Dortmund’s Top Four Chances – Tactical Analysis

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After the sacking of Lucien Favre in December, assistant coach Edin Terzic was given the interim role at Borussia Dortmund. Unfortunately for the first time manager, things could not have gotten off to a rockier start. Terzic won just six of his opening thirteen matches in charge, forcing Dortmund into a difficult situation heading into the final third of the season with a spot in next season’s UEFA Champions League in their sights. However, in recent weeks, Edin Terzic has grown his reputation, with Borussia Dortmund now on a 4 match win streak in the league as they charge toward the top four…maybe even three. So with that, we provide a second tactical analysis on Edin Terzic‘s Borussia Dortmund, and their chances of finishing top four this season.

SYSTEM OF PLAY: 4-2-3-1

After a rocky start moving away from Favre’s 3-4-3 to re-adopt the 4-2-3-1, Edin Terzic has proven to be a very adaptable manager. The German coach has switched between a 4-3-3, 4-1-4-1 and the 4-2-3-1 in recent months. Terzic will often change formations depending on the opposition he’s coming up against, sometimes matching his opposition in a 4-3-3, sometimes opting for a more defensive 4-2-3-1, and other times a more attacking 4-1-4-1. Regardless of the system, this has been a very positive thing to see from a man clearly gaining confidence in himself within his role. Dortmund, for what seems like the first time in years, are adapting their system and style of play to accommodate their opposition. This, above all else, has been crucial to their recent revival in form.

Terzic also deserves some credit for some recent changes in personnel. Marwin Hitz has claimed the number 1 spot in goal, although hasn’t truly performed much better than Roman Burki. The 33-year-old keeper is generally better on the ball, but has a lower saves per goal and save percentage than his compatriot. The 38-year-old manager has also dropped the struggling Thomas Meunier from the side, reinstating faith in Mateu Morey and even Dortmund legend Lukasz Piszczek in recent matches. Manuel Akanji and Mats Hummels have grown in confidence alongside each other, with Emre Can an excellent option whenever one of them misses out. Raphael Guerreiro’s been an undeniable starter at left-back, and now looks to finish the season strong after missing a few crucial weeks back in March due to injury.

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The surprise of all however has been the excellent form of Mahmoud Dahoud. With Axel Witsel out injured and Emre Can often dropping to centre-back, Dahoud’s been given full freedom under Terzic to showcase his incredible talent. His role in the team is crucial in allowing Jude Bellingham to advance further forward and be that box-to-box player we all know and love.

Ahead of the midfield two Dortmund still have one of the best attacking lineups in Europe, with Jadon Sancho, Erling Haaland and Marco Reus all having excellent seasons. Gio Reyna, Thorgan Hazard, Julian Brandt and even newly emerging Ansgar Knauff all battle for the starting birth on the right wing, while Reus also played on the left when Sancho was out injured. Despite the glorious attacking talents they have at their disposal, Erling Haaland is the team’s crowned jewel. The Norwegian striker has bagged 25 goals with 5 assists in 26 matches this season, and has almost singlehandedly at times led Dortmund’s charge back toward the top four.

INCREASED FLEXIBILITY

In Dortmund’s quest to finish top four, the key to their recent resurgence has been in flexibility. They’ve always been a possession-based side, deadly on the counter attack with quick free-flowing dribblers and finishers, while stumbling into stupidity in defensive transitions and set-pieces. In recent matches, Edin Terzic, more than any Dortmund manager since Thomas Tuchel, has demonstrated his ability to remain flexible.

BVB kept just 48% of the possession in their recent 2-0 win over Wolfsburg, setting up to defend against one of the league’s best attacking outfits. The club also changed to a 4-3-3 with two defensive-minded midfielders against Manchester City, using Emre Can’s engine to thwart City’s talent. Against sides that want nothing to do with the ball, Terzic has also adopted a three-man midfield in more of a 4-1-4-1 shape. Reus has been given more freedom to drift left to right in this system, looking to get on the ball wherever he pleases.

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Terzic also managed Jadon Sancho’s recent injury very well, reverting Reus back into his old position as a left-winger and giving 19-year-old Ansgar Knauff a surprising run in the side. This change also saw that three-man midfield unit return, rather than a natural number ten in the side. Given that no one can do the job that Marco Reus does to such an outstanding effect, Terzic’s decision to inject something different in his team through a different type of player lower on the field proved to be a great decision. This decision also allowed Jude Bellingham to roam further forward and create more in attack, where he stunned supporters around the world for wreaking havoc against Manchester City.

