Charles Onwuakpa writes a detailed tactical analysis of the Bundesliga match that ended Dortmund 6-2 Leverkusen.
Borussia Dortmund took all three points in what was a generally positive performance, scoring three goals in the last fifteen minutes to prevent a late comback from Bayer Leverkusen. It was though costly for both ends: Thomas Tuchel lost Marco Reus on the verge of half-time due to a hamstring injury, which makes him unavailable once more for a long run of games. On the other hand Roger Schmidt was sacked on Sunday morning after the visitors’ terrible performance: the Werkself’s manager had been under pressure all season as their inconsistency in the Hinrunde saw them rack up just 30 points, their worst tally since the 2006/07 season.
Dortmund: Burki; Pisczcek, Sokratis, Bartra; Durm, Weigl, Castro, Guerreiro; Reus, Dembele, Aubameyang.
Leverkusen: Leno; Henrichs; Toprak, Jedvaj, Wendell; Aranguiz, Bender, Mehmedi, Kampl; Volland, Havertz.
Tuchel shaped his team in a 3-4-2-1 formation which saw Roman Burki in goal; Marc Bartra, Sokratis and Piszczek in defence and Weigl playing alongside Gonzalo Castro in centre midfield. Upfront Ousmane Dembélé offered a lot of pace alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Marco Reus. The visitors on the other hand were lined up in a 4-2-2-2 formation, as youngster Kai Havertz partnered with Kevin Volland in attack. Mehmedi and Kevin Kampl played as attacking midfielders while “Chicarito” Hernandez and Karim Bellarabi were left on the bench.
Dortmund strike first
Borussia Dortmund set up a high and exciting tempo to the game with their back three in buildup. Julian Weigl sat deep in midfield with Gonzalo Castro playing higher up the pitch and in the left half-space. Guerriero and Erik Durm offered width on the pitch with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang battling upfront alongside Ömer Toprak. In form Dembélé was key in the opening minutes and throughout the whole game, by receiving in the right half-space and using his pace to create 2 vs 1 situations against Wendell, what’s more causing confusion in the visitors’ backline. It wasn’t suprising that the French wonderkid opened the scoreline in the 6th minute after Charles Aranguiz had mistakenly chested the ball to his path: the 19-year-old winger showed calm and composure as he dummied former Roma man Jedvaj to cooly slot the ball past Bernd Leno. Dembélé was also involved in the second goal after taking on Toprak and forcing Leno to put the ball out for a corner. Things didn’t certainly go well for the Werkself as the conceded their 15th goal this season from that corner: Leverkusen’s players showed poor defensive awareness as the ball hit Jedvaj and bounced right in the path of Aubameyang, who had been incredibly left alone at the back post to score his 20th goal of the campaign. Dembélé was arguably the best player on the pitch, shooting 6 shots, creating 3 chances, attempting 6 take-ons (completing only 2 though), scoring one goal and providing an assist from open play.
Bayer’s first half approach
Despite that, Schmidt’s men didn’t fall for compromises as they kept on with their game plan. Their extremely direct football saw them engage in a number of challenges with the home side’s players. They pressed aggressively in a 4-2-2-2 shape as Volland and Havertz mainly tried to shadow Weigl and force Dortmund to play towards the flanks, where their gegenpressing would have been more effective.
They used wing combinations, especially on their left hand side with Kampl and Wendell combining, and were able to move the ball in their opponents’ final third, but were too imprecise in their final pass towards goal and had 6 out of their 12 total shots blocked by Borussia’s defence.
Their offensive-minded football though could have proved itself costly as the hosts were able to gain a couple of fast breaks which exposed the visitors defensive frailties, as Aubameyang and Dembélé started quick attacking transitions but weren’t clinical in front of goal. It was also during on of their positive
transitions that Reus picked up the hamstring injury, forcing him to leave the pitch before halftime in favour of Christian Pulisic.
It was evident that the visitors were nervous after the second goal from Tuchel’s side, with Aranguiz and Havertz picking up yellow cards from the referee.
Schmidt had to do something and sent on Karim Bellarabi in replacement of the Chilean, adding more creativity and pace upfront.
This tactical switch saw Kampl drop deeper in centre midfield as the visitors tried to pull one back by playing at a higher intensity.
Bayer were quite good in defending the centre of the pitch (the hosts completed just 58 out of 103 attacking third passes compared to their 104 successful passes out of 156) but were very poor in dealing with fast breaks and set-pieces: they conceded 18 shots inside their penalty box out of which 6 ended up being goals and 7 were big chances. Exactly the kind of shaky defending that has cost them their inconsistency throughout the season with Leno forced to save 21 clear-cut chances throughout the campaign so far.
Their positive approach though paid at the beginning of the second half, with Kevin Volland’s goal to give the visitors a life line: once again the showcased some good link up play on the left hand side, this time courtesy of a through ball from Wendell that was picked up by the German international, who shrugged off Sokratis and fired a powerful left-footed shot past Burki.
Dortmund punish Bayer’s numerous mistakes
The goal quickly rinvigorated the home side, who soon restored their two goal advantage: once again bad marking by the visitors allowed Dembélé to pick out Aubameyang in the fr post for his personal brace, which takes him one goal ahead of Robert Lewandowski as the club’s fifth all-time top scorer in the Bundesliga. Schmidt had just brought on Chicarito but the Mexican didn’t have the impact that was expected from him as he was also suffering from a minor injury. Nevertheless Bayer still didn’t give up and continued with their gameplan, as they eventually got one more courtesy of a superb freekick from Wendell. Just when the match had seemed re-opened, the hosts increased the tempo and punished the Werkself’s neverending troubles in covering fast breaks, as Pulisic scored the fourth goal for his team. Then substitute Andre Schurrle netted his fiftieth goal in the Bundesliga after a clumsy challenge by Wendell and Toprak in the penalty box, clinically dispatching the ball in the back of the net from the eleven metres. Frustration grew once more through the visitors as the hosts showed no mercy by wrapping it up in a style thanks to Portughese international Raphael Guerriero , who was also one of their best defensive performers with 3 tackles won and 5 interceptions.
In the end it was a thrilling encounter, as the home side deserved the win with 3.2 xGs (expected goals) against the visitors’ 0.6 xGs. Tuchel’s men were impressive in front of goal and will need this kind of form to have the final say in the second leg of the Champions League against Benfica. On the other hand, the match against Dortmund saw the end of Schmidt’s two-year spell with the Werkself: inconsistency, lots of injuries to key players (Tah) and bad defensive performances proved fatal for the gegenpressing guru’s sacking. Bayer must now bounce back against Werder Bremen and hope in a miracle when they face Atletico Madrid next week in the Champions League.
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Born in Lagos, Nigeria (1999) but living in Italy, student and aspirant coach. Football writer for AterAlbus.it, Ultimo Uomo, Outside of the Boot. Owner and author of "Gioco di Spazi" football blog. Left-footed Raumdeuter.
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