find forward options when on the ball.
He was a third option centrally for Weigl (or the center backs) instead of Gotze and Kagawa, who were covered well by Winks and Eriksen. Since Gotze and Kagawa often had to drop back to find the ball, Yarmolenko moving centrally continued to balance the team and make sure there were sufficient connections in the team.
Back to the left side, BVB began to have more success against Spurs by pushing Schmelzer higher onto Aurier, the lone presence defending the wings. This led to Guerriero having more influence in the center of the park. His natural tendency is to drop deeper so his use as a high and wide winger to start was a bit unorthodox for his player role. In both attacking and defensive actions, he was further back than Yarmolenko for most of the first half, which helped with the cover of Christian Eriksen, but negatively impacted their spacing in attack due to close proximity with Kagawa in possession.
With Schmelzer higher, the versatile Portuguese international was able to get a foothold of the match closer to Kagawa and the midfielders in a role more customary to his play style. With both of the wingers beginning to move centrally, they were able to outnumber Tottenham in central positions in front of their back 5, allowing for quality connections and quick movement of the ball. It was in such a circumstance that they took the lead via Aubameyang, thanks to a succulent backheel from Yarmolenko (as seen to the right).
For the home side, they were able to see out the remainder of the half, after an increased attacking charge from Spurs which demanded that Roman Burki make a couple of excellent saves.
Spurs Attacking System
While in possession, Spurs started out in a 3-4-1-2 building shape, with the shape higher up the pitch dictated by Son. After several possessions where the center backs were unable to successfully find Eriksen and Winks in the halfspaces, Winks began to check deeper. Winks would do so to receive from the back 3 if they cannot find a more advanced option and aid with circulation for the back 3, since Tottenham did not seem to enjoy long spells of sideways possession among the central defenders. When Winks offered an option short, Eriksen would go either go higher or Dele Alli would drop deeper. Either outcome led to the team shifting into a 3-1-4-2 shape.
The most interesting role on the night goes to Son Heung-Min. Thought to be a striker initially next to Harry Kane, his primary task was to look for space in between Dortmund’s midfield and defense, a free role that fits his player profile excellently in this team. He would base his movements off of the midfield 3 and Kane, but oftentimes the central players would move out of the passing lane into Son so he could be found by the center backs or Winks.
The South Korean did excellently at finding a balance between spots that allow for easy combinations with teammates and simultaneously open up Dortmund’s defense. He often offered a nice vertical option for the ball carrier and as the extra guy in midfield, he became the solution for the center backs to play into in order to progress up the pitch.
After giving up the goal, Tottenham started to occupy more adventurous positions from their midfielders. Son no longer exclusively was the solve for playing forward, as Eriksen begins to position himself higher and closer to Dele Alli. In addition, the back 3 of Spurs began to dribble the ball out of the back more. This was previously impossible due to the intensity of the pressure applied from Dortmund’s front three, but as they wanted to enter half time with a lead, they began to drop off with the intent of blocking off the passing lanes into Tottenham’s key players. BVB’s defensive scheme became a 4-1-4-1 as Yarmolenko and Guerriero dropped in line with the 8’s.
With the more advanced positioning, the close distances in this context enhanced the effectiveness of central play due to close proximity. The central players were intelligent with how they positioned themselves to the blindside of their opposition, as small movements in relation to them opened up quality avenues to receive the ball from. Shorter distances made quick one touch passing between Tottenham’s central players easier, and due to the sheer amount of options that presented themselves in the middle, both Toljan and Schmelzer would pinch inside to help deal with the congestion. This opened up Rose and Aurier as options, playing cutbacks that nearly got the equalizer for Spurs.
2nd Half Patterns
The second half did not bring notable shifts. Pochettino decided to continue the attacking approach of the end of the first half, and with BVB continuing their passive midfield defense, Spur’s center backs were afforded more time on the ball. This time permitted them to both make better decisions about what pass to play without being distressed and ensure that the passes they play are of higher quality. It also allowed for more patience from the midfielders about receiving the ball and ensuring their movements were well timed – the game was being played at their pace.
While Bosz was trying to have his team seal up the middle, in reality it just left Spurs with a huge portion of possession that they could keep under no real pressure. It also forced the wide players of Dortmund to defend deeper and deeper as Spurs encroached up the pitch. By doing this, the home team had almost no means of counter attacking and it made counterpressing easy for Spurs, which originated the equalizing goal for Harry Kane.
This is a common problem of defending deeper: while the intuition is such that you are protecting the goal, instead it puts pressure on your defense to constantly deal with attacks from the opposition. If your counter attacking options are too preoccupied in defense, there is no outlet for the team to get out of their half without conceding possession. This cycle of defending and giving away possession does more harm than good, and it is why teams eventually get on the scoresheet when facing teams defending deep – as one of their attacks from a probability standpoint will eventually lead to a goal.
After the goal, Son joined in line with Alli defensively, forming a 5-2-2-1 shape, with the team shifting so they could have access to Weigl and the 8’s to stifle any chance of playing centrally. The triad of Kane, Alli, and Son also stepped high onto Bartra and Zagadou while they were on the ball close to the penalty area, a much more aggressive approach than seen in the first half of the match and it succeeded at preventing them from impacting the match on the ball.
In minute 66, Gonzalo Castro went on for Kagawa, a like for like switch that really didn’t change the flow of the match. To prevent Tottenham’s center backs from controlling the tempo of the game, Maximillan Phillip would’ve been a substitution that would’ve enhanced both the pressing game and the pace at the front of the team. Even Dahoud off the bench for Kagawa would’ve shown more attacking intent, as they haven’t registered a win so far in the Champions League. Bosz was forced to put in Omer Toprak for Zagadou due to injury. However, the substitutions he made were largely ineffective. It is understood that the depth of his squad currently isn’t as it normally is due to injury, but the substitution for Castro reflected an issue that Bosz critics have of not making tactically beneficial substitutions.
Son Heung-Min capped his man of the match performance (in my opinion) with a well struck goal fifteen minutes from the whistle, created through a bit of luck and individual skill from Dele Alli. The small adjustments made toward the end of the first half went on to decide the course for the rest of the game as Dortmund dropping off provided an opportunity Spurs to exercise their quality in attack.
This result knocks BVB out of the Champions League, and with a match at Real Madrid next matchday, they may need help from Tottenham to ensure that they even play Europa League in 2018. After a hot start, Peter Bosz now faces pressure. Part of it is out of his hands with the injury problems, but a key derby match against Schalke looms at the weekend that could be key in any decision the board makes.