In May of 2018, Lucien Favre was appointed as head coach after a disappointing 2017/18 season for Dortmund where they finished fourth and had ten draws and nine losses. Favre came in for the 2018/19 and 2019/20 season, where his side finished second in both years. However, they have not won the league since 2011/12 with Jurgen Klopp.
In this tactical analysis, we will make a scout report on Borussia Dortmund for the upcoming season. This analysis will look at the season gone by, the tactics, and possible improvements to challenge for the 2020/21 Bundesliga.
For the upcoming season, these are the players that are present for the upcoming season in each position:
Goalkeepers: Roman Burki, Marwin Hitz
Defenders: Dan-Axel Zagadou, Mats Hummels, Manuel Akanji, Nico Schulz, Marcel Schmelzer, Thomas Meunier, Felix Passlack, Łukasz Piszczek, Mateu Morey.
Midfielders: Emre Can, Axel Witsel, Julian Brandt, Tobias Raschl, Thomas Delaney, Jude Bellingham, Mahmoud Dahoud, Raphael Guerrero, Marco Reus, Reinier, Giovanni Reyna, Immanuel Pherai.
Forwards: Jadon Sancho, Thorgan Hazard, Marius Wolf, Erling Braut Håland, Youssoufa Moukoko.
Understanding the Team
Below, we can see Borussia Dortmund’s team age profile for the previous season.
Only a few players like Omer Toprak, Marco Reus, and Marvin Hitz are above the age of 30. Players like Gio Reyna, Jadon Sancho, and Erling Håland are in the sweet spot, as they have a lot of room to grow but are already great talents for their ages in their respective positions. The new transfers like Reinier, Jude Bellingham, and Moukouko are also very young and will definitely stay at Dortmund for some time to further their careers.
Below, we can see Borussia Dortmund’s lineup for the previous season. This is the squad that they played in Der Klassiker.
This is a 3-4-2-1 lineup, with three centre-backs, two attacking wing-backs, two central midfielders, two inside forwards, and a striker. The formation gives Mats Hummels the creative freedom to be involved in playmaking and distribution of the ball, something he has excelled in since joining Dortmund. The other two centre-backs – Zagadou and Piszczek – are more defensively solid and provide defensive stability. The two playmakers and width-providers in the side are Hakimi and Guerreiro who are the core of this formation. Axel Witsel and Can provide the essential role of a 3-man midfield in their package. Witsel is the tackler and defensive stronghold while Can is the team’s engine. The two inside forwards are Jadon Sancho and Thorgan Hazard who cut inside and provide their playmaking skill. The pure finisher up top in Haaland completes the side, who is swapped with Marco Reus at times.
In terms of attacking, Dortmund scored 82 goals, the second-highest in the Bundesliga. This meant that they scored 2.42 goals per game. They had expected goals total of 1.59 per game, meaning that Dortmund overperformed their xG by a whopping 0.83 goals per game. This comes down to Lucien Favre’s tactics in using Jadon Sancho, Erling Haaland, and co. We can see how Dortmund compare in terms of xG to the rest of the Bundesliga below.
The graph above shows where Borussia Dortmund stand compared to the rest of the league by looking at their Goals Scored (Goals For or GF) and their expected goals (xG). They have the fourth-highest xG in the league after Bayern Munich, RB Leipzig, and Borussia Monchengladbach. They are also one of the teams in the top-right section, meaning that they score more than the average amount of goals and are expected to score a lot as well.
Defensively, Borussia Dortmund were the fourth-best team in the Bundesliga, conceding 41 goals. However, they exceeded their xGA (Expected Goals Against) value of 39.5. This meant that they conceded 1 more goal than they were expected to throughout the season. This is quite good considering that the Bundesliga is a more attacking league and teams tend to play more free-flowing attacking football compared to the Premier League or Serie A.
Now, we will try to find the type of team that Borussia Dortmund are and where they excelled in using data.
The first data visualisation that we will look at is comparing the Passes per Defensive Action or PPDA. This shows the number of passes made by an attacking team/number of defensive actions. A smaller PPDA means that the defensive intensity of the side is higher, so there is a lower ratio of passes from the opponent made.
