Tactical Analysis: Tuchel’s Borussia Dortmund Finally Beat Bayern

Der Klassiker ended with the hosts, Borussia Dortmund, managing to secure the maximum three points. BVB took the lead after eleven minutes through Pierre Emerick Aubameyang’s tricky goal and protected it with a resilient defensive display throughout the entire match.

The starting formations: BVB's 3-5-2/5-3-2 vs Bayern's asymmetrical 4-3-3/4-4-2.
The starting formations: BVB’s 3-5-2/5-3-2 vs Bayern’s asymmetrical 4-3-3/4-4-2.

Dortmund’s Possession against Bayern’s Press

For Dortmund, a common issue this season has been build-up play. Earlier, we’ve seen BVB struggle when the club faces a highly-structured pressing side, like RB Leipzig. On Saturday, the conditions were in place for BVB to repeat this struggle against Bayern, given the visitor’s high-press, which created a problem for the host’s build-up play.

Initially, Bayern displayed an asymmetrical pressing-shape with Franck Ribéry joining the first-line, which formed a 4-3-3 pressing-formation. With three forwards pressing, Bayern handled the 3+1 of Dortmund’s build-up shape well.

For example, the far-side and central forward blocked BVB’s center-half (Marc Bartra) and the ball-far half-back from the switching the ball around. When Bayern applied such a press with proper intensity, Dortmund were forced to play many uncomfortable long-balls forward. Marc Bartra for example ended up playing TEN long balls, well above his average of 7.1 per match and succeeded on four of them. Dortmund didn’t seem ready for this situation, as they lost many of the second-ball battles in the opening stages.

However, despite creating difficulties for Dortmund’s build-up play, there was a gap within Bayern’s pressing-system, which allowed small chances for Dortmund to get through. The gap itself was the natural consequence of Bayern’s flat midfield-shape. Such a flat shape had, in turn, reduced the intensity by which Bayern could press BVB’s half-backs and the wing-backs, leading to chances for Dortmund’s first-line of play to access the ball-side wing-back.

Bayern's flat midfield press allowed the Reds access to the wing-back.
Bayern’s flat midfield press allowed BVB to access its wing-back (Marcel Schmelzer in this case).

By contrast, RB Leipzig’s pressing system, for instance, made it hard for Dortmund to progress to the flank as the wide-10 in the 4-2-2-2 constantly blocked the diagonal-lane from the half-back to the nearest wing-back, resulting in many turnovers and counter-chances for Leipzig.

At times, Dortmund managed to find a way through the central or half-space-corridor. As ever, Julian Weigl served as the link between the deep-area circulation and the center line.

03-Short-pass from Weigl's link up with the 8-duo was deflected to the wide-area as Dortmund tried to progress through the flank.
In this instance, a short-pass from Weigl, linking up with the 8-duo of Götze and Schürrle, was deflected to the wide-area as Dortmund tried to progress through the flank.

As the match progressed, Ribéry’s zone emerged as an avenue for Dortmund to escape Bayern’s pressing-system. For example, when Bayern pressed in a 4-3-3 asymmetrical shape, Ribéry moved up to press the opponent’s ball-side half-back. When this occurred, Dortmund switched the ball to the underloaded-side and progressed through there, thanks to the space opening up behind Ribéry. Such space appeared seemed to be generated by Ribéry’s lack of intensity in backward-pressing movement, covering vulnerable space.

Vulnerable space behind Ribery (elipsis light-red) and the potential overload when Piszczek moved up to the orange-rectangle zone.
Vulnerable space behind Ribéry  light-red ellipsis) and the potential overload when Piszczek moved up to the orange-rectangle zone.

Ribéry’s zone was the strategic-zone for Dortmund to play through. Ribéry presing-awareness had been the reason why. The French winger was often caught doing the mannequin-challenge as he was too static when he should have dropped deeper to create mini-overload.

Tuchel relied on his wing-backs to progress since he had recognized that Bayern would overload the 6 and isolated Weigl from the play. One of the common view in the early stage of the game was the ball on the wing-back’s feet would be played diagonally to the near half-space behind Bayern’s midfield to the near 8 as the passing-target. This scenario often occurred when the ball was in the middle-third.

In Thiago’s area, it was more difficult to gain advantage from this tactic,because of the world-class explosiveness and anticipation of the Spaniard, as Thiago could cover big spaces better than Xabi Alonso is obviously capable of. But, overall, say Dortmund managed to play to such space and the midfield-line failed to stop it, it would be the back-liners whose defensive awareness would have been surely more than enough to nullify the threat.

Anatomy of the game winner!

In the final third, the use of wing-backs as the diagonal passers to the on-rushing 8 could still be found. The only goal by Aubameyang was triggered by such tactic. Marc Bartra played the ball to Marcel Schmelzer on the left touchline. Schürrle responded it by running forward to the wide-channel to open the space through the flank. But, the intensity of Bayern’s press had held the attack. Thanks to the mini-overload to the half-space and the flank, Dortmund re-arranged the attack by playing it back to the first-line before switching it to the underloaded-side, to Matthias Ginter.

