The Deep Dig- Dortmund’s Set Piece Problem

Bundesliga matchday 3 is done and dusted with nine fascinating games producing goals, excitement, drama, controversy and everything you would expect from the best league in the world. But now the dust has settled, let’s take the opportunity to dig a little deeper and analyse one particular issue from the weekend.  Step forward Borussia Dortmund’s defending.

Matchday 3 produced the first real shock of the season with minnows Union Berlin beating title hopefuls Borussia Dortmund 3-1 at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei. What wasn’t as much of a shock however, were the goals BVB conceded from set-pieces.

It looks like their Achilles heel from last season is back.

New season, old problem

This is not a new phenomenon and something that both Union coach Urs Fischer and Achim Beierlorzer of 1. FC Köln have clearly looked at exposing this year. Last season, as the Schwarzgelben felll short of the title by just three points, their weakness at defending set-pieces proved very costly (the Revierderby at the Signal Iduna Park being a case in point).

Against Union Berlin two of die Eisernen’s goals came from corners. The first from Urs Fischer’s side caught BVB out in the 22nd minute. Christopher Trimmel’s corner from the right looked like a well-rehearsed move from the hosts with three players lurking on the ‘D’ at the edge of the penalty area avoiding the defenders marshalling their assigned zones. Trimmel’s precise delivery hit the space with no BVB defender nearby or close to reacting to it, and Marius Bülter hit it first-time low and past Roman Bürki.

BVB’s zonal marking ignores this zone and Trimmel’s precise delivery knows one of the three players will attack it
Manuel Akanji and Paco Alcacer are slow to react to the runs of the Union trio and it is 1-0.

Borussia Dortmund’s zonal marking here suffers from Paco Alcacer and Manuel Akanji in particular being too preoccupied with ‘their zone’ and not reading that Union Berlin were going to be attacking an ‘unmanned zone’. After equalising from the prolific Jadon Sancho/ Alcacer double act, Dortmund conceded a second five minutes into the second half (again Akanji didn’t cover himself in glory). The hosts then added a third and yet again it started off as a corner which ultimately led to the goal.

Dortmund have an initial 9 vs 5 advantage from the original corner kick and are more alert to the three ‘lurking’ players on the edge of the box. However, after a poor clearance and players switching off as to the positioning of the Berlin attacking players, Union quickly turn this second phase into a 6 vs 5 advantage in their favour. Some slick one-touch passing cuts through the disorganised Dortmund back line and it’s 3-1.

As isolated incidents, these can be forgiven as no team is 100% perfect defensively and all the defensive organisation in the world cannot always negate the attacking side. But for Borussia Dortmund these aren’t isolated incidents. Of their five goals conceded so far this season, three now have come via corners. Last season BVB conceded 19 goals from set-pieces- six from corners and six from free-kicks.

Against Köln on matchday 2, the opener from Dominick Drexler came after Ellyes Skhiri flicked on a corner. Nico Schulz was caught ball watching (as is often the case with zonal marking) and not aware of the player behind him. On that evening, BVB’s second half display (instigated by Julian Brandt) made the goal less important, but against Union, the lapses proved fatal as Lucien Favre’s side had little answer in the second half.

Zonal v Man marking

Lucien Favre is a man seemingly not for changing when it comes down to zonal marking at set-pieces as opposed to man-marking. Despite numerous incidents where BVB have been caught out, the Swiss coach has kept faith with the zonal technique, Despite some of his own players urging change. Goalkeeper Roman Bürki was one voice advocating a change last season, but after getting nowhere with his protestations, he piped down.

The zonal vs man-marking argument is a valid one and teams do successfully mark zonally, but it basically comes down to having the players comfortable and capable of playing that way. On the evidence of last season and the early indications of this one, Borussia Dortmund might be better suited man-marking at set-pieces. Either that or many more hours of practice are needed to perfect the trainer’s preferred system.

Bayer Leverkusen forced 19 corners in their match with Hoffenheim this weekend. Who are Dortmund playing straight after the international break? Of course…….Bayer Leverkusen!

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Mathew Burt

A year spent living in Bremen got Mathew hooked on the Bundesliga with regular visits to the Weser Stadion getting in the way of his studies. Back in the UK now, he still keenly follows the Grün-Weißen and German football in general. Follow him on Twitter @matburt74.

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