March 26, 2017

Analysis – Borussia Dortmund dominate Olympique Marseille

While Jürgen Klopp watched from a Westfalenstadion skybox – bundled up like a holiday shopper – Borussia Dortmund (BVB) sought out Champions League (UCL) revenge against the traditional French power, Olympic Marseille (OM), to avenge a UCL sweep at the Frenchmen’s hands two year ago (2-6 aggregate).

It succeeded. And looked its hipster best while winning.

Dortmund won 3-0 against the seven-time French champions in convincing fashion. The result never really seemed in doubt, as BVB always created more dangerous chances and created a stranglehold on the match when it opened the scoring at 19′. The vaunted play-making abilities of OM’s supreme central midfielder, Matthieu Valbuena, never materialized as BVB organized an efficient defensive effort as well as a dangerous attack to dominate this match. A win like this quickly buries the disappointment of the 2-1 loss at Napoli, as Klopp’s squad travels to Arsenal next. On the other hand, OM is winless in Group F.

Main Stats and Lineups

Goals: Lewandowski (BVB) 19′, Reus (BVB) 51′, Lewandowski (BVB) 78′ (penalty).


  • BVB: Blaszczykowski for Aubameyang (71′), Hofmann for Reus (82′), Sokratis for Mkhitaryan (88′).
  • OM: Lemina for Payet (73′), J. Ayew for Valbuena (81′), Thauvin for Khalifa (81′).


  • BVB: Nevin Subotic (yellow) 62′, Sven Bender (yellow) 64′.
  • OM: Jacques-Alaixys Romao (yellow) 51′, Rod Fanni (yellow) 65′, Nicolas N’Koulou (yellow) 76′.


  • BVB: 19 (11 on target).
  • OM: 7 (2 on target).


  • BVB: 47%
  • OM: 53%


A battle of 4-2-3-1 lineups.

The starting lineups - a battle of 4-2-3-1s with most play happening along BVB's right and OM's left side of the pitch.
The starting lineups – a battle of 4-2-3-1s with most play happening along BVB’s right and OM’s left side of the pitch.

Certainly not a starting XI BVB would normally enthusiastically trot out for a UCL showdown. Nonetheless, with injuries to Schmelzer, Gündogan, Piszczek, and with Weidenfeller being suspended, Dortmund had no alternative. Durm made his UCL debut, while Großkreutz – the Swiss army knife that he is – filled in the other fullback position for BVB. Notably, Aubameyang started in place of the veteran Blaszczykowski. Finally, the young Aussie, Mitch Langerak guarded BVB’s posts.

On the other hand, OM was missing its usual leftback (Morel) and usual striker (Gignac). You have to wonder how these two losses impacted the OM attack, given Morel’s important role in flank build up play and Gignac’s scoring threat. Mendy made replacement-level contributions at his position, while Khalifa was anonymous at striker for OM.

First Half

The first half was marked by incessant play for both sides, but BVB took a 1-0 lead. Entertaining stuff. The ball hardly stopped as each side pushed hard in transition moments, then quickly pinged passes around in build up. To form, BVB ran after the ball-carriers with a version of its pressing play; however, OM was equally active, especially once it gained possession, as its players smoothly switched positions across the pitch as the likes of Mendy, Imbula, the indomitable Valbuena, and Payet passed the ball to spots on the pitch where it was picked up by another attacker. In our cliched terms: lovely “fluid” play.

The possession battle was “fluid” as well with BVB first enjoying a bit more time on the ball; however, OM finished the half with 54% of possession. As customary, Marseille generated most of its play along its “strong flank” – the left flank – through the passing of Mendes and especially the fantastic play and passing of Gianelli Imbula.

Olympique Marseille's "strong flank," it's left flank. (Courtesy of
Olympique Marseille’s “strong flank,” it’s left flank. (Courtesy of

Meanwhile, much of Dortmund’s play occurred in this area  – both in challenging OM’s build up, as well as pushing the ball forward in its own attacks with Großkreutz (playing rightback), Sahin, and Mkhitaryan involved in build up play.

Although OM ultimately possessed more of the ball during the 1st half, BVB had the most dangerous chances. Routinely, 5-6 Die Schwarzgelben flooded the final third during counter attacks. Indeed at 19′, BVB initiated a dazzling passing sequence in the final third to open the scoring. Reus started it. Sahin received the ball next and brought the it inside the 18 yard box, then layed off a pass to Mkhitaryan, who one-touched a curling pass to Durm. Showing great patience in his UCL debut, Durm took a settling touch, then played a short pass in front of the goal to Lewandowski, who easily finished at point blank range. 1-0 to BVB.

