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Tactical Analysis

Malaga 0-0 Dortmund- Tactical Analysis

Spanish side Malaga hosted German champions Borussia Dortmund at the La Rosaleda for the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter final. The game, which was an enthralling affair, ended in a 0-0 stalemate, leaving the tie hanging in the balance as both sides head to Germany for the second leg.

The home side started with a familiar line-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Weligton and Demichelis were the centre backs, while Antunes and Gamez were the full backs on the left and the right side respectively. In midfield, the defensive screen comprised of Iturra and Toulalan. The attack was spearheaded by Saviola, with Baptista, Joaquin and Isco behind him.Dortmund also played using a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Schmelzer playing at left back, despite his broken nose, and Piszczek returning to the starting line-up at right back. The centre back pairing was without the star man Mats Hummels, and Subotic and Santana started. In midfield, Kehl also returned to the starting line-up having been rested on the weekend, and Gundogan returned to his deeper position. Grosskreutz joined Reus and Gotze in the front three, and Robert Lewandowski was the lone striker.

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Narrow wing backs:

The Malaga wing backs started out pretty narrow, and were ratherclose to the centre backs. Since Dortmund play mainly through the middle, and Reus and Gotze tend to cut inside, this strategy was meant to reduce the space for them to work in, and pass into. Unfortunately for Pellegrini, his players kept getting drawn out, and drifted into their natural wide areas when the Dortmund full backs got forward, and a lot of space was created between the centre back and the full back.

Dortmund through passes

Blue arrows show the through balls played into the gap between full back and center back.
via CNN Football Club

Wide Play:

Manuel Pellegrini obviously did his homework and studied the weaknesses of the Dortmund side. As has been pointed out in previous analyses, Dortmund love to attack with their full backs, who provide width as Gotze, Reus and other attackers come narrow. This in turn leaves a lot of space behind them, and teams tend to exploit this space. Malaga also tried doing the same, directing a lot of play down the wings, especially the right side, where Joaquin was operating. This tactic created a lot of chances for them to cross the ball into the box, but Malag wasted their chances, with only 4 out of 21 attempts being completed. Joaquin in particular was a culprit, making several wrong decisions after working hard to get into a good position for the cross. Individually, only 2 of his 7 crosses found their mark, one coming from a corner.

Malaga play direction

A lot of the play was in wide areas


Midfielders sitting deeper:

The defensive midfield combo of Toulalan and Iturra had to stay slightly deeper in this match, due to Dortmund’s potency in the final third. The excellent one-touch football, and high tempo passing that Der BVB like to employ in the final third meant that they had a lot more work to do in order to keep a clean sheet. Another reason that they spent a lot more time in the defensive third is the out drifting movement of the full backs, as mentioned above. In order to plug the gaps left behind by the eager full backs, the defensive midfielders also had to track back.

Jeremy Toulalan action areas.

Jeremy Toulalan spent a lot more time in his defensive third than in midfield.
via CNN Football Club

High Line:

Malaga tried to play a high line in this game, but it didn’t work out quite so well. The idea was probably to reduce spaces for Dortmund’s quick passing and one-two football, but due to a lack of coordination among the back 4, the line was breached on a number of occasions, with a lot of chances falling to Dortmund (none taken of course). Pellegrini will probably sit a lot deeper in the second leg, as Dortmund may not be quite so forgiving next time around.


Movement and one-twos:

Dortmund’s primary weapon in attack is their passing and movement, which is a joy to watch. Against Malaga, they players were in fine form, playing some nice exchanges. Marco Reus was again at the heart of all things good that Dortmund created, and linked play very well with a lot of one-twos and quick touches. Ilkay Gundogan was also excellent from midfield, as he pulled the strings and created spaces with his passing.

In terms of movement, they looked to bomb forward, and attack by storming into the danger area, rather than maintain a presence there, i.e. all their players started in deeper positions before running into the box. Another move employed by Der BVB was the in and out movement, where players went into the box, and dropped out of it as they were about to receivea pass. When they were in the area, they were picked up by one of the defenders, and as they began their outward movement, the defenders followed them, creating a space in behind them. The best example of such movement was the passage of play leading up to Weligton’s booking. At the end of it, the Malaga skipper was forced to commit a foul so as to disallow an easy scoring opportunity.


Another tactic Dortmund always employ is their rabid pressing. This doesn’t allow the opposition to settle on the ball and play, and hence is very effective. Dortmund can also do this well as they are a very fit side. Malaga are a side that are very comfortable on the ball, but Dortmund were very intense with their pressing in this game, with large numbers being the key to success. This caused Malaga a lot of problems, especially in the first half when Dortmund were fresh, and as a result they misplaced a lot of passes.


Dortmund as a team, play a very high tempo game, but they tend to accelerate the tempo when they get closer to the opponents goal. This was very prominent today, and they created a lot of trouble for Malaga with their high speed passing. In fact, almost every time Dortmund passed in quickly, they created trouble for Malaga, and a chance to score for themselves.

Stats via and



Vishal Patel

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