Tactical Takeaways: Batman Saves the Day

Borussia Dortmund

Michy Batshuayi’s winning goal deep into added time against Eintracht Frankfurt sent the Signal Iduna Park into raptures. Not only did it give the team 3 points to maintain their chase for second place on the Bundesliga table, we at Borussia Dortmund U.K. also observed 3 different points after analysing the game in depth. In our new feature ‘Tactical Takeaways’, I’ll be discussing 3 tactical themes that evidently influenced the outcome of Dortmund’s last game and what they could’ve done in order to improve their performance.

Dahoud is the missing piece of the puzzle but can’t be relied upon (yet)

Mahmoud Dahoud was in the starting lineup for his third game running, after good displays in his last two (including a MOM performance against RB Leipzig). What he brings to the team besides his obvious technical superiority, is his ability to link play between the midfield and the forwards. Julian Weigl is key when it comes to circulating the ball from his deep-lying position but aside from the fullbacks, Dortmund have lacked a player who can help him connect with the advanced players inside central areas. Stoeger played Kagawa in that position and although he was a logical solution to this problem, Kagawa lacked the defensive nous required to play in central midfield(e.g. clever positioning, strength, tackling ability). Gonzalo Castro does well in the defensive department but offers very little going forward. Added to the fact that Stoeger rarely uses the 4-1-4-1 system, Dahoud is the only player who suits the profile required to partner Weigl on a consistent basis.

Against Frankfurt, Weigl didn’t even start but Dahoud’s partnership with Castro was fantastic and he helped control proceedings whilst Dortmund held possession. It seems that Dortmund do better against teams who drop off and defend deep because possessing the ball for longer periods means that they defend for a much shorter time. They can also execute their gegenpressing if they’re well prepared. However, when they play teams who take the initiative against them, they struggle to maintain possession and often lose control of the game. This is why Dahoud’s presence is so crucial. He is the key to regaining control of the game even against tougher, more pro-active teams. Unfortunately, his youthful vigour often lets him down as we saw on Sunday. A few rash challenges in the first half prompted Stoeger to replace him with Weigl, as he feared his young midfielder would get sent off if he got another yellow card. He also hasn’t been terribly consistent this season but that usually comes with game time. Hopefully, Stoeger refrains from rotating the personnel in that position in order to help Dahoud gain momentum and prove to the world that he can truly develop into the world-class midfielder we all expect him to be.

Are Dortmund lacking at left-back?

This may require meticulous statistical analysis that could help us measure the true impact of Marcel Schmelzer’s performance and whether he is up to scratch or in decline. Despite being a crucial factor in the dressing room as club captain, his display on Sunday was bang average and he was always under pressure from Danny da Costa, the Frankfurt wide-man. Da Costa eventually grabbed a late assist from Schmelzer’s blindside which almost cost Dortmund a full 3 points. Whether it’s a performance problem or a tactical one (Da Costa’s assist was only possible because Frankfurt exploited a 2v1 situation), the left-back position will need to be re-evaluated, especially after conceding goals from the left side against Atalanta and Salzburg.

Pulisic proves to be a pivotal player yet again

Christian Pulisic was simply in the right place at the right time on Sunday to provide two crucial assists. His presence on the right is perfect against because he has the ability to move into the half-space without being tracked by the full/wing back(who would leave the flank wide open) or a midfielder(who would leave open space in central areas). This creates options for the American as he can shoot, cross and combine with teammates from the inner channel. He also has no trouble playing as a traditional wide-man which makes him such a versatile attacker. It’s no wonder that he’s been linked to Mourinho’s Manchester United who have been struggling to find a suitable right winger ever since the departure of Nani. Did you see them last night against Sevilla? Now imagine if Pulisic was in that side…