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Tactical Analysis

Tactical Analysis: AS Monaco 3-1 Borussia Dortmund | Tuchel’s naivete and Monaco’s deadly counter-attacks

Eric Devin provides a detailed tactical analysis about the Champions League quarter-final second leg that finished AS Monaco 3-1 Borussia Dortmund.

AS Monaco (4-4-2): Danijel Subasic; Almamy Touré, Kamil Glik, Jemerson, Benjamin Mendy; Bernardo Silva (Andrea Raggi 90′), Joao Moutinho, Tiemoué Bakayoko, Thomas Lemar; Radamel Falcao (Nabil Dirar 67′), Kylian Mbappé (Valere Germain 81′)

Borussia Dortmund (3-4-2-1): Roman Bürki; Lukasz Piszczek, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Matthias Ginter; Erik Durm (Ousmane Dembélé 27′), Julian Weigl, Nuri Sahin (Marcel Schmelzer 46′), Raphaël Guerreiro (Christian Pulisic 72′); Shinji Kagawa, Marco Reus; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

After Borussia Dortmund clawed their way back into their Champions’ League quarterfinal against Monaco last week, hinted by scoring two goals and offering a constant threat in the second half, the return leg, staged Wednesday at the Stade Louis II, was highly anticipated. At the Westfalenstadion, Thomas Tuchel’s halftime switch to a hybrid 3-2-4-1/4-1-4-1 had given the hosts much-needed width through Guerreiro and Pulisic, and Monaco seemed relieved that the match was over, despite a 3-2 win. Continuing in that system seemed a given, but Tuchel instead started the match with three at the back, as he had in the first leg. The personnel were different, with Erik Durm and Guerreiro playing as wing-backs, but the results were again the same, and Tuchel will rightly face some sort of inquisition over the choices he made.

These first two images show the general shape that Dortmund affected, with Sokratis, Ginter and Piszczek the three central defenders. Even though this formation was nominally similar to the one used in the reverse fixture, Tuchel did employ some subtle wrinkles, with more emphasis placed on width in attacking areas. Here, Guerreiro is pushed the touch line on the left, while Durm is doing the same, out of the shot on the right. Tuchel’s instinct to create width through his wingbacks is correct, and Guerreiro is a good option on the left, but starting Durm was more questionable, not for what the German international can offer going forward, but for his fitness, as this match marked his first action in more than a month, and his rust showed, a fact confirmed by Tuchel bringing on Dembélé midway through the first half.

The second, image, then, shows how Dortmund, with Marco Reus now in the side, sought to create a bit of mutability in attack. With Sahin and Weigl sitting in front of the defense, the three attacking players often switched roles, with Reus sometimes playing very close to Aubameyang, while at other times playing closer to Kagawa. Reus is a talented player, but Aubameyang has been much more important to the team this season, and often looked starved of space, either forced wide or dropping deep to make better use of his pace. Reus did contribute a goal, but Tuchel may have also erred in giving him a free role, rather than privileging Aubameyang.

This second image also showed how Guerreiro and Durm struggled to stretch play in the attacking third. Guerreiro, despite having played at left back and on the left wing in France, is often given to cut inside, at times perhaps being a bit too enamored with his ability on the ball, as shown here. Durm too often followed suit (blue arrows), and with Reus also taking up a more central role, it was simply too easy for Monaco’s narrow back four (red arc) to contain Dortmund’s attackers.

As for Monaco, their initial shape was no surprise, as Leonardo Jardim stuck with his trusted 4-4-2. Here, we see how, in Fabinho’s absence, rather than functioning as a double pivot, Bakayoko sat deeper than he usually does, playing a destroyer-type role in front of the defense. Lemar and Silva tucked in slightly, and the formation could sometimes look more like a diamond than anything else. This was also seen in how Moutinho played further up the pitch, both to facilitate Monaco playing on the break, but also to offer a sort of secondary press, as Monaco didn’t press Dortmund as high as they often do.

In the second image, we can see how the hosts play almost in a 4-3-3, a formation with which Jardim was strongly associated prior to this season. Here, Mbappé takes up a central role, with Falcao and Silva outside of him. Lemar drops back, but plays more centrally, as does Moutinho (red arrows). Thus, rather than the pressure being on the back three, Monaco instead seek to outnumber Weigl and Sahin midfield, either stretching the defense or forcing Kagawa deeper in the process. This also had the added effect of putting Lemar and/or Moutinho in a good position to start a counterattack should Dortmund lose possession, with space on the wings open for the fullbacks, with balls over the top for the speed of Mbappé also being an option. While slightly more conservative than usual, this quasi-press was nevertheless effective, and could even be something used more frequently in the future as it does more to preserve the stamina of the centre forwards.

