Borussia Dortmund got off to a flying start in their opening matchday fixture against Eintracht Frankfurt, with Oliver Glasner’s side looking completely out of sorts. Marco Rose’s men on the other hand completely took the game to Frankfurt, with Haaland, Reus and co. in full flow. Here is our tactical analysis of Dortmund’s first match and all the wonders they accomplished.
Borussia Dortmund lined up in a very fluid and fluctuating 4-2-3-1 system, that looked in practice much more like 4-1-4-1. But even then, that shape incorporated no real left winger in the side, and involved rotations between Bellingham, Reus and Reyna to fulfill different central midfield, attacking midfield and left wing positions. Neither fullback was particularly adventurous getting forward, and it was actually Manuel Akanji who provided the most attacking thrust from the defensive line.
Eintracht Frankfurt lined up in a fairly rigid 3-4-3, that shifted into a 5-4-1 in the rare moments when they were given enough time to set up their defense. Unfortunately for Glasner, Borussia Dortmund attacked with such pace and variety, that the 5-4-1 rarely took form.
PRESSING & COUNTER-PRESSING
The first notable difference between Marco Rose’s Dortmund and the Dortmund of previous managers was clear from the very first whistle. Their was an increased intensity, tempo and a vastly different pressing mentality to their play. Dortmund pressed and counter-pressed like their lives depended on it, which is something I personally wondered whether BVB were actually built for. This mentality completely disrupted everything Frankfurt tried to create, and forced Frankfurt into several self-implosions. Several of the goals were scored within ten seconds after winning the ball back, with Kevin Trapp succumbing to Dortmund’s deadly finishing.
Like Monchengladbach under Rose, Dortmund played with much in the way of verticality, speed and a one-touch mentality after winning the ball back. Reus and Haaland combined excellently well in these instances, with Thorgan Hazard and Gio Reyna also dangerously adding trouble to the mix for Eintracht.
POSITIONAL ROTATIONS & NO LEFT WINGER
Another major note about Dortmund’s first match under Rose was the lack of a left winger in their 4-2-3-1 / 4-1-4-1 formation. As an interesting tactical note, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has used this same tactic with Manchester United when deploying Paul Pogba in the team, including in their 5-1 win over Leeds this weekend.
By giving one player a free role in the team to roam and seek out space where they see fit, you simultaneously allow other players to do the same. As a player like Pogba or Reus roams out of their expected position based on the formation, other players in the team naturally react to take up the new unoccupied or vacated space. In this match, Marco Rose gave a free role to Gio Reyna and Marco Reus to rotate throughout the match, which also allowed Jude Bellingham to venture forward in different areas of the field himself. At different times, each of them would occupy space on the left wing, in right central midfield, or in left central midfield. Reus even at times dropped toward the back-four during build-up phases, and Reyna too was playing much more like a central midfielder than a wide player.
Beyond the chaotic nature of this that can naturally disrupt one’s opposition (see teams like Guardiola’s Man City, Gasperini’s Atalanta, or Bielsa’s Leeds), this approach increased everything Rose wanted to achieve in the match – particularly verticality. Since the left winger didn’t exist and was replaced by two players drifting toward central areas, Rose’s men were able to always achieve numerical superiority in central areas, attack quickly during counter attacks, and win the ball back quickly upon losing it. It also played to the strengths of Reus, Reyna and Bellingham, who are all better served roaming centrally, rather than wider where they are less able to impact the game in a way that suits their excellent ball distribution, vision and awareness of space.
Another key facet to this approach was that it then inspired a right-sided attack, where Hazard was highly influential and often on the ball in the opposition’s half. Hazard is a player who performs much better in wide areas, and having that width from Hazard gave Dortmund the variety to switch play in different moments and not become overly narrow.
They never let themselves becomes predictable, and were far too deadly on the break for Frankfurt to ever react appropriately. It will be interesting to see how Rose approaches this tactic once Raphael Guerreiro is back in the side. Guerreiro is normally essential to the way Dortmund play, and had such a positive relationship with the now departed Jadon Sancho. He could benefit from this right sided approach by being given credence to gallop forward on the left, or it could make his role slightly less influential as verticality becomes more of the dominating ideology. Regardless of that, Dortmund didn’t miss him or Sancho in this match, and scored a whopping five goals through the brilliance of Haaland and Reus in particular.
INCREASED DRIBBLING AND BALL CARRYING
Another way that Dortmund used their verticality was through an increase in the use of dribbling and ball carrying going forward. Rose clearly wants his players to express themselves as individuals on the ball, and even players like Akanji and Dahoud made surprising runs forward. Thorgan Hazard was the top dribbler in the match, which complimented Dortmund’s overall approach to getting him on the ball in attack. And while it wasn’t the sort of Achraf Hakimi gusto, Passlack was also able to overlap and underlap in certain moments, and completed a few himself.
In total, BVB completed sixteen dribbles to Frankfurt’s two, which really isn’t a surprise given how Gladbach opted for the same dribbling mentality under Rose last season. If Dortmund want more of the ball and more width, this mentality could easily go down in favour of possession and switching play. But this verticality was an interesting use of their possession, and evidently contributed to their impressive goal tally.
The one negative from Rose’s first match was Dortmund’s failure to stop quick attacking transitions going the other way. This has been Dortmund’s achilles heel going all the way back to Klopp’s final season at the club, and a massive reason for their title slip ups under Favre. Rose hasn’t found a way to fix this, even despite a greater emphasis on counter-pressing and pressing in the opposition’s half. The space to exploit was generally in the left or right half-space where Bellingham or Reyna/Reus had been caught too high. But even when well positioned, the team as a whole still struggled to identify the areas of the field to compact themselves, and how to do so quickly. If Franfkurt had been able to use the potential dribbling power in the side from players like Kamada and Kostic, they would have caused Dortmund severe trouble. In the end, Die Adler barely had a sniff at goal, yet still scored twice…which doesn’t speak well to Dortmund’s defensive prowess moving into the Supercup on Tuesday night.
While a back-four of Passlack, Witsel, Akanji, and Schulz is probably Rose’s plan Z, the overall tactics behind the defensive structure undoubtedly need some tweaking. That may come in the form of not throwing so many numbers forward in attacking transitions, and a player like Thomas Delaney being given more time in behind the deadly Dortmund attack. Whatever they do to fix this, Dortmund’s free flowing attack will likely have to be sacrificed in some places. After all, their best defensive performances under Terzic were in matches where they allowed their opposition more of the ball, and then attempted to hit them on the break. As exciting as it is to bump my head on the ceiling in celebration every time Dortmund score, they don’t really need to win matches 5-2. 3-0 would be equally satisfying, and a better sign that they are ready to fix their greatest title winning crux.
So there it is! A tactical analysis of Marco Rose’s first game in charge of Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga. Be sure to check out more tactical analyses, and follow on @mastermindsite to never miss an article like this! Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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