Borussia Dortmund v Bayer Leverkusen: Analysis

LEVERKUSEN, GERMANY - OCTOBER 01: Emre Mor of Borussia Dortmund reacts during the Bundesliga match between Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund at BayArena on October 1, 2016 in Leverkusen, Germany. (Photo by Alexandre Simoes/Borussia Dortmund/Getty Images)
LEVERKUSEN, GERMANY - OCTOBER 01: Emre Mor of Borussia Dortmund reacts during the Bundesliga match between Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund at BayArena on October 1, 2016 in Leverkusen, Germany. (Photo by Alexandre Simoes/Borussia Dortmund/Getty Images) /

Borussia Dortmund v Bayer Leverkusen: An Analysis

Disappointment against Bayer Leverkusen hurts, but dropping points on a weekend where Bayern Munich weren’t at their best is an opportunity that may come back to haunt BVB come the end of the season.  As we head into the international break, let’s take an in-depth look at why Tuchel’s attack seemed so muzzled.

Shape and Passing Troubles

The shape was similar to the one used against Reál except it offered more midfield support for Julian Weigl. The 3-2-5 sought to push back Leverkusen’s usual press for fear of exposure from balls over the top, but, for various reasons, it didn’t work out that way.

Leverkusen played a tight 4-4-2 with a medium block and a press that only got aggressive once the ball got past the back three. Dortmund enjoyed the lion’s share of possession throughout the contest, but most of it was used to pass the ball aimlessly between the back three. Weigl has often served as the essential link between defense and attack, and one would think that giving him extra midfield support would only aid him in performing this ever so important duty; wrong. Though Guerreiro started next to the young German, at various times during the match Weigl was either left alone in central midfield or was given a different partner. However, whether Weigl was alone or not didn’t seem to matter as there was almost no meaningful penetration through the middle because of their inability to turn and make a pass.

The reasons for the lack of central passing are numerous; Weigl wasn’t necessarily at his best, the higher midfielders didn’t drop deep enough, and Tuchel’s coaching emphasizes the importance of avoiding dispossession in an area so close to the top of the box, but it was mainly Leverkusen’s medium block. Roger Schmidt’s men were excellent in defense

Leverkusen’s medium block allowed for the back three to have comfortable possession of the ball, yet didn’t allow for any passes to be made from the two players that sat directly in front of them. This eliminated any chance of dangerous play within their own half, at least centrally, and even though Sokratis would send a long ball to Aubameyang every now and again to try and scare the opposition into falling back, it only reaffirmed that fact that Dortmund had limited options. At times BVB would overload the flanks and work their way up the field through short combinations, but were often snuffed out by a quick and aggressive press. Ousmane Dembélé’s inexperienced decision making with the ball also didn’t help, but moving forward it’s not something that Dortmund fans should hone in on. Dembélé is the type of player that thrives in a very difficult category; going past opponents. Discouraging that sense of creativity at such a young age could hamper the Frenchman’s development.

Pulisic, Rode, and Castro were all virtually ineffective since they didn’t get very much time on the ball being so far up the pitch. Tuchel wanted to keep some sense of positional rigidity, but in a game where the opposition is blocking passing lanes so well, dropping deeper would’ve facilitated ball movement. The only time BVB saw success in the first half was when there were enough players to complete triangles on the edges of the field. For example, Dembélé and Castro would drop deep enough to link up with Guerreiro and possession would be moved farther into areas where it could be utilized in an offensive manner. Sticking with the same game plan the whole game obviously didn’t work, and any enjoyment the substitutes found was because they dropped deep in order to get the ball. Dortmund did begin to unlock the opposition as the game grew into its final stages, but that’s more likely because of the exhaustive ways in which Leverkusen were defending. This team would be so much more if it could find a play style outside of this halfway house possession style.

Julian Weigl

As stated before, Weigl’s role as the connection between defense and attack is vital to the success of Tuchel’s system. However, his numbers against Leverkusen indicate he had a decent match, and the observational analysis also suggests he didn’t do much wrong. What BVB may be suffering from is the excellence in which Weigl can perform, but doesn’t always get to.

Against Real Madrid, the young German was able to take hold of possession and carry it between the lines, allowing his team to create chances in dangerous areas. Leverkusen was a different story. Although he did some of the same, he was mainly kept quiet by the aforementioned defensive tactics that limited his passing and movement in central midfield. Dortmund’s number 33 has the unique ability to possess the ball in a difficult area of the pitch, allowing for the team to thrive off of his abilities. Carrying the ball in these difficult areas is a rare quality that only top players possess, so it’s easy to infer that when it’s not present the team suffers. Weigl can statistically have a fantastic game, high pass completion, decent take on win percentage, solid tackle rate, but the team can still suffer, just as they did against Leverkusen, because of the absence of possession in this key area. Now, as stated before, it’s wasn’t all his fault. The opposition’s defensive set up and BVB’s formational rigidity certainly hampered his ability to operate, but Tuchel’s first objective should structure around making Weigl’s ability to impact the game a bit easier.