Tactical Analysis: Borussia Dortmund vs VfL Wolfsburg
Sunday’s game brought an excellent opportunity for the ‘Black and Yellows’ to maintain their position in second place. They faced decent opposition in Martin Schmidt’s Wolfsburg who were hungry for a win after losing their last 3 league fixtures. Dortmund who had already beaten Wolfsburg 3-0 in the season opener, sought to begin the second-half of the season in the same fashion. What followed was an absorbing game that left Dortmund fans frustrated because of their team’s poor finishing. Wolfsburg conceded plenty of chances to the home side and left the Signal Iduna Park with a point to show for their efforts. On the other hand, Peter Stoeger might have felt that his team had lost two points instead of gaining one.
Dortmund’s lined-up in a 4-3-3 shape that Stoeger has used ever since his arrival last month. The big surprise to Dortmund’s personnel changes was the absence of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who reportedly missed a team meeting the day before the game. Christian Pulisic was ruled out of the game due to a muscle injury so Stoeger handed Alexander Isak and Jadon Sancho their first starts for the club. Wolfsburg lined-up in a narrow 4-2-3-1 formation.
Both teams began the game with similar approaches in possession game albeit with a few distinguishing details. Dortmund’s centre backs were responsible for initiating the build-up and penetrating Wolfsburg’s first two lines of pressure. Wolfsburg pressed only in midfield and their defensive block was very compact, which prevented Dortmund from playing through them in the early parts of the game. Didavi was tasked with man-marking Julian Weigl, which made the build-up phase even harder to carry out. The home side countered this move by having Kagawa and Gotze drop deep to collect the ball and play it forward or switch play. This allowed Dortmund to progress into advanced areas and create more chances as the first half went on.
Wolfsburg also tried playing out from the back using short passes and were successful in doing so in the early stages of the half. The difference between the home side’s approach and their’s was that they played vertical passes aggressively even though it was risky at times. Their build-up was more direct than Dortmund’s, which was evident in the way the players received the ball. Whenever possible, the Wolfsburg players played their first-touch forwards and it was a pattern that continued throughout the game. Dortmund high-pressed the opposing backline in a 4-2-3-1 shape in which Kagawa and Gotze were tasked with blocking the passing lanes into Guilavogui and Arnold.
Midfield movement and poor finishing
When Dortmund managed to progress into their opponents’ half, they displayed very good movement that helped them circulate the ball, find gaps and exploit them in order to create goalscoring chances. There were several plays in which Jeremy Toljan, Sancho and Gotze would combine with each other out on the left, drawing in the Wolfsburg defence before switching play to the right flank. Gotze, in particular, had a bright game, constantly finding teammates with his accurate long balls. He would’ve even had an assist after a brilliant through-ball of his found Isak but the young Swede hit the post. Jadon Sancho also had an excellent game. He was incredibly sharp and composed in 1 on 1 situations and even began the move in the 21st minute, that allowed Piszcek to cross into an unmarked Yarmolenko who shot wide from 3 yards out.
Wolfsburg didn’t create as many opportunities as the home side, as they were without the ball for long periods of the game. However, when they did have the ball in Dortmund’s half, their passing was very incisive, allowing them to create a few decent chances from out wide. Their main issue was that their full-backs didn’t have much influence on the game and their players were often isolated from each other because of Dortmund’s high pressure out on the touchline. Origi,in particular, was isolated from his teammates and he struggled to link up with them to create any chances. The few opportunities they did have, didn’t end up in goal because of Roman Burki’s excellent performance. Didavi and William were both denied by Burki’s incredible reflex saves. Whenever Wolfsburg attacked, they often left large amounts of space open at the back and Dortmund created several goal-scoring chances on the counter. Yet again their poor finishing let them down. Their best chance on the counter came in the 47th minute when Yarmolenko skied his shot at the end of the move. It was a disappointing night for the Ukranian who missed a handful of chances that could’ve given Dortmund their first win of 2018. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.
In the end, the match ended 0-0 and Dortmund were left to rue their poor finishing in front of goal. They had 18 shots but only 3 were on target with 2 hitting the frame of the goal. Despite a steady defensive performance, there is a general feeling of unease that now surrounds the club due to their star striker’s absence. Aubameyang has now been involved in three separate incidents since last year, which have landed him in hot water. How the incident will be dealt with will be interesting to see but the team still needs him regardless of the outcome. Friday’s fixture against Hertha Berlin will be a tricky one considering the pressure the team have put themselves under following an unnecessary draw. However it’s a game that should be won comfortably if Dortmund’s finishing improves.