Above all else, this has been Terzic’s most impressive feature as Dortmund manager. Tactically he hasn’t done anything novel, but instead he has made smart adjustments on a match by match basis, while still maintaining the same tactical principles as his predecessor. This should prove monumental in Dortmund’s quest for the top four, as they come up against three very different outfits. If the past tells us anything, Terzic will likely adopt a more defensive approach against the possession-based RB Leipzig, similar to their recent win over Wolfsburg. In the final two matches against Mainz and Leverkusen, Dortmund will need to continue their defensive base while thrusting more numbers forward in attack and letting the likes of Guerreiro, Reus and Sancho to work their magic whenever possible.

PLAYING OUT FROM THE BACK

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A surprise to no one for such a possession based side, Borussia Dortmund play out from the back with an intentional set of principles surrounding switching play.

The centre-backs may thrust the odd long-ball forward, Mats Hummels in particular, but more commonly remain crucial in the process of switching play through short, quick passes. They most frequently link up with the fullbacks, or into Mahmoud Dahoud to play wide or drive the ball forward instead.

In his newfound role in the midfield, Mahmoud Dahoud often sits in front of the centre-backs in a 2-3-5 sort of shape. Dortmund most frequently adopt this shape when playing in a 4-1-4-1, as it allows them to keep possession and create space to receive in between the lines of the opposition. With the German midfielder holding his position, he’s also key in case Dortmund lose the ball. He’s quite adept within his positional awareness to recognize potential passing lanes into dangerous attackers, and his addition into the team has made Dortmund slightly better in transition.

Within their build-up, the fullbacks are also particularly key. While both may go forward and join the attack, Mateu Morey is more likely to stay wide. Raphael Guerreiro will often drift inside into central areas, both in build-up and attacking phases. This means that Dortmund, and Dahoud in particular, often work the ball to the right-hand-side, look to create an overload, and then switch play over to the side of Guerreiro and Sancho to work their magic down the left.

WIDE OVERLOADS

Borussia Dortmund have continued to attack down the wide areas, utilizing overloads and overlaps to break teams apart. All of their front men will often drift to the same side of the pitch to link up, and even Raphael Guerreiro will sometimes float all the way to the right side to pick up the ball. This causes chaos for their opposition, and allows them to break down low blocks by disrupting the team’s shape and pulling players out of position.

In these wide overloads, the team will adopt a one-touch-pass mentality, keeping the ball moving at speed and making incisive movements off-the-ball to disrupt the opposition.

Despite this wide approach, Dortmund don’t look to deliver many crosses into the box. When they do, it is more commonly off of cutbacks to someone like Guerreiro or Sancho, or on set-pieces. Instead these wide overloads are a mechanism for them to expose holes in central areas, where they then look to engage Reus and Haaland, or switch to the other side. Through quick, one-touch passes in the final third, these combinations are often deadly and often result in Terzic’s team creating chance after chance, game after game. Luckily, the likes of Haaland, Reus and Sancho are very capable finishers, and Dortmund can be clinical at converting their chances. They will need to continue these principles if they are to continue their win streak, and not rely solely on being defensive and attacking at speed after winning the ball.

DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENTS

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While Dortmund are still vulnerable defensively, they have been showing signs of improvements under Terzic in recent weeks. This isn’t necessarily down to actually improving in their defensive quality, but probably down to being more defensive. Terzic has been increasingly cautious in his defensive approach. This has ranged from playing an extra defensive midfielder in the midfield line, to limiting Guerreiro’s runs further forward.

Under Edin Terzic in particular (but also under Favre), Dortmund have not adopted a particular pressing mentality. They are more likely to drop back and settle into a specific defensive shape, than to go all out into war in winning the ball back. Specific players like Marco Reus and Jude Bellingham may chase players to a greater extent, but it is more down to limiting a specific player’s time on the ball, than to an over-arching team mentality of pressing. Haaland has also drastically cut down on the amount of time he spends chasing opposition defenders, saving his energy for his electric bursts of speed in attack.

Quite crucially and also quite underratedly, Emre Can offers a great engine for the team and is the club’s most successful presser this season (of players with 10+ appearances). Can’s been one of the most consistent starters for the team under Terzic, playing in a variety of different roles. His inclusion game in game out has been a real driving force for the team defensively, and part of the reason why they’ve had so much stability and success in recent weeks. Despite the fact that the 27-year-old German can make rash decisions in possession and be overzealous in his tackling, he has to be one of the first names on the team sheet in the next few weeks for the drive he offers BVB both on and off the ball. Even if this means pushing Reus wide as Can returns to a midfield role, Edin Terzic would be wise to continue Can’s extended run in the team.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

Just a few weeks ago after their devastating loss to Eintracht Frankfurt, Dortmund’s hopes of finishing in the top four appeared to be all but over. However, with four wins on the bounce, Edin Terzic now has the team in poll position to qualify for next season’s Champions League. Although 2020-21 has not been a season to remember for the club, if they were to finish in the top four, Dortmund fans would walk away from this season full of optimism and hope for the future. Whether or not they can achieve that all comes down to the next four weeks.


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