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Borussia Dortmund Tactical Preview: How will Jurgen Klopp’s side set up in the 2014-15 season?

As we move into the new club football season, Outside of the Boot will be publishing regular Tactical Previews of the sides from across Europe’s top seven leagues. This one focuses on German giants, Borussia Dortmund. Sauharda Karki takes a look at their basic formation, analyses their tactics, key player and their potential key young players of the 2014/15 season.

Formation | How will they set-up?

The structure, which does look like a 4-4-2 at times, is actually the same 4-2-3-1 set on a more asymmetrical base. The formation seems to lean towards an attacking outlet (which was Aubameyang through most of pre-season). The more advanced placement of one of the wide players gives the appearance of a second man alongside the striker.

Dortmund Formation

Made using Tactical Pad

Analysis | What can we expect from them tactically?

Asymmetry in formation: One wide player sits narrower than traditionally designated and serves as the outlet for quick transition attacks. The wide player seems to be a more effective outlet as compared to direct approaches to the number 9. The reason for this would come down to the fact that wider forwards play on the blind side of center-backs, and can avoid being caught offside because of the presence of the number 9.

Having Aubameyang in such a placement can only serve in Dortmund’s favor as far as their quick attack-oriented approach is concerned. With his pace and natural orientation of a striker, he is the perfect outlet for Dortmund transition. Also, the narrow placement allows him to be in and around the box for crosses.

Placement of the Playmaker: Another peculiar sight was the placement of Mkhitaryan in wider areas for the later pre-season games. However, this appears to be a temporary change to cope with the absence of a proper deep playmaker, and keep Klopp’s only proper playmaker from being completely marked out of the game in central areas.

Also, even though he was deployed out wide, Mkhitaryan was seen to drift into central areas when moving towards the box.

With the return of Sahin and/or Gundogan, the Armenian International can be expected to revert to his usual position behind the number 9.

Two-man Holding Midfield: Another tactical aspect that seems set for the season is Klopp’s faithful two-man defensive midfield.

The pairing usually comprises of a deep-playmaker alongside a defensive midfielder. The deep playmaker looks for long balls into wider advanced areas, usually in search of the overlapping full-backs.

The set-up clearly indicates Klopp’s intention of using his dynamic attacking approach again this season rather than switching to a more possession-friendly tactical methodology. This pairing serves as a defensive and ball-circulating base for a more dynamic front four.

A noticeable portion of the team’s tackles also comes from this pairing, which also explains why Dortmund have been giving away quite a large number of free-kicks in this area.

Narrower attackers and the Full-Back Role: The placement of the wide players appears a lot narrower than last season. This has a lot to do with the difference in style of play of the current batch of strikers in comparison to Robert Lewandowski, and maybe also a little to do with Klopp wanting to get the best out of Aubameyang to cope with the departure of their primary source of goals, and also ease the burden on Reus for the upcoming season.

With the wide attacker sitting narrower, the playmaker is presented with an extra(second) option when approaching the box.


Aubameyang serves as an extra option

The fullbacks now appear to be responsible for stretching play more often, playing crosses into the box and making quite a few side-way passes out wide. The full-backs are usually played into offensive areas by the deep midfielders.

Dort 2

Half (3) of the total (6) goals that Dortmund have scored in their two competitive games this season have been assisted by full-back Lukasz Piszczek

Creating Shooting Opportunities: The pre-season revealed how Dortmund are opting to create shooting opportunities around the edge of the box through sideway passes. Although this is not in favor of utilizing a traditional number 9 to his potential, it does serve as a bypass until the new strikers are well adjusted and are ready to get more involved in the offensive build-up.

Klopp also seems to be trying to get his deep central midfielders up to the edge of the box to take these shooting chances, but as seen on many occasions in pre-season, this leaves Dortmund vulnerable on the counter.


With 40% of possession, Dortmund made a total of 22 shots while Bayern made just 4 with majority of possession in the Super Cup

Dynamic Front Four: Although pre-season games are the time for major modifications and experimentation, knowing Klopp’s approach to attacking football, we can assume that the mixed approach of attackers will continue with the season.

