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Tactical Analysis

Tactical Analysis: Borussia Dortmund 2-3 RB Leipzig | Press beats Possession

Ryan Tank writes a detailed tactical analysis about the Bundesliga match that ended Borussia Dortmund 2-3 RB Leipzig

Line Ups

As always, Leipzig displayed their well-known 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 shape. The two forwards started from Dortmund’s 6 space and kept trying to block the access to the center as well as developed the press to force long balls from Dortmund’s backline or Roman Burki.

In the development of the match, Leipzig pressed with an asymmetrical 4-3-3. A similar basic shape  to Monaco’s last season. The right-10 (Sabitzer) was higher than the left one (Bruma). Sabitzer picked up Toprak if the ball was played to the Turk but he also had to keep Zagadou under control by putting the left back behind his cover shadow. With Bruma deeper with access to the hosts’ right back, this indirectly created the pattern of Dortmund circulation. Sokratis was the more visible option.

Sometimes, Dortmund managed to bypass the press by playing it long to Toljan, on the right, or Zagadou, on the left. But, it did not always run as expected. Despite managing to access Zagadou, in many occasions Dortmund were forced to play it back as the Leipzig press was able to shut down the progression lane. On other occasions it was the lack of strong spacing that failed Dortmund to progress the attack. For example, after a pass from Sokratis to Toljan, Dortmund couldn’t make a clean progression through the right area because Yarmolenko was positioned too high and made it hard for Toljan to easily access him.

With the proper timing, Dortmund could still progress through the wing. One pattern example was the combination between Zagadou with Gotze. Zagadou moved into the half space utilizing the space created by Gotze who moved wide, as shown below.

Zagadou moved into the half space

Dortmund also tried to occupy the space between Leipzig’s pressing line. As expected, it was not easy to beat Leipzig press by occupying such a space. One of the ultimate examples of Dortmund’s failure was the moment prior to Leipzig’s third goal. Burki tried to access Weigl in the space behind Leipzig’s first line and beat the trap, but the backward press by the first line itself and an onward press by Demme managed to trap Weigl on the half space and Leipzig recaptured possession. A quick counter attack by Augustin then ended up with Sokratis sent off and Leipzig awarded a penalty.

One positive note was in the first half and from such a scene, Dortmund were able to beat Leipzig’s press and created one of the biggest chances of the match.

Left dynamic in Leipzig’s offensive play

Intentionally or not, Leipzig’s left side was influenced by the fact that they had Keita, Bruma, and Augustin on that side. Keita is more suited to a box to box role than Kampl. Augustin has more pace and explosiveness than Poulsen in the right area. With Bruma on the left wing, it was a logical approach for Leipzig to emphasis their progression through the left wing.

Leipzig were well known to be a narrow side when it comes to the possession-phase. This is why every time the ball reached the left side, the right back (Bernardo) and the right-10 (Sabitzer) would move very narrow towards the center. Tactically, it was not only to create a strong spatial coverage for quick and short passing combinations but it also established a strong structure of gegenpressing.

A potentially interesting clash ruined by the red card

Right after the break, Peter Bosz switched his side to a 3-4-3 shape. This should have meant an interesting battle but, unfortunately, Sokratis red card ruined it all. As explained above, the red card was triggered by a quick counter attack by Augustin which forced Sokratis to foul him in the box.

After another red card received by Ilsanker, Leipzig played with a lone striker and a 4-4-1 basic formation with Poulsen moved to the right wing or 5-3-1 as Bruma dropped to the left back post. Dortmund responded tp the situation by fielding a dynamic 2-1-4-2/2-2-3-2 on attack. Later, as the game went by, Dortmund tried to utilize the space behind Leipzig’s first line of press to directly access the wide men who occupied each touchline.

For Leipzig, the obvious change was that with 10 men, it was very difficult for Leipzig to press as they had been doing during the first half.


With their pressing game in the first half, Leipzig managed to contain Dortmund’s possession. They also generated some promising attacking situations from the counter attack in the first half. Both sides struggled to stick to their respective tactical approaches with 10 men on the pitch.

This arguably the real first test for Bosz’s troops in the Bundesliga and they failed. The question arises, whether this Dortmund are strong enough to gun down FC Bayern from the throne. With 26 matches to go and Bayern managing to shorten the gap, the title race could definitely be one of great intrigue.

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