Tactical Analysis: Borussia Dortmund vs FC Cologne

Match Analysis BVB

Friday night’s fixture offered Peter Stoeger the chance to prove his worth in the dugout over his former club. Both teams’ form going into the game offered an ironic storyline given Stoeger’s move up north from Cologne. Cologne had picked up 7 out of a possible 9 points following the winter break, while Dortmund’s last win was on the 16th of December. Added to Stoeger’s woes, was the departure of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to Arsenal. Fortunately for the Austrian manager, the team delivered a promising result with several players rising to the occasion and they left Cologne with 3 points in the bag.


Cologne’s manager made one change to their starting line-up with Sehou Guirassy chosen upfront ahead of Yuya Osako. On Dortmund’s side, Michy Batshuayi made his debut at centre-forward and Mahmoud Dahoud along with Julian Weigl and Andre Schuurle were drafted into the starting line-up.

Dortmund’s build-up contained:

Cologne’s 4-4-2 formation offered Dortmund an opportunity to attack out wide without having to play against a 5-man defence. In previous games, the team had struggled to make the most of the space on the flanks because of how teams condensed these areas with clever movement and touchline pressing. Cologne opted to use a hybrid zonal and man-marking system in which they’d initiate the press in deep midfield. In the centre, Terodde and Guirassy remained close to Julian Weigl to discourage passes from the Dortmund centre-backs into Julian Weigl. Marco Hoger and Salih Ozcan, on the other hand, were tasked with man-marking Shinji Kagawa and Dahoud. To counter this and progress through the press, Dortmund’s wide players would switch positions in order to create space. Unfortunately, Cologne squeezed the touchline so well that it was hard for Dortmund to progress easily. With Weigl unable to receive the ball and distribute it from touchline to touchline, the pace of the build-up was too slow to exploit any gaps in Cologne’s defence.

Cologne initially defended deep and looked to counter-attack upon winning possession, in the early parts of the game. This was effective as their movement in transition was excellent and they managed to take advantage of Jeremy Toljan’s poor positioning down the left-hand side. Throughout the game, they completed a total of 30 crosses which highlighted their obvious attacking strategy. When they got the ball out wide for a cross, they would always have their two large strikers attacking the ball. In the 12th minute, Jojic had a golden chance to put the visitors ahead from a cross but shot straight at Roman Burki. As the first half progressed, the game opened up and both teams enjoyed more space to play in. Dortmund tried to break forward much faster whenever they won the ball but their attempts were generally ineffective(because of how well ┬áCologne defended the central axis).

Quick transitions affect both sides:

In the 35th minute, Dortmund took the lead through Michy Batshuayi. Toljan was able to receive the ball out on the left and beat Sorensen in a 1 on 1, after which he created the assist for Batshuayi. 8 minutes later, Batshuayi ended a move that was almost identical to the first goal but his goal was ruled out for offside. It was the first time that Dortmund switched the ball out to the flank rapidly instead of circulating the ball out wide at a slow tempo.

The second half began with both teams displaying similar patterns as in the first half. As mentioned above, Dortmund tried to break forward much faster but they were largely unsuccessful in doing so. Cologne defended the centre in numbers and so it was hard to get past them. In the 61st minute the visitors got back into the game by taking advantage of Dortmund’s breakdowns:

Below, Pulisic breaks forward down the right half-space.

Cologne’s defenders recover in time to stop him from further progressing.

The move breaks down after the Cologne defender dispossesses him.

As a result of Dortmund’s inability to focus on defending in transition, the Cologne defender breaks forward (notice how Dortmund’s 4 most advanced players are simply walking instead of actively defending)

The Cologne defender has driven forward and now plays a through ball for Terodde to run onto. The move ends with Zoller scoring the equaliser.

Dortmund were fortunate to grab an instant equaliser to regain the lead and make the score 2-1 thanks to Batshuayi. But the momentum had already swung in favour of ┬áCologne. During the build-up, they would adjust their shape to a 3-5-2 to match Dortmund’s numbers in midfield. Their fullbacks also provided them with width, which allowed them to continue putting in crosses. With just over 20 minutes to go, Dortmund conceded a corner after Cologne broke forward at pace yet again. Jorge Mere scored a header from the resulting corner and Cologne were back on level terms with the hosts.

With Cologne now attacking in full force, it would’ve been no surprise had they managed to score a third goal. In the 81st minute, they won another corner. But they committed so many players to the attack, that they left large amounts of open space at the back. Without a strong central presence to thwart the Dortmund break, Andre Schurrle put the home side back in the lead after a simple counter-attacking move. As a result, Cologne pushed even further forward but they just couldn’t get past a Dortmund side that had all 11 players defending close to their own box. The game ended 3-2.


Despite controlling the majority of possession, Dortmund’s best chances came from lapses in concentration and naive defending by Cologne. They were unable to break down Cologne when the visitors defended in deep midfield. In terms of the goals conceded, both sides were the victims of their own inability to quickly switch their focus to defending when they had just lost the ball. It was a fun game to watch for the neutrals and a relief for Dortmund fans. However, the team still has to find creative solution’s to their slow build-up as well as finding a way to tighten up their defence.