A devastating effect: when Borussia Dortmund mix speed and precision

Speed is a mightily important asset of Borussia Dortmund’s weaponry when going forward but without precision, needless to say it is futile. Jürgen Klopp craves both of these attributes from his side. Yet that precision in front of goal hasn’t always been present, even in the seasons when Borussia won the Bundesliga back in 2011 and 2012. Especially in this campaign though, the team have gone through chances like they’re going out of fashion.

Now here’s the detail – no team in Germany’s top division have had more shots on goal than Borussia this season with the figure clocking in at 201. Dig a little deeper and you find that only Hamburg (56.8%) have been more accurate than BVB (52.7%) in terms of the percentage of shots on target. Crucially though, when it comes to scoring, Jürgen Klopp’s side are ranked eighth in the division, with their conversion at 15.9% – despite scoring the most goals (32) in the Bundesliga so far.

In Europe, it’s been a remarkably similar story. None of the other three sides in Group F have had more shots than die Schwarzgelben’s total of 81, nor has anyone else had as many shots on target (35). Again, in terms of goals, they’re the top scorers with 9, ahead of Napoli and Arsenal on 8. But once more, they fall down the pecking order (albeit on a smaller scale than in the Bundesliga) when it comes to their conversion rate where the order is Arsenal (17.4%), Napoli (12.5%) and then Borussia (11.1%).

When the precision has intertwined with the speed though, it’s formed a devastating combination and it’s been an unsurprisingly important part of each of Borussia’s three wins in the Champions League this season. That includes the Napoli game on Tuesday night, though there’s an extenuating circumstance to come to with that match. But first, observe the effect of BVB’s pace and accuracy on the counter in their wins against Arsenal and Marseille.

In their first group home game, it took just 16.5 seconds from the moment opponent Dimitri Payet’s free kick was struck into the Dortmund box to Robert Lewandowski scoring inside the Marseille six yard area. Twelve touches from five different players for the ball to reach the back of Steve Mandanda’s goal, from when Payet whipped the ball in. The more you scrutinise it, the better it gets. That strike set Borussia rolling with the other two goals that evening coming from set pieces. Against Arsenal though, this sort of play provided the winner in a very tight game indeed.

At one all, Olivier Giroud lost the ball with poor control on the edge of the Dortmund penalty area – the next time he’d touch it was kicking off after BVB’s second. Neven Subotic was first to the ball after Giroud’s miscontrol but despite seemingly just thumping it long, the ball was in the Arsenal net 17.6 seconds after.

The strike was alike to the first against Marseille – five players involved in the move and just 12 touches of the ball before the final one was once more a first time finish from Robert Lewandowski. The strike improves when you consider Lewandowski came back to receive that long pass from Subotic before laying it off and bombing ahead to the position just outside the six yard box where he then finished past Szczesny.

These two goals just show the dangers of being high up the pitch against BVB, even if you’re deep inside their territory. Given Borussia’s reputation under Klopp for “gegenpressing” sides so far up the pitch, it just makes it all the more worrying as an opposition team that you’re in danger no matter what end you’ve got the ball. Their chance conversion figures may suggest otherwise but you’re still taking an almighty risk to continually neglect BVB’s attacking capabilities. Just ask Hamburg and Stuttgart who have both shipped six at the Signal Iduna Park this season.

On Tuesday night though, Borussia Dortmund ensured they’d shown all three teams in their group just what they can do when the opposition give them the ball inside their half. But here’s the mitigating circumstance mentioned earlier. By the time, Borussia punished Napoli twice on the break in the second period, they were already a goal up.

That goal was a contentious 10th minute penalty from Marco Reus. The penalty decision itself is another issue altogether (a quick aside: you’re taking a major risk by grappling with someone in the box in the manner that Federico Fernandez did with Robert Lewandowski.) The effect it had on the game must be noted though because Napoli are an adept side at sitting deep and playing on the counter attack.

Rafa Benitez’s team proved it against top Serie A opposition in Fiorentina a few weeks back. Therefore, with BVB taking the lead, Napoli, knowing that a draw would send Dortmund out, were forced into taking more risks going forward meaning they pushed up as a unit to try and achieve this.

Without the early goal, coming from a penalty that not every referee would have awarded (though that doesn’t make referee Carlos Caballo’s decision wrong) they wouldn’t necessarily have had to do this. It proved an enabler for Dortmund but it shouldn’t be given too much credence. After all, we don’t know what would have happened had Borussia Dortmund not been awarded that penalty – they still might have gone and scored through an individual error in the Napoli defence.

The fact is Borussia Dortmund did go on and punish Napoli in the same way they did to Arsenal and Marseille. Perhaps, if we return briefly to the previous point, Napoli would indeed have been able to drop deeper had Gonzalo Higuain taken the chance presented in the 60th minute after good interplay between Goran Pandev and José Callejon.

He couldn’t beat Roman Weidenfeller in the one-on-one and that speedy Dortmund break arrived seconds later. To be exact, it was just under 33 seconds from the moment Higuain shot against Weidenfeller to Blaszczykowski rolling the ball under Reina into the Napoli goal. Analyse it further and there’s an even more impressive aspect to be found.

From the resulting throw in of Higuain’s effort, Callejon lost the ball to Marco Reus and Sebastian Kehl. The platform in this instance was a position around 10 yards from the Dortmund penalty area on the left hand side. From there, just four players, 10 touches and 11.6 seconds were needed for the goal. Oh, and another one touch finish to boot, this time from Kuba Blaszczykowski.

Napoli came back into the game through Lorenzo Insigne’s strike. No matter, there was still time for another lightning quick BVB goal on the counter, courtesy of the man regarded as the speediest player in their squad. As you’ll have no doubt deciphered, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s pace against a defence pushing up the pitch is a destructive tool. Used as a substitute against a tiring back line as he was in this case and he’s all the more dangerous. The Gabonese even had time to get in behind and fluff his lines with a one-on-one before he struck the third for Borussia.

In terms of ground covered, this goal wasn’t as striking as the other three but there was less man power in this one. Aubameyang’s interception from Pablo Armero’s pass came just inside the Dortmund half and perhaps he was fortuitous in how the ball bounced straight to Robert Lewandowski in the opposition half. Still, including the Aubameyang interception, it was six touches and just 8.6 seconds until the Gabonese ran onto Lewandowski’s pass and lifted the ball over Pepe Reina this time, to secure an important two goal margin of victory for Borussia.

So you might be wondering then what does all this frothing at the mouth over quick times, small amounts of touches and ground covered actually prove about this Borussia Dortmund side? The answer is that it shows how deadly they can be, in what is just one aspect of their attacking play. Its importance is evident given that four of Borussia’s nine goals in the Champions League have come from this combination with three of the other five from set pieces. Yes, BVB still waste chances from the many shots that they do have but this mixture of pace and precision is something to behold when the latter attribute does arrive. Napoli won’t be the last team to be hit with it either and from a neutral perspective, that’s definitely the most exciting thing to muse.

Header picture courtesy of dpa.

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Archie is a freelance sports reporter and producer with a strong interest in all things Bundesliga. You can follow him @archiert1

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