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Hrishi Anand writes a detailed tactical analysis about the UEFA Champions League match that ended Benfica 1-0 Dortmund.
Dortmund were left to rue missed chances as Benfica took a slender 1 goal lead into the second leg of the UEFA Champions League Last-16 game. Dortmund succumbed to a disappointing loss away at Darmstadt in the Bundesliga and failed to capitalize on a host of clear chances at the Estadio Da Luz. Pierre Emerick Aubameyang was the man guilty of squandering gilt-edged opportunities as well as having a penalty saved by Benfica keeper Ederson.
The home team lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as coach Rui Vitoria wanted to ensure solidity in midfield. Kostas Mitroglou and Rafa Silva led the line with Carrillo and Salvio playing out wide. Ederson, the young Brazilian keeper started in goal. Swede Victor Lindelof started alongside veteran Luisao in the heart of the defense. Semedo and Eliseu played as wingbacks and were tasked with providing overlapping runs.
Dortmund lined up in an interesting 5-3-2 formation. Erik Durm and Lukasz Piszczek were the wing backs on either side of a 3 man defense consisting of Schmelzer, Bartra and Sokratis. Julian Weigl was given the regista role and formed a double pivot alongside Raphael Guerreiro. Aubameyang led the line as Marco Reus and Ousmane Dembele played on the left and right wings respectively.
Thomas Tuchel’s defensive set up was interesting to say the least. While their starting line-up showed a back five, Die Schwargelben played nothing resembling a five man defense at any point in time. Dortmund frequented between a back 3 consisting of Schmelzer, Bartra and Sokratis to a back 4 with Schmelzer and Piszczek playing on the left and right respectively on either side of Bartra and Sokratis. Interestingly, Erik Durm was playing on the right wing rather than his usual position on the left which was occupied by Reus. The formation was altered depending on whether Dortmund had possession of the ball.
Julian Weigl has been at the heart of Dortmund’s attacking play since his move last summer. The young German registers a great passing accuracy every game and is adept at both short, quick passing as well as spreading the ball wide. This season, he’s been frequently paired with new signing Raphael Guerreiro to form a double pivot and dominate possession in midfield. Guerreiro has excelled since his summer move and his playing style is complementary to that of Weigl. Tuchel has also afforded Guerreiro the freedom to play, very frequently, as a box-to-box midfielder which also explains his goal tally of 6 which are exceptional for a natural defender. At the same time, both Guerreiro and Weigl are very good at carrying out the dirty work and winning the ball back when needed. Considering their ages, Dortmund have a great midfield platform to build on but need senior players to control the exuberance and sometimes lack of concentration from younger players.
Pierre Emerick Aubameyang is not one to miss chances. The Gabonese striker is the Bundesliga top scorer and has had a whirlwind last year in terms of statistics i.e goals scored, assists. However, he was anything but clinical against Benfica as he missed a host of chances as well as a poorly taken penalty which was saved by the keeper. Whether it was built up fatigue following the AFCON tournament or if the striker just had an off-day remains to be seen but surely Tuchel must be extremely surprised at the glaring nature of the chances squandered. Aubameyang was hooked off in the second half to be replaced by Schurrle and will surely consider it a night to forget.
Playing a high line against a dynamic front 3 of Marco Reus, Ousmane Dembele and Pierre Emerick Aubameyang was a risky move by Benfica coach Rui Vitoria. Risk brought reward as the Benfica backline marshalled by veteran captain Luisao, making his 500th Benfica appearance, played the Dortmund front 3 into the offside trap on numerous occasions. Towards the end of the second half, the hosts Benfica did change their structure to a low block as Dortmund dominated possession in deeper midfield but again ensured a lack of penetration by Dortmund passes in the final 3rd. Overall it was a defensive performance that Vitoria should be proud of considering the sheer pace and power in the Borussia attack. Semedo and Eliseu were excellent as they played on either flank in defense. Both the players provided a good balance between defense and attack and complemented Benfica’s strategy of playing counter attacking football to a great extent. The overlapping runs they provided were a great outlet to putting in crosses for the powerful Kostas Mitroglou whose goal from a corner proved to be the winner for the Portuguese side.
Dortmund seemed devoid of ideas when in possession of the ball which was also down to the crowded Benfica midfield. Ljubomir Fejsa and Pizzi were notable in their defensive contribution and tireless effort to close down opposition players.
Dortmund are a team that usually hit a daunting goal tally every season but against Benfica they were not clinical enough. While this may be down to Aubameyang’s performance, they also struggled to break down a compact Benfica side.
Unfortunately too many Dortmund players have been far too inconsistent this season. Combine this with the injury problems Borussia have to face and it’s evident why Dortmund have been far from their best thus far.
Mats Hummels’ departure has had a rippling effect on the Dortmund defense which has struggled to keep clean sheets this term. While Sokratis has been solid, new signing Marc Bartra has struggled to adapt to the Dortmund style of play. Marcel Schmelzer and Lukasz Piszczek are both getting on and this leads to the question as to whether Dortmund’s defense is good enough to provide their midfield and attack with a solid foundation. The defensive woes of this term have been characterized by individual errors, most frequently players complicating matters and moving out of position. The biggest question asked is about the ability to defend set-pieces. Against Benfica, Dortmund’s bane was another cheap goal conceded from a corner. The corner was poorly defended and fell kindly for Mitroglou to tap-in. This is simply unacceptable for a team of Dortmund’s stature and Thomas Tuchel has pressing questions he needs to answer in defense.
While the tie is far from over, Borussia Dortmund were outsmarted by Benfica at the Estadio Da Luz. A host of chances missed and nervy defending means that Thomas Tuchel’s team have a one goal deficit to overturn in the return leg at the Signal Iduna Park. The result also brought to notice some of the recurring flaws in the Borussia system which have plagued the ‘Black and Yellows’ throughout this campaign.
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