The 30th round of the Bundesliga saw Borussia Dortmund host a rejuvenated Hertha Berlin, who have been unbeaten under Bruno Labbadia since the restart of the league. The match was a very tight affair where the points could’ve really gone either way, though, it was a second-half goal which separated the sides and gave Borussia Dortmund all three points in the end.
This tactical analysis will be analysing the tactics used by both managers and how they affected the outcome of the match. Hertha Berlin’s counter-press and defensive shape will be dissected, while we will look into how Dortmund’s transition has struggled without Håland. We will use analysis to show Dortmund’s usage of both the half-spaces and the wide areas.
Lucian Favre lined his side up in their usual 3-4-3 formation. In goal, as usual, was Roman Bürki. The defensive line was without former Bayern player Mats Hummels, who was missing out due to suspension; Emre Can replace him in the defence. Alongside Can, was Łukasz Piszczek and Manuel Akanji. Achraf Hakimi and Raphaël Guerreiro provided the width as wingbacks in the side. Axel Witsel was brought back into the side and he operated in the midfield alongside Thomas Delaney. The interchanging front three consisted of Jadon Sancho, Julian Brandt and Thorgan Hazard, as Erling Håland had not recovered from injury.
Labbadia lined Hertha in a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 shape. Rune Jarstein was in between the sticks and his defensive line consisted of Peter Pekarík, Dedryck Boyata, Jordan Torunarigha and Maximilian Mittelstädt. In front of them was a midfield three of Per Skjebred, Marko Grujic and Vladimír Darida, with Darida as the highest man in the midfield. Dodi Lukebakio and Javairô Dilrosun operated on the wings, with Vedad Ibisevic playing as the lone striker.
While Dortmund’s team is well-known for their impressive counter-press, Hertha’s counter-press in this match was very good and was a reason in how they limited Dortmund and their clear counter-attacking threat. Hertha would overload the ball carrier and force a mistake, Dortmund had just three counter-attacks with zero shots from them in the game.
The image above is a good example of how Hertha’s counter-pressing stopped Dortmund from counter-attacking after a turnover of possession. Dortmund regain possession and Witsel receives the ball on the edge of the area. Two Hertha players immediately spring into action and pressure him, he passes forward towards Hazard and he has three more Hertha men around him, Pekarík is the man who gets to the ball first and ensures that Dortmund are not able to create a counter-attacking situation.
Again, the image above shows Hertha’s counter-press and how it kept the pressure on Dortmund, which then kept it off of Hertha. After Dortmund regain possession, the extreme pressure on the ball carrier from five Hertha men forces a long ball attempt to get out of pressure. Mittelstädt is on hand to win possession back from the long ball and prevent a Dortmund counter-attack.
Dortmund average 4.03 counter-attacks per 90 and 37.7% of these end in a shot, it was crucial that Hertha limited this strength from the opposition and through their counter-pressing, they were able to do this with great effect as explained before, they had zero shots from their attempted counter-attacks in this game.
Hertha’s defensive shape
Labbadia has clearly helped with the defensive organisation and shape of the side since he became manager, with the side keeping three clean sheets since the restart of the Bundesliga. Against Dortmund, in defensive shape, Hertha would often overload whichever side Dortmund were attacking, the positioning of the midfield three of Grujic, Skjelbred and Darida was pivotal in this.
In the image above, Dortmund are attacking the left side and the Hertha midfield three have positioned themself closely to the left, this, in turn, creates minimal space for Dortmund to operate in and ultimately leads to them losing possession after being unable to break down the defensive shape of Hertha. In the match, Hertha had 69 defensive duels and they won an impressive 68.12% of them.
It was clear that there was an opportunity for Dortmund in the final third if they could switch the play quick enough, however, when they would attempt this, Hertha would move back into their desired defensive shape.
Here, Dortmund can switch the play quickly into Hakimi, who has a lot of space to work with on the right-side. However, in the image on the right, you can see that Hertha have got into a solid defensive shape with Skjebred dropping into the defensive line to create a back five and Alexander Esswein dropping into the midfield, which is overloaded on the left side. This stops Dortmund being able to create a chance and leads to a Hertha goal kick.
