Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich – Tactical Preview

Tactical Talking Points and Preview: Borussia Dortmund Vs. Bayern Munich

The Bundesliga’s biggest footballing showcase and the most important game in German football is finally upon us! Borussia Dortmund will take on Bayern Munich this weekend, in what will be the first proper meeting between these two perennial conquerors of German football in this new season. Remember kids, Super Cups do not count!

Not more than three weeks ago, the stage was set – in what was becoming an unprecedented season, brimful of surprises and mediocrity at the top of the pile. Borussia Dortmund were, of course, leading the table with an astonishing five-point gap over second placed Bayern. The notion of Bayern having their first ‘Bundesliga-less’ season was not far-fetched.

Three weeks later, however, the table have turned – for better, some would say, as the Bundesliga may have just found its first ever title race involving three teams in quite a while. My colleague Abel Meszaros and Matt Herrmann chatted about this rare sight in the ever-impressive Talking Fussball podcast.

It’s a funny thing, trying to second guess how these teams are going to stack up against each other, because you get the distinct impression that they don’t have the faintest of ideas, either.

Will Heynckes Trigger The Anti-Bosz System?

Earlier last month, we saw Dortmund failing to muster all three points against relatively inferior opponents in Hannover and Frankfurt. Oddly enough, both of those sides managed to prevail against a lackluster BVB squad, largely down to their swift tactical proposition to counter BVB’s efficient buildup.

The usual 4-3-3(4-1-2-1) Dortmund formation from Peter Bosz

Against BVB, both Eintracht and Hannover executed a formal three/five man pendulating backline, with large emphasis on isolating Dortmund’s number six, Nuri Sahin.

While the three-man backline, gave them numerical superiority through some decent defensive covering from the wingbacks, eventually making it harder for Aubameyang to cut off passing lanes or make any kind of ‘off the ball’ impulse which could spark anything meaningful.

In the middle third, the unblemished man to man covering further restricted Dortmund from getting a proper grip on the game. Hannover’s Doppelsechs covered the two number eights (Castro and Götze) while the attacking midfielder (Felix Klaus, who was made to look like Neymar by the BVB defense) kept firm pressure on Nuri Sahin, eventually forcing the Black and Yellows to rely on the individual qualities to resist the press, or alternatively send the ball long.

Hannover’s man to man orientation restricting BVB’s passing lanes

This caused a lack of dynamism from BVB on the offensive front since their main ball carriers were occupied, resulting in fewer entries into the opposition half.

As we can see in the chart from Instat, Hannover managed to muster more balls in opposition half than any other team on Matchday 10, which clearly suggests the fact that they did extremely well to isolate BVB even before they make to the final third.

H96 cleaning up

Furthermore, Dortmund’s chance creation has also significantly decreased in recent games, especially in October, as clarified by this chart from Squawka football.

chance creation going down down down

Put simply, with Hannover and Frankfurt executing these types of pendulating formations they did well to mirror Peter Bosz’s initial shape and suffocate Dortmund. If you would like to get in-depth analysis of this anti-BVB plot in the excellent Spielverlagerung(Link in German).

Will Bayern resort to this? Such a scenario is unlikely considering the fact that Bayern head coach Jupp Heynckes is adamant on his customary 4-2-3-1 formation. More on that later.

Will Guerreiro’s Presence Aid BVB?

Raphael Guerreiro’s return to full fitness has been a massive boost for Borussia Dortmund. But can his presence in the starting eleven aid Dortmund in terms of technical fluency in the final third or the buildup play?

Generally speaking, Dortmund have really struggled in the construction phase of their possession game, especially in October. While Mario Götze seemed to have stepped up his game to the next level, many others have failed to offer any particular edge in midfield.

Gonzalo Castro in particular, has been terrible. The former Leverkusen midfielder often fails to offer creativity which is coupled with his lack of concentration and awful decision-making. He might as well make a strong case for being the most fully fit yet the most unwanted player in the current BVB squadron.


Okay, maybe they don’t need Seb Rode either but you get the point.

Guerreiro, on the other hand, is blessed with immense technical qualities and the Portuguese international has the ability to act as a ball carrier in the sensitive areas of the field, thus, making him a crucial component for Dortmund ahead of their clash against Bayern Munich. However, it’s also worth mentioning the fact that the 23-year-old has just came back from a four-month injury layoff, meaning the chances of him getting a berth in the starting lineup are fairly minimal. It would certainly be a huge gamble by Bosz to throw him into the fire especially in midfield, while his defensive deficiencies at LB would likely be exposed having to deal with Arjen Robben.

