Borussia Dortmund have been amazing to say the least, in the first half of the 2015-16 season. It’s only half a season, yet Dortmund have scored a whopping 85 goals in all competitions which, astonishingly, is seven more than they managed all of last season.
New head coach Thomas Tuchel has changed the commonly used ‘Gegenpressing’ philosophy of Dortmund, which was used by Jurgen Klopp. Tuchel’s new game model of positional play (translated from the Spanish juego de posición) makes them unique in a league dominated by pressing and counterattacking teams.
Positional play focuses on generating numerical superiority through set patterns of movement, proper spacing and connections among attackers and an emphasis on ball retention and circulation. It’s a broad way of describing a choreographed system of play that every coach tweaks to his needs.
While, Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund used to play out from the back and were much more direct, Tuchel focuses on not just having possession for the sake of it but to have purposeful possession and it comes naturally with the team boasting players like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Marco Reus and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who don’t just have the pace but also have the willingness to pose a threat in behind the defense.
Thomas Tuchel has normally used a 4-2-3-1 formation with İlkay Gündoğan and Julian Weigl pivoting the midfield and Shinji Kagawa as a number No.10 but they can switch to a 4-1-4-1 formation, seamlessly within the game where Weigl playing as the single pivot.
So we start from the back, Tuchel splits the two centre backs in wider positions, which opens up space to for Weigl to drop in and get on to the ball, his positioning sense of when to drop in is very good as well. The full backs push up really high so that they can stretch the opposition horizontally. The forwards do the same job as well, Aubameyang in particular, he stretches the defense vertically as well.
Hummels, Gundogan and the half space
When progressed further up the pitch, the right-sided centre back tends to go in more central position while, the left-sided centre back (mostly Hummels) stays wider on the left side. Gündoğan is the main architect in this position, he positions himself in the half space, which is a really hard area to press and so the German maestro gets enough space and time to switch the play to Hummels on the far left, who then tries pick out a key pass or a through ball to crack up the defense.
This picture against Gladbach is a prime example of how this whole system works. Here we can see Gundogan with the ball after receiving a pass from Sokratis, an opposition midfielder moves up to press him but as stated earlier, it is a hard area to press and Aubameyang on the other hand, pushes the defense down the pitch then, Gündoğan effectively switches the play to Hummels, who has all the time in the world to find a pass and that he did quite brilliantly. Hummels finds Kagawa, who has a pocket of space to find Reus, who easily uses him intelligence to make a run into the box and score the goal.
Kagawa and the ‘ARM’
‘ARM’ means Aubameyang-Reus-Mkhitaryan, these players have been the most successful feature in Thomas Tuchel’s team this season. But in this point, I will mostly talk about the attacking players rather than Aubameyang. The intelligent and seemingly telepathic movements of the attacking players helps Dortmund dominate the opposition. These flexible players often switch to the other side and given the width provided by the two full backs, enables Kagawa to drift in between the defense and midfield line and to act as a pure number ten. This strategy suits players like Reus, who can’t be marked out of the game that easily and he can make sprints to run in behind the defense to make the defense more unstable.
Aubameyang aka ‘The Batman’
French-born Gabonese striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been arguably the hottest striker this season with 27 goals already this season, the highest scorer in Europe. Aubameyang has been one of the greatest assets for Borussia Dortmund since he came in from St. Etienne in 2013.
Aubameyang’s job basically is to use his pace to run in at channels to stretch the opposition both vertically and horizontally. With Reus, Mkhitaryan and Kagawa always wanting to get on the ball, he constantly runs in-behind the defense. The opposition defense get forced to drop five yards due to the fear of Aubameyang’s pace, which creates more space for the ‘ARM’ to work with.
All this immense change in style of play in such a quick time has come to good effect for Dortmund this season and this comes to no surprise given with the way Dortmund players have spent countless hours on the training pitch. But it is perhaps somewhat of a cruel time to excel because of Bayern’s total dominance in the Bundesliga. Dortmund are still alive in the race though, they are eight points off Bayern and there will be a lot of optimism going into the second half of the season.
Meanwhile, it’s just days until the winter transfer window gets live but Dortmund aren’t expected to do much business, although midfielder Jonas Hofmann is transferring to Gladbach. In fact, two players, who missed the season due to injury in Erik Durm and Nuri Sahin will be back in the squad. Things have gone right for Thomas Tuchel so far this season but he might want to improve on his side’s defensive fragility, if he wants to see his team giving a tough fight for the title and who knows, if everything goes right, we might see a change of guard in the German Football come May.
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