Tactical Analysis: VfL Wolfsburg 3 – 1 Borussia Dortmund, DFB Pokal Final

Saturday’s DFB Pokal final featured a fascinating tactical battle. In this piece, I will discuss tactical adjustments that changed match, as well as adjustments that could have changed the match.

From the start, both sides lined up in their customary 4-2-3-1 shapes:

A battles of 4-2-3-1 formations.
A battles of 4-2-3-1 formations.


BVB Pressing and VfL’s Wide-Area Weakness

On paper Dortmund, played a 4-2-3-1 formation, but practically they transformed into something like 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 with Shinji Kagawa pushing forward. During Saturday’s Pokal final, Dortmund opted to play a medium block press, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Kagawa provided the first line of pressing.

Their pressing was triggered by the ball movement of Wolfsburg’s central defenders (CDs). However, each position really developed it own specific pressing scenarios. If BVB’s front line picked up the CDs, then the second line of middle four ensured that none of Wolfsburg’s midfielders could make a deep impact, after escaping from Dortmund’s first pressing line.

Medium block pressing. (Animated GIF)
Medium block pressing. (Animated GIF)

In this example, Klose played a longball forward to Bas Dost. However, Neven Subotic read the pass well and hacked the ball away.

In the first half of the game, Dortmund were clearly not inferior to Wolfsburg. Tactics-wise, the match was an equal battle.

In some situations, Dortmund managed to create a good pressing shape and force Wolfsburg to wasted longballs, which BVB followed up with a good counter attack, particularly on the wide areas of where Wolfsburg seemed to be very weak.

A touchline pressing by Marco Reus managed to force Vieirinha to play long ball forward. The positioning of Kagawa, Aubameyang (Auba), Ilkay Gündogan, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Miki) simply blocked the pass centrally
Marco Reus’ touchline pressing forced Vieirinha to play a longball forward. The positioning of Kagawa, Aubameyang (Auba), Ilkay Gündogan, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Miki) blocked of central passing lanes.

In this example, Mats Hummels intercepted a VfL longball then played the ball to Sebastian Kehl. Next, a combination between Kehl, Reus, and Kagawa in the middle third dragged Wolfsburg players forward, creating a huge space on the right wide area as well.

A triangle combination between Kehl, Kagawa, and Reus. The compact shape of this 3-on-3 situation created huge space Reus to get into a wide area.

On the whole, it was a bad day for Reus, who failed to control passes, causing Dortmund to lose the chance to hit Wolfsburg on break.

On many occasions, Dortmund found the space behind VfL’s fullbacks, but failed to capitalize on these chances. For example, at 16′ Marcel Schmelzer picked up a throughball from a triangle combination on left wing between Kagawa, Aubameyang, and Gündogan. But Schmelzer’s resulting floating cross was too weak and Diego Banaglio easily caught it. In another example, at 17′ Aubameyang found a wide space behind Wolfsburg’s rightback. Kagawa’s throughball picked by him. However, again, Auba’s perfect low cross to Reus ended up as a wasted shot, who blasted the ball over the bar.

Marco Reus

Unfortunately, Reus was arguably one of the match’s worst performers. As aforementioned, there were two occasions when Reus wasted crucial chances. Another chance at 30′ led to the same. Again, Dortmund found large space behind Wolfsburg’s leftback. A floating cross to the far post was picked up by Reus, who created a promising situation for Dortmund. However, the referee called Reus offside before he received the cross. In another example, at 37′ Reus failed to mark Vieirinha and slipped on the pitch, which in turn gave Vierinha the chance to play a triangle combination between he, Dost, and Ivan Perisic, which lead to the third goal by Dost.

Bas Dost

Although Dortmund’s press effectively forced Wolfsburg to play longballs, the Wolves seemed to find a solution to this problem: Bas Dost.

Bas Dost perfect positioning. He dropped off to pick up Klose’s pass. Dost managed to win aerial duels and his positioned himself well to become the outlet for Wolfsburg from Dortmund pressing play.
Bas Dost’s perfect positioning. In this still, the Dutchman drops back to pick up Klose’s pass. Throughout the match, Dost managed to win aerial duels and position himself well as Wolfsburg’s outlet from Dortmund’s pressing play.

This situation is actually very similar to something that happened later in the match. The significant difference between above image and the situation later at 11′ was the positioning of Luiz Gustavo and Kevin DeBruyne. At 11′, Gustavo dropped deep (to Arnold’s position in the image) to create a passing lane for Klose, while DeBruyne stayed on the left “half space” (Gustavo’s position in the image).

These shifts helped Dortmund block the low pass to their half as Kehl, Kagawa, and Mkhitaryan overloaded that area and built a barrier between Gustavo and DeBruyne (facing the Wolfsburg goal). If Klose opted to pass the ball to the advance area, he had to do it by playing a float pass to bypass this barrier, which would have been easy to anticipate.

Back at 8′, Gustavo didn’t drop deeper and DeBruyne stayed in the right “half space.” As Mkhitaryan, Kagawa, and Kehl focused on their man-marking duties, immediately a clean passing lane opened up from Klose to Bas Dost (the green line).

Later at 38, Dost once again played a crucial role. As he dropped off to the middle third to provide a pass target, he received the ball then played a good one touch pass, flicking Vieirinha’s pass and directing it to the right wide area to Perisic. A cross from Perisic and the subsequent header from Dost put Wolfsburg in the 3-1 lead over Dortmund.

Bas Dost scoring VfL's 3rd goal during the Pokal final.
Bas Dost scoring VfL’s 3rd goal during the Pokal final.

With this loss, Dortmund will have to play in two rounds of Europa League qualifying play.

For Wolfsburg, this victory brought the club their first Pokal title and brought their amazing season to a close.

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Ryan Tank is crazy about football tactics and crazy insightful when writing about them. Check out Ryan's site, ryantank100.wordpress.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @ryantank100.