So after telling you what SHOULD happen, let us talk about what WILL happen:

The Usual Approach

Since both managers are quite stubborn when it comes to their tactical philosophy, Bayern’s 4-2-3-1 will be countered by BVB’s customary 4-3-3/4-1-2-3.

Bayern may have been getting away with results since the appointment of Jupp Heynckes, the record champions still have a significant number of flaws within their game.

In the game against Celtic, the Bavarians struggled to get through the first line of defense from their Scottish oppositions. The attacking orientation of Moussa Dembele, Scott Sinclair and Callum McGregor constantly kept pressure on the ball carrying defenders, and expertly used their cover-shadows when Bayern forced to pass it back to the goalkeeper, thereby blocking the passing lane for the previous ball carrier. This had a huge impact in the overall game, with Bayern not being able to resist the relatively aggressive pressing scheme from Brendon Rodgers’ men. Therefore, the Bavarians were greatly restricted in their buildup game and had to rely on long balls, for the most part of the game. For more on this: read this excellent tactical report on the Bayern-Celtic game by Ryan Tank.

We might see a similar scenario against Dortmund, with Nuri Sahin marking the Bayern number ten James Rodriguez and the two eights pressing the Bayern’s CMs. Dortmund have been very aggressive in their approach in winning back possession. BVB’s defensive line moves forward in perpetuity after losing the ball and the shape becomes very compact, in order to exemplify a kind of leeway orientation pressing scheme as well as minimizing the spaces available for the opposition. 

While this might easily work against minnows Freiburg or mediocre Wolfsburg (both lacking solid ball-playing CBs and proper intensive pressing at the time), the more resilient teams in Hannover and Frankfurt took full advantage of this situation by at times letting Dortmund work their way around in their own half but isolating them with added pressure as soon as they roam the more dangerous areas of the field, thus nullifying the effect of this aggressive ball-winning approach from Dortmund.

Bayern, on the other hand, possess some of the world’s best ball carriers, especially in Thiago Alcantara. The Spaniard rarely loses possession and has the ability to evade any kind of pressure from the opposition.

Sebastian Rudy An Option For Bayern?

High emphasis will be on the midfield, as Dortmund look to avoid the same mistake as they did against Real Madrid. Traveling Bayern will be wary of Dortmund’s high line of defense, as well as their defensive futility and inability of the center backs to defend long balls or create anything from the buildup play. If they can resist the pressure that will be exerted by Dortmund, especially in the middle third of the pitch, the Bavarians can easily manipulate the struggling back line of Borussia Dortmund.

The German record champs are expected to have it easy since Marc Bartra will once again have to play in an unusual right back position while the form of Ömer Toprak and Sokratis still remains dubious.

Jupp Heynckes might actually be tempted to start with Sebastian Rudy in the middle. The former TSG midfielder has the qualities to excel as a midfield hub who can not only facilitate the entire field with his excellent range of passing but also provide an assurance in possession phases. His playmaking ability was arguably the key to the RBL game last week, as he was the one who put Arjen Robben through on goal prior to the Willi Orban red card.


At the end of the day, Bayern do stand as firm favorites in the first Klassiker of this season. With only one win in five, it’s not the perfect time for Borussia Dortmund to be facing the mighty Bavarians, as the guys on the Yellow Wall Podcast discussed.

Head coach Peter Bosz has remained true to his tactical vision of playing with a higher line and aggressive pressing scheme, which is no sin. However, as long as the Dutchman fails to find a proper cure for his side’s recent demise, the 53-year-old’s future at Dortmund could be in serious doubt.

The Black and Yellows need some cohesion in the team if they are to prevail against this strong Bayern lineup and most importantly, the lack of proficiency in dealing with long balls is sure to hurt them once again. The onus will be on Sokratis to lead the defensive line for BVB and to form a formidable defensive partnership which could hopefully keep out the attacking onslaught from Robert Lewandowski and co.

Both sides have struggled in particular stages of this season, which makes this clash even more special knowing the fact that anything is possible. In addition, the stakes will also be high, as a win for Dortmund could once again lift them to the top spot in the table. Wouldn’t that be something in terms of narrative…..


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Bundesliga connoisseur and writer at Bundesliga Fanatic. Also a Bundesliga correspondent for The4thOfficial. In love with the Bundesliga since birth. Big fan of TwentyOnePilots and basically every other teen stuff(Star Wars not included). Still waiting for my man Milos Raonic to win a Grand Slam. Come to my house and we will watch Netflix and eat Nutella. lol just kidding. Follow me on Twitter @CoverShadow09

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