The teams above the average line have a higher PPDA compared to the rest of the league. Borussia Dortmund in the third column is slightly above the average line, meaning that their PPDA of 11.94 is slightly above the league average. The next visualisation will look at how Dortmund ranks in terms of defensive duels and their success.
In terms of the success of defensive duels, Borussia Dortmund is above the league’s average at 62.8%. Meanwhile, they are lower than the league average for Defensive Duels per 90 mins, meaning that they do not attempt a lot of defensive duels, which is due to their tactics in defence.
Dortmund’s failures in defending in the 2018/19 season meant that they conceded a lot of goals and subsequently lost the league by two points. However, shifting from a four at-the-back to three-at-the-back improved their defensive stability to quickly cover the space left behind by Dortmund’s defensive lines. When losing possession, the two wing-backs drop to defend and the central midfielders become more compact to limit space. To cover for the wing-backs, the inside forwards falls back to form a 5-4-1 formation, as seen below.
Sancho and Hazard stay at the halfway line to start counter-attacks with their blistering pace and feed balls onto Haaland who gets into 1 v 1 positions to score.
Now we will look at how Dortmund play in the attacking and build-up phases. The first viz we will look at is breaking down Dortmund’s passing in terms of their forward, backward, and lateral passes.
Compared to the league average of 411 passes, Dortmund attempt 653 passes per game. They are higher than the league’s average for all three types of passes as well. An important thing to note here is that Dortmund attempt a lot of back passes, which indicates their style of build-up.
As in the title, the graph above indicates the progressive players. Progressive passes are good indicators about how many forward solutions that the players attempt. Progressive runs indicate how much players carry the ball into advanced areas. Surprisingly, Mateu Morey is clear of the rest of the players in terms of progressive runs and is backed up by him attempting 4.6 dribbles per game. This might be because he has played limited minutes this season, and thus, his per 90 stats are skewed. The defenders in Akanji, Zagadou, Guerreiro, and Hummels attempt the most progressive passes and show the defenders’ involvement in build-up play.
Borussia Dortmund has an incredibly breakneck attack that pounces on their opponents losing possession. They do not circulate possession in their own half frequently and opt to play more direct passes. This is to punish opponents that make turnovers higher up the pitch. They attempt 3.71 counter-attacks with 37% of them resulting in shots, which is the highest in the Bundesliga. We can see that in the pass-map to Achraf Hakimi’s goal against Wolfsburg below.
Sancho’s assist to Hakimi shows how quickly the ball was moved after the opponent turned over possession to score a goal very efficiently.
Key Player in Focus: Jadon Sancho
Jadon Sancho is the archetypal winger – one who provides width by hugging the touchlines and cuts inside in the final third to dribble into the centre and take shots. We can see this progression in the heat-map below.
Sancho’s strengths are his pace and acceleration that he uses to break into the final third with ease by beating the full-backs and centre-backs on pure pace alone. Partnering this with his decision-making ability and intelligent movement when off the ball, Sancho provides an effective attacking outlet. In the Bundesliga alone, Sancho clocked 17 goals and 16 assists and overperformed his xG of 8.11 by approximately nine goals. He was the fifth player ever in Europe’s top five leagues to get 15+ goals and 15+ assists. For any youngster, these are phenomenal statistics and should definitely improve over time.
An integral ability of his when on the ball is to shift his momentum quickly to beat his defenders quickly in that split-second it takes for them to turn around and tackle Sancho. He had an average of 6.34 dribbles per game, which was more than Serge Gnabry of Bayern Munich. Pairing this up with his unbelievable creativity and he adds a very good passing option to create attacking chances out of nowhere. We saw that above in the pass-map where he created a goalscoring opportunity seconds after regaining possession.
Amidst links to Manchester United, if Jadon Sancho stays at BVB, he should turn into a better player for Dortmund considering he would be playing alongside the likes of Erling Haaland, Jude Bellingham, Marco Reus, and more.
After looking at the points brought up in this scout report, it will be interesting to see how Lucien Favre sets up his side in the upcoming season. Despite Bayern Munich having won a treble in the 2019/20 season, Dortmund still have the highest probability of winning the Bundesliga after Bayern, as predicted by FiveThirtyEight’s model. If things turn out right for them, they could finally win the coveted Meisterschale and qualify for the Champions League.