Borussia Dortmund are currently sitting in second place in the Bundesliga, with three matches remaining, and even though the Meisterschale have gone to Bayern Munich yet again, Dortmund have been playing some of their best football in some time.
This has correlated with Lucien Favre’s change of formation in late November to a 3-4-3, where they have lost just three matches in the league. This has benefited many players, and one of these has been Dortmund veteran Łukasz Piszczek.
This tactical analysis on Piszczek will be in the form of a scout report, and it will be using analysis to look at his new role in Favre’s tactics in Dortmund’s 3-4-3 shape. It will delve into his strengths and weaknesses in this role, and whether he can keep his position in the starting XI going into his final season of professional football.
Piszczek’s change of position
Piszczek has been a right-back throughout his entire career and has been one of Europe’s best in his prime. Yet, at 35 years of age, it was clear that Piszczek would be unlikely to fulfil the role of the wing-back – especially since Dortmund had Achraf Hakimi in their ranks, albeit just on loan.
However, a move into centre-back in a back three was quite a clear move for Piszczek, as it will be shown throughout the analysis. The main roles of a wide centre-back in a back three are: progressing the ball, covering the wide areas, and of course being defensively sound.
In fact, the positional change has not been that different for the Polish international, who is still operating in similar areas as he was when at right-back: this is shown through his heatmaps of both this campaign and the last, he operates in almost the same areas even though he has been played in different positions.
The positional change is actually not that big of a change for the player, the main difference is the passing options available for him. A 3-4-3 creates triangles across the pitch, making ball retention easier and increasing passing options. The wide centre-backs also are at the bottom of a diamond, making them have great involvement in the build-up. Below shows the main passing options that Piszczek has while operating as a right centre-back.
It is quite clear that although Piszczek has gone through a positional change this season, it has actually suited him, due to the great number of passing options, as well as the fact that his skillset as a 35-year-old no longer suits the full-back/wing-back role.
Reading of the game
Of course, at 35 years of age, Piszczek has lost the majority of his pace. We will analyse how this can be a negative in his game later, yet his good reading of the game in front of him allows Piszczek to stay one step ahead of the opposition most of the time. This is shown through Piszczek’s 1.99 tackles won (pAdj) per 90 and his 2.53 interceptions (pAdj) per 90; the percentile ranks against centre-backs in the top five leagues (with 10+ starts) are 96th and 94th respectively for his tackles won and interceptions made.
In the above image, Piszczek’s reading of the game is shown greatly. After initially following his man forward, the Dortmund man realises that there is a dangerous run being made by the opposing winger. He turns and is able to intercept the through ball, not because he was faster than the opponent, but because he was one step ahead of them. He then returned the ball to Roman Bürki, so that Dortmund could keep possession of the ball.
Again, above is another image showing how Piszczek can read the game well. He notices that in the defensive shape, Hakimi is out of position and that there is space to be exploited on the flank. The opposition plays a pass towards this area, however, Piszczek moves across to this space and is able to intercept the ball.
Being able to read the play means that Piszczek’s lack of pace and agility is not so much of a negative in his game, yet it is always an area which can be exploited by opponents. This will be explained next in the scout report.
Lack of pace and agility
Even with an impressive footballing brain, Piszczek’s lack of pace and agility will always be able to be exploited by quick and agile attackers. When facing a player dribbling at him, Piszczek tackles them just 51% of the time, and he also commits an average of 1.02 fouls per 90, the percentile rank of this is the 39th. It also can lead to him being out of position, as he cannot get to the player with the ball quick enough to tackle them.
In the above image, Piszczek steps out of his defensive line towards the opposition’s ball carrier. Yet, the opposition’s quick turn does not only mean that he gets past the pressure from Piszczek, but it also means that there is a passing option into the space created by Piszczek’s forward movement. Ultimately Piszczek was not agile enough to stay with his man, and this allowed a dangerous through ball to be played. Emre Can covered well and tackled the opposition player who received the through ball.
Again, in the image above, Piszczek almost costs his side with his lack of pace. He attempts to intercept the ball, and he reads the play very well, but ultimately he was not quick enough to get to the man. This means that the opposition’s player was able to find a return pass, and then there was a large amount of space to play into. This space was created due to Piszczek trying to step in and intercept the ball. Luckily, the player on the far side who received the pass missed the target with his shot, but Piszczek’s lack of pace was still very apparent.
1 v 1 defending
Being able to do well in 1 v 1 defending is crucial to playing as a wide centre-back because they will often have to cover wide areas due to the attacking nature of the wing-backs. The ability to be strong in a defensive duel is great for a player in this position, and Piszczek shows he has this through his 6.06 defensive duels per 90, 58.96% of which are successful. Piszczek can cover the wide areas and defend well against advancing wingers.
In the above image, we can see the opposing winger advancing down the flank. Piszczek, first of all, shows his experience by covering the run, rather than engaging in the duel straight away. This allows the Dortmund defender to firstly force the opposition towards the touchline and then he makes the tackle, stopping the attack from the opposition. Piszczek’s experience and defensive capabilities in a duel were both shown in this example.
Here is another example of Piszczek being able to cover the wide areas due to his solid defensive capabilities. This time, Piszczek engages in the duel quickly after the opposition gains possession of the ball. This means that the opposition is unable to get proper control of the ball. As well as this, it stops a potential counter-attack for the opposition. Piszczek is experienced enough to decide when to engage in his duels.
Progressing the ball through passing
As a wide centre-back in a back three, one of their main responsibilities is to progress the ball through either passing or dribbling forward with the ball themselves, and Piszczek prefers to progress the ball through his passing. This is because there is more space on the ball, and more passing options, due to positions in the half-spaces or in wide areas.
The above image is an example of how Piszczek can progress the ball through his passing ability, but also through the passing options available in his position. As he receives the ball, he is at the bottom of a diamond, giving him three possible passing options in front of him. His passing ability then allows him to find Thorgan Hazard at the top of the diamond, progressing the ball well for his side. His progressive passing is also shown through his average of 11.85 progressive passes per 90 – this is just 2.67 progressive passes behind David Alaba (14.52), who averages the most of all centre-backs in the Bundesliga.
Again, the image above shows Piszczek’s ability to progress the ball through his passing. He is able to see Sancho between the lines of the opposition, and he plays the ball directly into his feet, Sancho can then turn and play a forward pass. The attack ends in a Dortmund cross. This is only allowed to happen through Piszczek’s good vision and passing accuracy. Being able to find players between the lines is great in Dortmund’s tactics, where the wide forwards often find positions between the lines of the opposition’s midfield and defence.
Piszczek is heavily involved in the build-up for Dortmund, in fact, he averages the seventh-most passes from centre-backs in the Bundesliga, with 74.58 per 90. Even with this high involvement, he still has an impressive passing accuracy of 89.08%, showing he is rarely wasteful with the possession of the ball.
Piszczek had originally planned to retire at the end of this current season, however, his plans have now changed and the Dortmund captain has recently extended his contract until the end of the 2020/21 campaign. This tactical analysis has shown that the Polish international offers solid passing qualities in order to progress the ball for his side, as well as impressive defensive qualities. Although his lack of pace can sometimes be a problem, his intelligence and reading of the game mostly makes up for this.
Piszczek might not be the kind of centre-back that Dortmund needs to really challenge domestically and in the UEFA Champions League, however, he has shown that in his penultimate season of playing the professional game, he can still clearly offer solid performances in his newly found position in Favre’s tactics.