The three players behind the striker occupy the more expressive areas of the set-up. The presence of players like Reus, Aubameyang, Hofmann and Mkhitaryan can all play considerably well on either flank and even central areas serves this approach well. A lot more movement up front also favors the Dortmund approach of creating opportunities at the edge of the box.

Also, Dortmund have altered their number 9 role a couple of times with regard to the two new recruits – Adrian Ramos and Immobile. While Ramos is more involved in only the later (end) stages of the Dortmund build-up play, Klopp seems to want Immobile to be more involved in the build-up, having him play a lot deeper in comparison to Adrian Ramos. When clubbed together, this does actually sound like Lewandowski’s role in the last two seasons, but the additional focus that Klopp has given to the roles of Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang may be enough to lift the pressure off of the number 9 role.

Early Pressing: Along with an extra man from midfield, the Dortmund attackers tend to press the opposition defenders in advanced areas of the pitch in order to retrieve the ball quickly. The approach does work well in thwarting opposition play in midfield. It has also forced mistakes out of opposition defenders on a couple of occasions.


Early pressing of the opposition centre-backs and midfield

The issue, though, is with regard to direct passes by opposition defenders into the hole behind the Dortmund deep-midfield pairing. The early pressing can at times pull the front 6 players out of the defensive structure, creating a large hole between the midfield and defense. Passes into these areas seem to leave the back-line exposed, as seen on many occasions in the pre-season games.

The issue with early pressing

The issue with early pressing

An Individualistic Defensive Approach: The four man defense seems to be playing under very little tactical restriction. With the exception of Hummels – who still seems to be attached to a ball-playing role – the defenders seem to perform with regard to individual ability rather than role-bound performances.

This may explain why occasionally the back-line appears distorted even under slight pressure. This may not be a primary issue as far as Dortmund’s attack-oriented tactics are concerned. However, not fielding a working center-back pairing that complement each other’s ability could lead to problems at the back for Dortmund.

Although not seen in much of pre-season, a ball-playing CB will probably be a part of Klopp’s plans. The full-backs serve in their traditional roles, although a lot more overlapping runs were seen down the right flank.

Key Player | Who will be the stand-out player for the system?

Henrikh Mkhitaryan: Considering how the entire tactical set-up relies on Klopp’s dynamic approach up front, it’s of no doubt that the man that keeps things happening for the attackers will tactically be the key player for Dortmund.

Mkhitaryan’s immense technical ability and creativity, added to his agility, serve as the proper attributes to keep the quick Dortmund attack ticking. His adequate physical capabilities and ability to get past players in midfield allows him to control the tempo of the attack from the most unusual areas on the pitch. Mkhitaryan will be vital in bringing variety to the Dortmund attack.

Talent Radar | Who will be the key young players this season?

Jonas Hofmann: With the ability to play all three positions behind the striker in the set-up, the Dortmund no. 7 could have quite an impact on the team’s season. After some exciting performances last season both as a winger on the right and inside forward on the left, the youngster also took to the central role with ease in a few pre-season games. Furthermore, his attributes of pace, and agility seem to complement Dortmund’s approach of a dynamic attack.

Matthias Ginter: As a center-back with commendable ability in the air and efficient tackling, Ginter can be expected to fit right in to the system at Dortmund.  With considerable calmness on the ball for a 20 year old, he could take to the ball-playing role with much ease under Klopp. Previous experience in the league for Freiburg will also make settling in much easier for the youngster.

Marian Sarr: Coming through the ranks of Dortmund II, the 19 year old center-back will be one to watch. Judging from his appearance in the 2-1 win against Marseille in last season’s Champions League, the young defender is shaping up to fit  right into Klopp’s plans, having made quite a few crucial clearances and interceptions.

Written by Sauharda Karki. 

You can read all our 2014/15 Tactical Previews here and follow the Dortmund Team Blog Echte Liebe.

Sauharda Karki

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