The passing sequence leading to BVB's first goal (Lewandowski) at 19'. (Courtesy of
The passing sequence leading to BVB’s first goal (Lewandowski) at 19′. (Courtesy of

3 minutes later, BVB almost scored again when Lewandowski found himself one-on-one with OM’s keeper, Mandanda, in front of the goal, thanks to another “flooding” counter-attack. However, Mandanda managed to block the shot.

As the half wore on, OM was able to gain more possession, punctuated with pretty passing, switching, and movement – but no dangerous scoring chances. An ominous sign.

Second Half

Immediately, BVB started the half with more energy – and more possession – pinning OM back in its own half. After the sides traded shots, Reus took a long-range freekick, which Mandanda bobbled into the goal, as if Reus’ kick pushed him in. The OM keeper slapped the ball out of the goal, but the official wasn’t fooled. 2-0 to BVB.

OM never came close to threatening again. It’s last 4 shot attempts were harmless, while BVB continued shelling OM with shot. At 80′, Dortmund was rewarded again for its flood-attacks OM defender Nicolas N’Koulou cut down Marco Reus in the box. Lewandowski took the penalty. Mandanda moved first and “Lewy” drilled his shot right down the middle. 3-0 to BVB.

Even though OM continued to enjoy more possession, the match finished harmlessly, as BVB cleared balls in defense and minded its marking. A dominate win for Dortmund.


It’s amazing what can happen when a sample size doubles (from 1 match to 2). Suddenly, the narrative is that BVB is back in control and, along with the red hot Arsenal, a favorite to qualify for the knockout rounds from Group F. Of course.

And Dortmund was powerful in this match. It played it’s now classic energetic counter-attacking game – a style it used to rampage through the UCL last year. However, the difference this season is that BVB has a deeper squad, designed for multiple competitions and weathering injuries. Sure, BVB doesn’t have the financing to purchase depth like Bayern or Man City, but Die Schwarzgelben didn’t miss a beat a fullback, keeper, or defensive midfield in this match. Indeed, Großkreutz has possibly never been finer for BVB; he played good defensive and contributed to the attack, including a stunning pinpoint longball to Lewandowski, which was ruined by Hummels being offside. The young Durm was serviceable in Schmelzer’s place, even he sometimes seemed awkwardly out of place. His assist on the first goal was impressive, considering the speed at which he had to process the scenario.

However, the BVB show really belonged to Reus and Lewandowski – the goal scorers. As the Lewandowski-to-Bayern departure looms ahead, Reus is emerging as the creative play-maker and shot-maker to lead BVB as one’s of Europe’s best players. Already he and Mkhitaryan are brotherly in their passing linkup.

Additionally, Dortmund has become a shot-taking behemoth this season. Currently, it leads all of Europe with a 23 shots on goal average (!) per match. It managed to put 19 shots on OM, including an impressive 11 on target. I’d argue this factor is a signifier of Dortmund’s success this season. After all, Richard Whittall and other analysts assert that shot-taking  – “a symptom of dominance” – is a strong indicator of future success. At the risk of being reductive, the point here is that Dortmund’s ability to create shots (with a good many shots on target!) is enabled by their ability create attacking sequences – here, I think of the classic “flood-attack” in which 5-6 attackers are “flooding” the final third. Beware, Europe! So it’s little wonder that OM was so thoroughly dominated, especially since it only managed 7 shots itself (2 on target):

If BVB can maintain this shot-taking rate, it will remain dangerous no matter who it’s facing in the Champions League. In the meantime, Klopp’s squad can’t help but feel happy in its ability to create chances, despite the injuries to key players like Gündogan, Piszczek, and Schmelzer.

After today’s performance, how can you not be excited for the upcoming Dortmund-Arsenal battle at the Emirates? I am.

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Travis serves as an editor and regular columnist here. Born and groomed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Travis is a college English instructor in Pittsburgh. Coffee, books, and coaching the U6s are his passions. His writing has also appeared in Bloomberg Sports, the Good Man Project, and his former blog,, and elsewhere. He tweets at @tptimmons. Heja BVB!

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