Where the match was won and lost, though, was how Dortmund failed to cope with Monaco on the counter. Playing three at the back, even with Ginter and Piszczek having played as orthodox fullbacks in the past, still requires attention to detail on the part of the wingbacks as regards their defensive positioning. Durm and Guerreiro failed in that regard, often forcing Sahin and Weigl to pick up the slack, particularly on the left, as Benjamin Mendy offered a more forward-thinking style of play than Andrea Raggi.

Here, the left back cuts inside with the ball at his feet (red arrow). Mbappé and Falcao stay central, but are fairly well-marshalled at this point. As Mendy comes inside, though, Lemar moves onto the flank, ready to dispatch a cross should the former Marseille man switch play. Durm, bizarrely, though, moves to track Lemar, rather than coming inside with Mendy, and as Weigl does the same, the left back is able to come forward and have a shot from twenty five yards out. Bürki was unable to control the shot and Mbappé stabbed the ball home, giving Monaco a 1-0 lead and forcing Dortmund to score three goals to progress. Admittedly, the ‘keeper should have done better, but how Mendy, who has been one of Monaco’s best players in the competition is able to get forward unimpeded is inexcusable, and whether the fault of Tuchel through his instructions or Durm through his following said instructions, Dortmund’s poor execution in this phase of play was ultimately their undoing.

That said, Dortmund did have their moments before Monaco’s second goal all but killed the tie, and one could almost see the reason that Tuchel played Durm. Here, the left back, afforded space on the flank by Monaco’s narrow defense is, like Mendy, able to get forward and put in a cross. Guerreiro and Kagawa stretch play amongst the centre backs, while Reus sits off, occupying the space between the defense and midfield. Reus’ goal came from a similar situation, albeit with a cross from Dembélé. With the young Frenchman more of a threat with the ball at his feet, there was a natural evolution to Dortmund’s play, but in playing Durm ahead of, say, Piszczek in this role, Tuchel was at least attempting to attack the space that could open in front of Monaco’s defense.

In addition to attacking this space and being more of a threat on the dribble, Dembélé’s introduction also saw a change in Dortmund’s shape, seen here. With the former Rennes man in on the left, Guerreiro switched to left back, and the visitors adopted a 4-2-3-1, with Aubameyang playing as a lone striker, as seen here. This afforded Kagawa a freer role, but also had something of the “too many cooks” approach, as the Japanese international, Reus and the Frenchman all were often too close to each other to be effective. As the earlier image showed, there were opportunities to be had, but a cluttered attacking midfield after Dembélé’s introduction unfortunately subverted that.

At the interval, Tuchel introduced Marcel Schmelzer for Nuri Sahin in an effort to add a bit more thrust in central midfield, with the veteran coming in at left back and Guerreiro moving back to central midfield. As seen here, the fullbacks, Schmelzer and Ginter were frequently pinned to the touchlines, tasked with providing width in attack, but as the first leg proved, their attacking abilities simply weren’t sufficient enough to do so. The second image shows a typical attacking phase from Dortmund, and as the four attacking players pack the box, the fullbacks are nowhere to be found. Here, as earlier in the match, Monaco are able to absorb the visitors’ pressure once again with relative ease, with Aubameyang’s abilities nullified once again, the striker  forced wide as Dembélé cuts inside instead of providing width.

To sum, then, individual errors were an issue for Dortmund, but Tuchel’s decisions when it came to personnel and tactics were foolish. He had happened upon a good system in the second half of the first leg, but felt he needed to tinker, introducing Reus, perhaps for his experience. However, if he felt Reus’ presence was imperative, he could have persevered with that 4-1-4-1, playing his captain on the left, Dembélé on the right and a central pairing of Kagawa and one of Sahin or Guerreiro. Durm could have started as well, playing as an orthodox right back opposite one of Schmelzer or Guerreiro, but in sticking with three at the back, Tuchel revealed himself to be somewhat callow and stubborn, costing his team a chance at progression. Still just 43, the manager’s first Champions’ League campaign thus becomes something of a mixed bag, with gritty draws against Real Madrid perhaps paling in comparison to this result. Monaco’s ability on the counter had made them a formidable opponent, but Tuchel’s naivete had at least as much to do with the result as the hosts’ attacking philosophy.

Read all our tactical analyses here

Eric Devin

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