Borussia Dortmund 2 – 0 Schalke – How to win a match in the air

Defending champions Borussia Dortmund came into this match on the back of a difficult loss in the Champions League but had a chance to redeem themselves in the much anticipated 139th edition of the Rurh Derby.  And with a resounding 2-0 win over their bitter rivals, Dortmund stretched their unbeaten run in the league to eight matches and are now sitting on top the table. Goals from Lewandowski and Santana decided the match and confirmed the gap in quality between the two rivals this season. Klopp set out a clever game plan that limited and took Schalke out of the match, making it a rather one sided derby win.

To everyone’s surprise, Klopp rotated a fair bit going into the match, resting Kagawa, and more surprisingly, local boy and proud owner of a Dortmund skyline tattoo, Kevin Grosskreutz. Instead, Klopp started Blaszczykowski and gave Barrios his first league start of the campaign.  Leitner filled in for the injured Bender and Santana continued to deputize for Subotic.  There were no surprises for Schalke, Baumjohan continued to fill in for the injured Farfan and Stevens fielded the same eleven that resoundingly beat Nürnberg 4-0 last week.

Formations and key movements.

 Dortmund’s clever strategy 

Klopp revealed his game plan after the match, “We did not let Schalke play their way out of the back. We allowed Lars Unnerstall, who played a fantastic match, to play long balls out of the back. In the center of the pitch we were stronger in the air and were therefore able to win all the second balls, thereby never allowing Schalke to get into their game.”

Sure enough, Dortmund won an impressive 41 aerial challenges while Schalke lost nearly 50% of theirs, 105 out of 235 to be exact.  Dortmund’s strategy of forcing turnovers by allowing Schalke to play long balls to their attackers and relying on their aerial strength to regain possession worked flawlessly.  Schalke’s three most advanced players, Raul, Draxler and Huntelaar, won the least number of challenges amongst Schalke players, a combined 22.  Compare that to Dortmund’s most advanced players, Barrios, Lewandowski, and Götze, who won a total of 47 challenges, and a clear pattern slowly emerges.

All 41 aerial balls won by Dortmund.

By pressing with their usual ferocity and even higher up the pitch than usual, Dortmund dictated Schalke’s reaction in the match.  In doing so, they cut off all passing lanes and effectively created a barrier on the ground. Dortmund limited Schalke’s options and attacking outlets almost completely, the visitors not managing a single clear cut scoring chance in the first half.  As such, Schalke practically spent the entire first 45 minutes in their own half, attempting to find ways to get out all the while trying to deal with their opponent’s advanced pressing.  Schalke played 65 long balls throughout the match and made the majority of their passes in their own half.

Blaszczykowski, Götze and Schmelzer in particular played and important role in Dortmund’s strategy as they preoccupied Schalke’s primary route forward, the flanks.  Fuchs, usually so proactive going forward, was largely muted by the energetic Blaszczykowski while Schmelzer’s bursts forward forced Baumjohan to effectively become Schalke’s second right back.  All the while, Götze and Lewandowski made it difficult for Jones and Holtby to steer the ship, exchanging runs and passes and playing keep away from Schalke’s midfield pair. Weidenfeller did not touch the ball until the 18th minute and Schalke’s first shot on goal came nearly an hour into the match.

Schalke were limited to playing long balls, here are all 65.

A more direct and quick player like Farfan could have come in handy for Schalke today, the Peruvian used to receiving the ball and launching quick counter attacks more so than players like Baumjohan or Draxler. Stevens reacted in the second half by bringing on striker Pukki for Draxler and instructing Fuchs to play further up the pitch and attempt to preempt Dortmund’s strategy.  To an extent it worked because it kept the so far lively Blaszczykowski out of their half but they still lacked the necessary ingenuity to make it count. Nevertheless, Schalke had their best spell of the match in the ten minutes following the restart but it was not enough to subvert Dortmund’s strategy or dominance, which they regained soon after to close out the match.

Final Verdict

It was not the kind of performance one would expect in a heated derby. The fact that Schalke was so thoroughly outplayed is troublesome.  Dortmund outshot them 17 to 3 and outran them by over 6 kilometers.  Huub Steven’s words after the matched reflected his disappointment, comparing his side to a “school team” and declaring it an unacceptable performance, “whether it was fear, respect or anything else – that was simply not good enough.  I hope this is a good lesson for young players.”

Dortmund meanwhile continue to impose their game on opponents.  Their excellently versed defense has only conceded 3 goals in their last 8 matches and acts as both an insurance policy and a platform for their offensive game.  Equally as good on the ground as they are in the air, it squeezed all the creativity out of Schalke much like they did against Bayern and are well on their way to making it an interesting race for the title.

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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari

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