Borussia Dortmund lost their second straight match in the Champions League against Greek champions Olympiakos and are now sitting dead last in their group. Despite their recent upturn in form in the Bundesliga, last year’s German champions have struggled to replicate their form or talent in Europe and are now in the precarious position of having to win their remaining matches to stand a chance of qualifying for the knockout stages.
A lot has been made of Sahin’s departure and how it would affect the team tactically and whether or not coach Jürgen Klopp could adapt to his departure or the Champions League. Some were also skeptical about the side’s inexperience in a competition where consistent participation yields certain advantages. As a Champions League dilettante, Dortmund certainly lack the maturity of other teams but other, more distinct, factors explain their endeavors so far.
A quick glance at the statistics of Dortmund’s performance against Olympiakos reveals those glaring deficiencies and partially explains their disappointing showing in Europe so far.
Lack of retention
Dortmund’s most prominent deficiency is the absence of a retention or possession based game. The Champions League is known for its compact and calculated character. Teams that often play an open attacking style in their own league present a more conservative approach in Europe. That caution and cerebral approach is missing from Klopp’s Dortmund and his direct and frenetic attacking game leaves his side exposed more often than not.
Dortmund’s attacking game is about getting players forward in numbers, which inevitably leaves yards of space for the opponent to utilize. Another by product of their erratic attacking game is a lack of shape and reluctance to hold on to the ball. The ethos of any team emphasizing possession is the intention of limiting the opponent’s time and space on the ball. You take away from that time and you limit your opponent’s ability to create chances to score against you. Dortmund gave the ball away 88 times compared to Olympiakos’s 70.
Overreliance on defense
Hummels and Subotic have formed one of the best center back pairings in German football and have been the cornerstone of Dortmund’s rise over the last two years…so much so that the two defenders are often the team’s most prominent players in a match. They usually have the most touches on the ball and complete more passes than anyone else on the pitch. When Dortmund’s attack is on form and they can make use of the great distribution out of the back they are a sight to behold and fairly difficult to contain.
Against Olympiakos however, as was also the case against Marseille, Dortmund struggled in midfield and particularly in attack, which had an adverse effect on their defense. Most glaring was the pressure those struggles placed on the backline. Without a screen in front of it, they were vulnerable when the Greeks moved up field and too easily outplayed when their wide players stretched them. Olympiakos’s first two goals came under similar circumstances after the Greeks found space out wide rather easily and pulled Dortmund’s defense apart.
Subsequently, that also put all the pressure on Dortmund’s defenders to win the ball back which in turn creates an overreliance on them to initiate most of their plays after turnovers. Hummels and Subotic again had the most touches on the ball against Olympiakos (77 and 92 respectively) as well as more passes than any other players on the field (95 combined). However, they also gave the ball away more than anyone else (18 combined). Part of that was a lack of options in front of them but also the immediate pressure they were under to make things happen.
Not combative enough
Going hand in hand and partially explaining Dortmund’s absent midfield is their seeming inability to compete with other teams physically. Dortmund have the Champions League’s second worst “duals won” percentage. With only 43% of their duals won, only Romanian side Otelul Galati have been worse in the competition. That is not to say that muscle alone equates with success in Europe’s biggest competition and “physical” does not mean sheer size in this case, but the combative element is one of the most crucial at this level of play. Dortmund won 43% of their duals compared to the 57% of the Greeks
It goes beyond that even. Apart from Bender, Hummels and Subotic, Dortmund’s players often appear too timid in their tackling and are too easily beaten to the ball. Schmelzer in particular struggled against Mirallas, winning only 8 tackles compared to Mirallas’s 15. Kagawa meanwhile failed to impose himself on the match and rarely troubled Orbaiz and Makoun. In fact, Kagawa’s poor showing allowed Olympiakos’s central midfielders to get forward quite often and outnumber Dortmund in their own half.
Images courtesy of bundesliga.de
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