Borussia Dortmund v Real Madrid: Analysis

Dortmund's Raphael Guerreiro, left, celebrates his goal with scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, right, during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and SC Freiburg in Dortmund, Germany, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016. Dortmund defeated Freiburg 3-1. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Dortmund's Raphael Guerreiro, left, celebrates his goal with scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, right, during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and SC Freiburg in Dortmund, Germany, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016. Dortmund defeated Freiburg 3-1. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner) /

In what was one of the best games of the season so far, Borussia Dortmund went head to head with the current holders in a group F heavyweight matchup. Let’s take a look at some of the tactical nuances that defined the game with some yellow tinted glasses.

BVB’s Attacking Shape

Dortmund’s attacking shape held true to their pre-match formation graphic. The shape in possession was, in essence, a 4-1-5 with various members of that front five dropping deeper to receive the ball. Castro, Götze, and Guerreiro also dropped deep to create passing triangles with the advanced fullbacks in order to work the ball up the field without bypassing the midfield. Castro in specific was essential in his role to drop deeper into midfield, receiving passes from Julian Weigl and moving possession forward. Mario Götze moved in and out of *zone 14, trying to create chances when he did receive the ball in dangerous spaces but was largely anonymous throughout his performance.

Ousmane Dembélé and Raphaël Guerreiro sought to create chances by cutting inside rather than taking to the wing to put in crosses. The two forwards often took up interior positions, Guerreiro more so than Dembélé, in order to give the overlapping fullbacks some space and isolation in wide areas. This inward movement also worked in stretching the Madrid back four even more than it already was by the front five. The difference in personal down each flank reflects some considerate thinking by Thomas Tuchel; Guerriero paired better with Marcel Schmelzer since the Portuguese national offered more defensive solidity to a fullback that liked to get further up the field, while the less offensive minded Łukasz Piszczek was paired with the more volatile Dembélé. The young French winger’s play style pandered more towards taking on opposition players off the dribble, requiring a more level-headed defender in support of the riskier play.

In Play

BVB enjoyed a lot of success holding play and creating half chances in the middle of the field which is positive since they didn’t fall prey to the lazy tactic of sending aimless crosses into the box with limited numbers and aerially insufficient players. Their ability to hold possession in this critical area is promising from a sustainability perspective, they simply lacked the final ball on the day.

The instructions to subs Emre Mor and Christian Pulisic were quite clear; affect the game. Mor did well to take on opponents and get shots away in *zone 14, while Pulisic attacked the wing and put in intelligent crosses. Schurrle obviously did well to offer more of a consistent threat on goal than Guerreiro, but his knee injury put the team at risk defensively.

Julian Weigl’s Role

For those of you thinking I was just going to gloss over the young German’s performance in central midfield, think again. Weigl’s performance as the link between the defense and attack was so essential it needed its own section. Julian Weigl operated as the sole link between the back five-four defenders and a goalkeeper- facilitating the play within dangerous areas and working the ball up the field through a variety of avenues. Whether it was creating passing triangles up the flanks, or playing that incisive pass to get the ball up to the front five, Weigl was dominant in possession. However, while his play in the central midfield role as an unaided regista in the game was nothing short of perfect, the 21-year-old was a beneficiary of the lack of combative Madrid players. For the majority of the game, players like Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos, and Luka Modric had to work harder to make up for the lack of defensive effort from Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and James Rodriguez. Real eventually grew into the midfield game and conceded fewer chances because of it, but the young Dortmund star’s link up play often took the Madrid midfield completely out of the game.

Despite a few errant passes, Weigl was brilliant
Despite a few errant passes, Weigl was brilliant /

Marking Needs Work

There were several times throughout the game that Real had far fewer players near the Dortmund goal, yet they almost, or in fact did score as a result of an aerial cross. Real Madrid’s dependence on individual brilliance and their front three’s ability to create dangerous situations when they’re outnumbered is something any team will struggle with, but certain situations cannot go unexcused. Pictured in the graphic below is the moment before Cristiano Ronaldo scored an offside goal in the second half. As you can see, there are eight yellow shirts and only three white shirts. This image isn’t cropped to exclude nearby opposing players. This is the actual marking organization that took place throughout various times during the game.

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Defensive Problems Will Continue

Overall the defending was pretty solid, but it’s not something I can foresee being a concrete tactic all season. Tuchel’s attacking/ possession shape is quite similar to that of Pep Guardiola’s at Manchester City, however, the reason his works a bit better is because they hold much higher possession stats more consistently. It’s absolutely imperative to Guardiola that the team is countered on as little as possible because of the numbers he likes to push forward. If Dortmund are to continue attacking with the numbers they’re using, they’ll need to limit the amount of counter attacks by a significant margin. The first Real Madrid goal is a perfect example of this. The defense was in complete disarray, forcing two defenders to come out and try to win a ball in a high position. Sokratis and Piszczek didn’t win the challenge leaving Ronaldo and Bale away and through on goal.


Tuchel’s strategy against one of the strongest teams in the competition was quite bold considering they’re on the verge of a seventeen game win streak in La Liga and are the current holders. Most teams might have packed it in and tried to hit them on the counter, which actually might’ve been a better strategy considering Reál create the majority of their chances on the counter, but Tuchel’s Dortmund, chock full of youngsters, went toe to toe with one of the most dangerous teams in the world and came out even. Many would even say that BVB controlled the majority of the game and the statistics back that up. Though they lacked the final ball, the majority of their 59% possession was efficient with eleven shots on target compared to Madrid’s four. That singular statistic might have been pumped up a bit by the fact that Emre Mor and Ousmane Dembélé took pot shots early and often considering their xG rating was pretty much the same, but Dortmund should be proud of this result. Having lost two of their best players in Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mats Hummels over the summer, competing fiercely against an established Zidane team is a positive result for Die Schwarzgelben.

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