Miles Olusina writes a detailed tactical analysis about the Bundesliga match that ended Dortmund 0-0 Schalke.
The first Ruhr derby of the season kicked off at the Signal Iduna Park with both Dortmund and Schalke looking to kick-start their stuttering campaigns. Last season’s runners-up had not come close to reaching the form they hit last season coming into this game and faced further difficulty doing so with the absence of Marco Reus in the side. In his place was 19 year old Ousmane Dembele as Dortmund switched to a 4-1-4-1 with midfield metronome Julian Wiegl in the 6 role and Götze and Kagawa operating as the 8s. It turned out to be a frustrating afternoon for the men in yellow as their rivals from the Ruhr kept them at bay throughout the entirety of the game with a fantastic defensive display in their compact 5-3-2 shape.
The game offered very little from an entertainment perspective with neither team offering much in the way of clear cut chances. Dortmund especially, proved disappointing in attacking situations as striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was starved of chances for the whole game as his side struggled to penetrate the Schalke block. Ultimately, it made for quite a dire stalemate with Schalke seemingly happy to play for the draw.
Dortmund (4-1-4-1): 38. Burki // 26. Piszczek, 25. Sokratis, 28. Ginter, 30. Passlack // 33. Weigl // 22. Pulisic, 23. Kagawa, 10. Götze, 7. Dembele // 17. Aubameyang
Schalke (3-5-2): 1. Fahrmann // 4. Howedes, 29. Naldo, 31. Nastasic // 5. Geis, 21. Schopf, 6. Kolasinac, 8. Goretzka, 10. Bentaleb // 7. Meyer, 9. Di Santo
Substitutions: 71’ Guerreiro (Passlack), 79’ Schurrle (Kagawa), 87’ Rode (Dembele) // 63’ Choupo-Moting (Di Santo), 75’ Konoplyanka (Meyer), 90’ Stambouli (Bentaleb)
Schalke form compact shape and control half-spaces
Credit must be given to Schalke for the way in which they kept this Dortmund side at bay as they have proven on their day to be capable of beating any side. However, in this game they proved incapable of breaking the Schalke lines as they refused to be provoked by the ball and instead chose to remain a solid defensive unit and apply pressure when each individual player had access to the ball. Otherwise, they would retreat into their staggered 3-5-2 shape with Howedes and Nastasic as well as Goretzka and Bentaleb ensuring that they had an overload in the half-spaces at all times.
The image above shows Schalke’s shape in their defensive phase deeper into the final third. One would have expected Kagawa and Götze, the two Dortmund 8s to have been quite dominant in the half-spaces, finding gaps between the lines and creating combination opportunities in the midfield. However, due to the Schalke shape Kagawa was constantly forced to drop deeper, often onto the same line as Weigl in order to assist his side’s circulation. Schalke have the clear overload in the centre, leaving Dortmund with no choice but to look to penetrate the block through the wide areas.
Their ball-oriented shifts when possession moved into wider areas was also commendable and was facilitated by their decision to play with a situational back 5. This allowed them to always have the defensive overload and meant that they could apply a pendulating back 4 when the ball was out on the wing.
Here we can see another example of Schalke’s compact defending stifling Dortmund’s attacking structure and the pendulating back 4. Kolasinac has pushed up onto more or less the same line as Geis in the no.6 role. The rest of the defence slide across so as to maintain compactness within the defensive line. In this situation, this system can be advantageous as Schalke are less vulnerable to a switch of play as the full-back on the far side is still able to occupy the wide area. Had it been a standard back 4 the spacing between the defenders would have been much greater, allowing Dortmund greater room to exploit and more space in the channels for vertical runs from Aubameyang. Or, if they choose to be as compact as possible in the back 4, it leaves plenty of room out wide for Dembele to drive at the full-back, a very dangerous prospect considering his wonderful dribbling ability in 1v1 situations.
Dortmund struggle in attack, poor spacing in midfield
Schalke’s impressive display aside, Dortmund were far from their best in this game as they struggled to fashion anything of note, failing to register a single shot in the first half. This was primarily due to the midfield shape and movement. The 4-1-4-1 shape appeared to make sense on paper as it looked as though Dortmund would have a greater control of central areas with a 5-man midfield. This was not the case though, as it only served to leave Aubameyang isolated up front and led to poor connectivity in the team shape.
The problems in the Dortmund shape are clear to see by looking at this image. Weigl is in possession but is completely devoid of any vertical passing options. In addition, there is a substantial amount of space between the lines of the Schalke defensive block, space which is not being exploited by any of the Dortmund midfielders. The lack of presence in that central area has led to the team being set up in almost a U-shape, which results in a lack of penetration and meaningless circulation around the Schalke block instead of through it. It also results in the midfield being without a link, leaving the structure to be disjointed.
The positioning of the full-backs is also questionable here. Neither have any threat in the form of a winger who could exploit the full-back zone in defensive transition; so the logical solution would appear to be going forward constantly to overload the wide area. In this scenario, had Piszczek pushed further forward, a 2v1 situation could have been created out wide and Pulisic could have moved into the half-space and the space between the lines. Instead he chooses to remain in his position and play breaks down. The full-backs failed to take advantage of these potential opportunities too often in the game; had they taken up more advanced positions during the game, Dortmund would have been better able to counter Schalke’s control of the half-spaces by allowing Dembele and Pulisic to move further inside.
As has been typical of this Dortmund side over the last couple of seasons, their build-up tended to be focused on midfielder Julian Weigl, who could arguably be described as their most important player. He was crucial in moving the ball into the next phase of the attack and linking the midfield with the defence. He can be seen above dropping onto the same line as the two Dortmund centre-backs to create an overload against the two Schalke strikers. Consequently, the two full-backs push up while Kagawa drops into the right half-space to allow ball circulation to continue.
Schalke were well aware of the importance of Weigl and were constantly looking to maintain access to him before he received possession. His intelligent movement off the ball allowed him to evade their attentions as he constantly shuffled from the centre to the half-spaces which had the knock on effect of creating space for his teammates in more advanced positions.
Sokratis is in possession here for Dortmund and is looking to play to Weigl but is unable to as he is being tracked by the two Schalke 8s. Weigl’s movement is clever here as he allows them to follow him so that Mario Götze is now unmarked. He is now free to receive the ball in half-space, which has now allowed Dortmund to play through Schalke’s wave of pressure.
After this result much work is still required for both sides if they are to finish where they expect to. For Tuchel’s side, a major improvement is needed in results if they still want to be considered title challengers this season. However, based on Bayern’s form it could be argued that the title could be all but wrapped up at this early stage. That said, a title challenge is still possible with key players such as Marco Reus on their way to returning to full fitness.
This draw leaves Schalke still languishing in mid table and still with much work to be done. For a side with so much quality, a top 6 finish should be the minimum requirement. More performances like this though, and that could very well be a possibility.
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