Borussia Dortmund have been in their usual position in the Bundesliga for the past few seasons, finishing second to Bayern Munich for the last two seasons and are currently in third place, one point behind RB Leipzig and three points behind Bayern Munich. They have some great attacking talent as well, like Jadon Sancho, who was fervently linked to Manchester United, and Erling Haaland. They have been strong in attack, scoring 15 goals, the third-most so far, taken the third most shots with 110 of them and have maintained the most average possession in the league at 64.3%, all hallmarks of a Lucien Favre side.
In this tactical analysis in the form of a scout report about Dortmund, we will examine Lucien Favre’s Borussia Dortmund in attack and his tactics in the build-up.
So far this season in the Bundesliga and Champions League, Dortmund have gone with only two lineups this season: The wider 4-2-3-1 and the narrower 3-4-2-1 with wing-backs. We can see the lineups used below against Bayern Munchen (4-2-3-1):
Burki starts in goal while Hummels and Akanji are the centre-backs. Meunier is the right-back and Raphael Guerreiro completes the defence by slotting in at left-back. The double-pivot in this midfield contains Thomas Delaney and Axel Witsel. Meanwhile, the attacking central midfielder is the German number ‘10’, Marco Reus. The front three in this team are Giovanni Reyna, Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho.
The lineup and form of build-up that will be focussed on more are with the 3-4-2-1 as used against Hoffenheim:
Again, Burki starts in goal. The formation now has three centre-backs: Emre Can, Mats Hummels and Lukasz Piszczek. So, Meunier shifts from right-back to right wing-back. Meanwhile, Felix Passlack, who is Guerreiro’s backup, plays at left wing-back. These wing-backs are important to the build-up as we will see below. The midfielders in the double-pivot are Axel Witsel and Mahmoud Dahoud. In front of them, Sancho and Reyna play as attacking midfielders with Julian Brandt up top.
The critical changes that were made between this team against Hoffenheim and Lazio were replacing Can with Delaney, Dahoud with Bellingham, Brandt with Haaland and Reyna with Reus.
Wing-backs and Centre-backs
While wing-backs are covered in the midfield four, they link up more with the centre-backs then with each other. The centre-backs tend to take a narrower shape and play a high line, allowing them to circulate possession from left to right easily. This switching of the ball means that their opponents leave space in the middle to allow passes to the central midfielders. However, the wing-backs are also important in this circulation as to stretch their opponents wide. This relationship can be seen below:
All the original components that we mentioned are seen above. Dortmund play their centre-backs in a high line in attack with the full-backs pushing up. Currently, as the midfield of Bellingham and Witsel are marked by Lazio, the full-backs act as passing options to penetrate the opposition’s press. This is done by direct overlapping runs into the box or by forming passing triangles with the centre-backs and midfielders. An important element of the directness of attack lost was when Achraf Hakimi was loaned back to Real Madrid (and subsequently sold to Inter Milan). Hakimi was an attacking force that has been difficult to replace, but Meunier has done his best to replace the Moroccan. A weakness of Meunier is finding himself isolated higher up the pitch and thus is not an option for passing for the centre-backs.
Another important attacking element that the wing-backs (especially Guerreiro) does is seen below:
The first element here that we will look at is the dialogue of the full-backs with the midfield. Guerreiro receives the ball out wide and finds a midfielder in a position to receive the ball. To progress the ball quicker he plays a one-two with the midfielder instead of dribbling as he can get cut off by the opposition’s right-back. Guerreiro makes the run forward and is able to make a pass forward. The next element is the pass to the attackers. Sometimes, the pass is to Reyna, who makes a run in the left half-space and crosses the ball into Haaland. But, in this scenario, Guerreiro threads a pass to beat the defensive line to Haaland. With Haaland’s blistering pace, he is able to beat the defenders and can get onto the pass to blast the ball.
Another alternative build-up technique is on the left flank with Guerreiro, Witsel and Reyna.
Here, the wing-back forms passing triangles with Witsel, generally the deeper out of the two midfielders, and Reyna. The advantage of the two attacking midfielders in the 3-4-2-1 is that Reyna gets the freedom to move around the left half-space and we see it above. This is an effective way of getting the ball to Reyna with minimal touches and time on the ball by finding the right passing angles.
Reyna and Haaland
Haaland and Reyna are two of Dortmund’s best young attacking talents that have been very effecting this season. Reyna is a very pacey and creative ball carrier. He has a light touch on the ball and dribble past his opponents easily and finds Haaland, who acts as a focal point up front. We can see an example of Reyna and Haaland’s link up below:
Reyna has received the ball from deep after Witsel won back the ball from the Freiburg players. He takes very few touches on the ball and progresses it to the edge of the box. Here, he has three passing options: Passing to Haaland on the right, passing to Haaland on the left and passing it into the path of Reus. While passing it to Reus is a viable option, Reus will have to pull off a shot quickly with one touch and thus decreases the probability of the ball going in.
So, it is a better passing option to get the ball to Haaland. The genius of Reyna comes here, however. Instead of passing it rightwards where Haaland might get a straight shot at goal and thus a wider angle, he passes it into the path of his run so that Haaland can get a shot off his left foot. Haaland scores in this scenario.
Reyna himself is great at creating opportunities for his teammates to score. In this game against Freiburg, he got a hat-trick of assists and it was clear why. Despite the fact that he stands at 1.85 metres, he has a low centre of gravity and is able to turn around quickly. He does this in the same game against Freiburg, by moving and weaving past two defenders and pulling off a shot that goes wide.
He is also good at creating opportunities for his team-mates by drawing the opponent players. Reyna can also create positional rotations with the other players, dropping back as another 8 to join Bellingham.
Haaland, on the other hand, is a great striker for a player his age. He consistently scores goals against teams in the Bundesliga and European elite in the Champions League. This is mainly because of his pace. He waits for balls from the midfielders to pass the breach the defensive lines, turns and hunts after the ball. Once he gets the ball, he finishes the ball into the back of the net with ease. He has six goals from his nine shots on target and has only taken 20 shots but still has one of the best conversion rates in Europe. He only has 6.2 touches of the ball in the box and shows his lethality and efficiency in the box.
That’s why Reyna and Haaland are a great long-term option when in attack for Borussia Dortmund. Reyna is the creator, the magician on the ball. He makes passes into the box from all over zone 14. Haaland, on the other hand, is the lethal striker. He needs very little touches on the ball to receive the ball, run with it and finish the ball with lethal accuracy and power.
In this tactical analysis, we saw Dortmund’s core of a young attack will work great in the future to create attacking opportunities, with players like Reyna, Haaland, Bellingham, Youssoufa Moukoko and many more. Their wing-backs and centre-backs also need to keep up their consistent levels of performance to ensure that they have a chance to win the Bundesliga and go far in the Champions League this season.