Ross Eaton is back with an analysis of the performances put in by two of Dortmund’s young midfielders, Julian Weigl and Raphael Guerreiro in the UEFA Champions League against Legia Warsaw.
In a match of of utter dominance from Borussia Dortmund, in all aspects of the game, an exciting midfield trio of Götze–Weigl–Guerreiro was deployed. Even looking at it from a statistical point of view, 211 passes, two goals and an assist between the three, it is clear that Dortmund’s midfield stood out in a performance which boss Thomas Tuchel would be sure to be delighted with.
Though Gotze’s time at Bayern wasn’t the most successful, there were still bouts where his quality shone and he received high praise, deservedly. Weigl, though he has begun to receive great appreciation of his quality, still remains underrated by most outside of Germany and Guerreiro, hasn’t been looked at too much. This analysis will focus on the performances of the latter pair, Weigl and Guerreiro, in the match against Legia Warsaw.
In goal for Dortmund was Roman Burki. Piszczek started as right-back, inside him Sokratis and Bartra as centre-backs, as left-back Marcel Schmelzer. Weigl played as the deepest of the midfield three. Götze and Guerreiro played as right and left interiors. On the right-wing was Pulisic, the left Dembele. Aubameyang played as central striker.
Legia; Malarz- Berszynski,Czerwinski, Dabrowski,Guilherme- Langil,Jodlowiec,Odjidja-Ofoe,Moulin- Kazaishvili,Prijovic.
One aspect of BVB’s play which has increased in terms of focus is their verticality in possession. Though already given a sign of a potential sway in focus through the transfers made in the summer, it has became clear in the early weeks of the season that Tuchel has more of a vertical focus. Whilst maintaining a measured build-up to ensure a stable possessional structure is established before progressing, both the timing and distance of vertical passes have been modified. The vertical pass is often played into advanced areas following fewer passes into the build-up than required, whilst vertical passes are often made from deeper positions from phase one, rather than progressing a phase or two before utilizing a vertical pass. Julian Weigl is one of Dortmund’s key players in terms of verticality, his quality of needle passes being vital in splitting vertical lines to progress forward. Raphael Guerreiro’s role in verticality in the match vs. Legia was more so than expected, his movements to offer depth in both the front and backline showing his versatility and ability to position himself so dynamically.
Firstly, we will look at forward movements of Guerreiro. With Thomas Tuchel clearly putting the coaching hours on Aubameyang and Dembele, to make them more universal players, particularly in terms of supporting progression through possession phases, their dropping movements into midfield positions are becoming more frequent. This can have both a positive and negative impact on the team’s performance, particularly through the centre, depending on a number of factors. One factor is how their teammates react to these movements, in order to make the most of the increased presence in the centre, or to move away and occupy a zone elsewhere to avoid overoccupation. Guerreiro’s reaction to these movements were outstanding and showed his tactical and spatial awareness. When Ousmane Dembele dropped into the left halfspace, to find a vertical lane from deep to receive through, Guerreiro from here had variable positioning where he was able to move into a number of spaces. If Schmelzer was positioned high up, Guerreiro would either move into a deeper position in the left halfspace/wing, to open the lane, or he would stretch Legia’s backline with a movement in behind Dembele. If Schmelzer was positioned deeper in a full-back position, Guerreiro would move onto a position on the left wing, to occupy the space vacated by Dembele. This displayed principles of pragmatic positional play, by ensuring key zones are always occupied, by any player at any time.
In terms of making movements into very deep positions, this happened more frequently when Aubameyang dropped. This will be analysed later in this piece.
Weigl’s role in verticality has remained similar to his one in the 15/16 season. He is tasked with receiving the ball in phase one and two, and from here utilising his needle passing skills to penetrate the opposition press to allow Dortmund to progress/bypass through the phases of possession. As already mentioned in the article, these vertical passes are often played from even deeper than they were in the previous season, due to an increase in Dortmund’s verticality. One key point of Weigl’s line-splitting passes are that they find a player behind a line of pressure, this often means between two lines, an area of superiors, especially if finding the right player. This was an aspect of the match where Weigl and Guerreiro combined, with Guerreiro attempting to find space between Legia’s lines to receive the ball from Weigl from a deep position.
In terms of escaping pressure in sub-areas, Weigl and Guerreiro had key roles in making supporting movements to have collective press resistance.
Weigl, as the deepest midfielder, was tasked with supporting the centre-backs in possession as well as making long horizontal movements into the halfspaces, to prevent full-backs becoming isolated in possession in deep areas on the wing. When making these supporting movements into the halfspaces, Weigl offered an option to escape the initial press and recycle through the centre to the opposite centre-back, as he was in a position of superior angles to the ball-carrier.
As well as making these supporting movements in the early phases, Weigl also played an important role in supporting and recycling while BVB attacked. If the ball was moved out to the wing and Legia were able to have defensive access on the ball whilst blocking any advancements down that side, Weigl would move over to the ball-side and offer an option to recycle. This allowed for Dortmund to have strong connections from deep centrally, to circulate rapidly from wing to wing, attempting to manipulate and create space within and around the outside of Legia’s block.
In terms of Guerreiro’s supportive movements, his weren’t to aid collective press resistance, but instead allow Dortmund to progress down the left with more stability and fluidity. Dropping from the left 8 position, Guerreiro often moved deep into the left halfspace to form a back three with Bartra and Sokratis shifting right. This wide split backline stretched the block of Legia, creating gaps and pockets of space for BVB to exploit. This allowed Schmelzer to play very high up the pitch, occupying the left wing position, whilst Dembele would often drop into the left halfspace between Legia’s lines, or occupy Legia’s CB’s with Aubameyang. When receiving the ball in this deep left halfspace position, Guerreiro often moved forward towards the outer halfspace into the wing, to work in close relation to Schmelzer. The pair seemed to develop a strong understanding throughout the game, often playing one-twos and drawing Legia players in to exploit vacated space. This allowed for fluid progression down the left for BVB.
Though admittedly not the greatest indicator of things to come this season for Dortmund, nor Julian Weigl and Raphael Guerreiro, it has to be said that the impressive individual performances which supported the team collectively were very exciting.
Despite a poor start to the season, on the bench against Mainz followed by a poor performance in the loss to RB Leipizig, Weigl looks to be back in good form, with a dominant performance as a single-pivot. Though it may take some time to adapt and reach the levels he did last season, due to the change in build-up patterns as well as seeing Gundogan leave with Rode being the likely replacement as his partner, Weigl is sure to continue impressing us. In matches such as this, where BVB are by far the dominant side, it may not be uncommon to see Weigl play as lone pivot, which is a role I believe he can thrive in, as he will have more space to make free movements and position himself dynamically depending on the flow of the attack.
Playing a new role, Guerreiro was very impressive, especially his ball-carrying from deep as well as dynamic movements in a very variable role from the left 8 position, on both axes. The Portuguese player may have some adapting to do if he is to find regular game-time in this Dortmund team, though with performances like this, he is doing himself no harm.
As Borussia Dortmund search for their form of last season, whilst adapting the squad to new team dynamics, Thomas Tuchel and his men have been deservedly provide a morale-booster with such an excellent performance and result in their return to the prestigious competition, the Champions League.
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