From Ginter the ball was played to the right touchline, to Piszczek. Having received the ball, the Polish played a one-touch diagonal pass to Mario Götze. This playing sequence ended-up with Aubameyang slotted the ball into Manuel Neuer’s goal, 11 seconds after Götze received Piszczek’s pass.

Bayern’s Attack and Dortmund’s 3-Chain

In their 4-3-3/4-4-2, Bayern displayed a asymmetrical shape both offensively and defensively. On the left hand-side, they relied heavily on the Ribéry and Alaba partnership in creating chances from the wing. The left hand side had been the penetrative side as Bayern got two explosive players who are capable of playing through the flank.

BVB's left flank attack.
Bayern’s left flank attack.

This kind of penetration, in many situations, made Bayern’s attack to be too static and one dimensional as they seemed to try to just release as many as possible float crosses. In total, Bayern made 30 crosses, with only 4 among them were successful. Those are David Moyes levels, kids!

On the right area, Bayern made different approach. They had Thomas Müller, Philipp Lahm, and Joshua Kimmich who are not as capable as Ribéry-Alaba at penetrating through the wide area. Bayern made a lot of overloads here,more than they created on the opposite-side. When Bayern tried to play through the right area, Ribéry shifted far from the left flank. He moved into the center or even the ball-side half-space and helped creating valuable overloads.

Bayern overloads the right side.

After more than 20 minutes, Bayern seemed to be more comfortable and started to dominate the possession. They pressed high, forcing the hosts to play unplanned long balls forward and recovered the second ball.

Another common scheme in Bayern’s progression was the long ball forward right from the back-line to the front-line. It was Lewandowski who acted as the target man. The Polish striker dropped deep into the number ten spot to link the play.

Lewandowski leads Bayern's line.
Lewandowski leads Bayern’s line.

As time went by and Bayern’s confidence gradually grew, which positively impacted to their possession phase, Dortmund 3-chain behind in a 5-3-2 basic shape had given some tactical advantages for them to nullify the threat of Bayern’s attacking strength.

The three central defender shape had allowed some flexibility in Dortmund’s pressing play, which for sure provided Dortmund some advantages. One basic principle of pressing play is creating the pressing access so the off-possession team are able to push the on-possession team deep into their early-third. With regards to this theory, the on-possession team have to really consider the number of players who directly get involved in the first two lines of build-up within the first phase of play. Putting too many means allowing pressing-access for the defending side. Putting too few means it is impossible for the on-possession team to progress cleanly.

This is the situation when the man-oriented approach finds its right place. By applying a man-oriented variant, the defending side players could adjust the individual rhythm of the press more easily, thus ease them to press or direct the opposite player to the desired-zone.

What this theory has to do with Dortmund’s defensive strategy? The answer is the three-chain behind had allowed the ball side half-back to move high into the opponent’s defense when the situation needed him to.

Ginter moves out and presses Ribery deep into Bayern’s own defense.
Ginter moves out and presses Ribéry deep into Bayern’s own defense.

The pressing behavior of Ginter was enable because Dortmund’s man-orientation plotted him to mark Ribéry. On the other hand, the 3-man-behind had also taken part of Ginter’s pressing behavior. When Ginter moved out to follow and press Ribéry, there would be still 2 central defenders left at BVB’s back-line. Two CD’s behind plus the support of Weigl, at six, had enabled Ginter to move far forward without any worries that his movement had badly-exposed the back-line.

The three-chain behind had also enabled a more comfortable shift as the defending team need it to give adequate cover/support to the wing-back. No hesitant for he near half-back to move wide since, again, there are two players left at central area of the defensive line.

BVB’s compact defense.
BVB’s compact defense.

Notice Ginter’s pressing-movement, as moved out to press the opposite-midfielder (Thiago). Ribéry was man-marked by Piszczek. As we can see there were still two players behind + the support of the 6 (Weigl) to the back-line. The ball was on Alaba.When the Austrian made a pass to Thiago, the Spanish straightly played it back to Boateng because Ginter maintained the pressing intensity from the blind area. Bayern’s progression was stopped.

Second-half Adjustments

Lahm moves further forward to provide a passing option on the far-side.
Lahm moves forward to provide a passing option on the far-side.

Bayern adjusted the attacking-shape. They were more vertical with some ambitious positional structure, as shown above. This gave some new variation within Bayern’s final third attack. They had stopped relying on the crossing play from the left flank.

To add more verticality and raise the speed of play, Carlo Ancelloti brought Douglas Costa in, replacing Kimmich and Renato Sanchez entered the fray to replace Xabi Alonso.

As time was going by, Bayern pushed their attack even further. They used the central defenders more than they have displayed in the first half. This is something often utilized by Pep Guardiola, but has started to decline in Ancelotti’s era. They attacked the central area more often.


A strong start from Dortmund had them managed to bring the maximum point, as they controlled the match in the early minutes of the game. After around 20 minutes or so, Bayern started to regain their rhythm and started to retake control of the possession and the match.

The three-chain had proven to be crucial in Dortmund’s defensive-display. They looked comfortable in a low-block of 5-3-2/5-4-1 compact-shape.

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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.

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