Hertha were mainly able to get back into their defensive shape quickly due to the fitness of their midfield, they also would have to shuffle across from whichever side Dortmund had the ball. Darida ran 14.7km in the match, this is the all-time record for distance covered in the Bundesliga. Although distance covered is not always a good indicator of a players ability to press, it was clear in the match that the Hertha midfield was crucial in their counter-press.
Dortmund missing Håland
It is quite an obvious statement to say that Dortmund were missing Håland, however, it was clear that their build-up has struggled since the Norweigian has been out. Without him in the side, Dortmund have operated with three playmakers across the front. This has meant that there has been no one for those players to play off of.
This image highlights what is missing without Håland in Dortmund’s build-up play. There is no target-man to play into, even though Sancho has the ball in the opposition half, there was no forward pass into a striker and no clear progressive pass for the playmaker. As all three of the front men enjoy being on the ball, they are all in deeper or wider areas.
This image is another example of how Dortmund missed Håland in this match. He is always an option to play in behind the defence and without him, players like Brandt do to make these runs. Above, Brandt chooses to drop in and receive the pass to feet, the white arrows highlight what option Håland would give the ball carrier, Witsel. Even if he would not receive possession, this run beyond the defensive line would stretch the defence and create space for Witsel to pass or run into.
Dortmund’s attack of the wide areas
As always, Hakimi and Guerreiro were heavily involved in the attacking aspects of the game, the two wingbacks have contributed to a total of 32 goals this season. With Hertha in a solid defensive structure, the wide areas were always going to be a focus in attack for Dortmund.
Even with their solid defensive shape, Sancho was always going to find pockets of space to work in and he would often look to play into the wide areas for the wingbacks.
The image above shows Sancho receiving a pass from Hakimi and he returned the wingback with a through ball, this allowed Hakimi to run through on goal but he was unable to find the target. As always, the overlapping runs from the wingbacks was a successful strategy in attacking transition for BVB.
Again, Sancho finds a small area of space in the half-space, however, he is being closed down heavily. Guerreiro’s forward run gives him an option to pass to and he is able to find him with a pass. The wingback ends up having his shot blocked and wastes the opportunity.
Even though it was perhaps their best way of creating a goal, a lack of end product meant that Dortmund were unable to find the back of the net through the flanks.
Dortmund overloads in the half-spaces
In the end, it was their usage of the half-spaces which ended in them finding the winning goal. Even though Hertha covered the half-spaces brilliantly throughout the match, Dortmund would still overload the areas with different players and they enjoyed some success in these areas.
One of the only positive about having a front three of playmakers who look to play in the half-spaces is that they can be overloaded.
In this instance above, Sancho receives the ball in the half-space and an opposition player closest him down, he passes wide to Hakimi and moves into a high and wide position; bringing the opposition with him. As Sancho makes this movement, Brandt moves into the half-space and is in a good position to receive the pass. Even though it does not come his way, the overload of the half-space from both Brandt and Sancho creates extra space in there for them to work with.
Shown above is the build-up for the only goal of the game and the usage of an overload in the half-space is clear. As Sancho has the ball, Brandt makes a clear movement from the centre, towards the half-space. The ball is played into him but he has a player following him, yet, Can is also operating in the half-space and this means Brandt can lay the ball off to him in space which was created by is earlier movement; Can is composed and finishes calmly into the corner of the net.
Even though the half-spaces were well covered by Hertha throughout the match, the Dortmund players still found some success in the areas and ultimately created the winning goal through their movement in the half-spaces.
This tactical analysis has shown that although Hertha were able to limit Dortmund’s attacks with their strong defensive shape and their counter-pressing strategies, Dortmund ultimately came out on top with their sustained attacks through the flanks and between the lines. It was a tight affair, where the xG of Dortmund and Hertha was 0.99 and 0.38 respectively.
The win means that Dortmund separate themselves from the rest of the pack, yet it is unlikely that Bayern Munich will let the seven-point lead they have slip. Even though Hertha have had impressive form since the restart, they are unlikely to finish in the Europa League places due to their form previous to Labbadia’s arrival.