Dortmund triumph over Hamburger in a counter-attacking battle

Dortmund triumph over Hamburger in a counter-attacking battle

After winning their first game of 2018 last week against Cologne, Borussia Dortmund were desperate to produce another win and continue their fight for a Champions League spot.

Hamburger contain Dortmund in the opening exchanges:

The hosts settled into possession using a 4-2-3-1 formation in which Shinji Kagawa played in a holding midfield role, following the return of Marco Reus. Hamburger used a 3-4-1-2 shape that prevented Dortmund from building-up in central areas, forcing them wide instead. Because of Hamburger’s defensive shape, Dortmund looked to build-up and advance using Toljan and Piszcek, their fullbacks as well as Kagawa who would drop deep inside the half space, collect possession and play it forward. This became an issue for the hosts as Hamburger created a pressing trap out wide when Dortmund played near the touchline. Their wingback, ball-near central midfielder and the ball-near striker would be triggered into pressuring the ball carrier as soon as a pass was played towards the flank. Dortmund were rarely unable to play their way through the pressing trap, and even if they got the ball in-behind either wingback, the wide centre back would always be on-hand to challenge for the ball. As a result, they would either lose the ball in these areas or play it backwards creating an endless cycle of ‘sterile’ possession. Even when Weigl got on the ball, space was hard to come by and he was forced sideways more often than not. The image below displays how well Hamburger defended the wide areas:

Because of the lack of space in the centre, Piszcek (near the touchline) is Akanji’s only passing option.

Piszcek receives the ball only to be pressed by the wingback Santos. Notice how Hamburg have created a 4v2 advantage out wide, forcing Dortmund to play backwards.

When Hamburger regained possession in these areas they looked to break forward. However, Dortmund prevented any threatening plays by dropping into their 4-1-4-1 midfield block and denying them space in central areas too. At times, the hosts also pressed higher up the field when they lost the ball in advanced areas but reverted to their midfield block when pressing wasn’t a viable option. When Hamburger did break forward they looked to get crosses in from wide areas and their wingbacks were crucial to them being able to do so. Unfortunately the chances they created hardly troubled Dortmund’s defence(and by the end of the game, Burki had only made two saves). Their interplay was almost non-existent as they struggled to connect with each other going forward and the attackers were isolated for large parts of the game when in possession of the ball.

Dortmund cede possession in favour of counter-attacking opportunities:

The second half began with Hamburger failing to maintain the same level of focus they displayed in the first. In the 48th minute, Piszcek received the ball out wide without any pressure and he had the time and space to drive infield and this led to a passing combination right outside of the 18-yard area. Piszcek played a ball into Reus who found Pulisic with impeccable vision before the American set up Michy Batshuayi for the opener.

Peter Stoeger probably realised at halftime that Dortmund were not going to create any chances provided they kept playing the same way. He made a tactical adjustment and the team started to defend even deeper in order to draw Hamburger into their half and create space in behind their defensive line. Although they still had spells of possession in which they had the time and space to build-up from the back, just like in the first half, they were unable to create any substantial goalscoring opportunities.

Hamburger, being afforded more space to go forward, linked well in wide areas, with the midfielders providing more support for the wingbacks. They created several more crossing opportunities from the touchline but to no avail. The quality of there crosses was poor and the forwards’ movement inside the box did little to help that. The hosts packed the 18-yard area making it even harder for Hamburger to take advantage of any ball into the area. With 20 minutes left to play, the match followed this pattern until in the 92nd Dortmund’s patience paid off. In search of an equaliser, Hamburger committed the same error as Cologne the week before. They committed too many players to the attack and left vast amounts of space at the back. Andre Schurrle who had displayed a great work rate throughout the match, still had the energy too take on two defenders and set up Mario Gotze for the winning goal at the end of a perfect counter-attack.


Although Hamburger defended brilliantly in the first half, Dortmund’s compromise(sacrificing possession for counter-attacking opportunities) in the second half showed good tactical acumen by the home side. Hamburger had a very good game and were arguably the better side but Dortmund played as an experienced team would. They showed quality in defensive challenges and took their chances when they came. It was a good win for the home side and Peter Stoeger would’ve been delighted with the clean sheet. Up next, Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta, and Dortmund have a point to prove…