Something must be terribly wrong when, after weeks of dropping points left and right, your team cannot even hold on to a four-goal lead in one of the most important matches of the year. Should the players in black and yellow just go out in the woods and run their lungs out for a few days?
Truth to be told, Borussia Dortmund looked slow and sluggish in the second half of the Revierderby. It was not the first time they appeared to be completely exhausted after the hour mark. In the Tottenham match a few days earlier, they looked spent and could not keep up with their opponents anymore. This, naturally, calls Peter Bosz’s training methods in question. Did the Dutch coach not prepare his team correctly so they could go for 90 minutes?
As I insinuated on Twitter yesterday, the answer is much more complicated than you might think. Bosz follows an approach, just like an increasing number of his colleagues, that goes against what teams have done for decades in pre-season preparation and in-season training. Instead of being rough on his players and pushing them to the limits or beyond, Bosz wants to increase the stamina level slowly over months.
Normally, pre-season preparation would include high-intense training for about four days followed by one day of regeneration. What this does to the players is it decreases their level of freshness. Those who do not compete in any summer tournament arrive on the first day of training fresh like a newborn. The school of thought Bosz and others, including coaches at the German FA, represent suggests to conserve at least some of that freshness which can somewhat compensate a shortage on the stamina side at first. After one or two days of high-intense training players are allowed to rest for one day. The main advantage of this approach is a comparatively lower rate of injuries in the first few months of the season. And, indeed, Dortmund have not suffered an injury crisis by any means.
If most of your key players are healthy and ready to go, they should be able to compete at a relatively high level, even though their stamina is not at 100 per cent. Over time, the fitness increases while the freshness will not be sacrificed entirely. In a best-case scenario, the team is at their best in February, March, and April when other clubs start to fade. Bosz’s Ajax side demonstrated exactly that last season when they made a run for the Europa League title, just coming short in the final against Manchester United. Ajax bulldozed several opponents which had, at least, equally talented squads. It was the perfect storm—Bosz’s philosophy of a high-intense attacking style and dominant possession football coupled with a team confident and athletically intimidating.
What hurts the Dutch coach and his planning at his new endeavour is the fact that plenty of BVB players need more time to execute his tactical ideas properly. At this point, they do not seem to be fully convinced of or struggle to grasp what Bosz is trying to implement. Conviction and confidence are, however, the base of every successful team. In contrast, Dortmund are the embodiment of a fragile construction which may collapse just after a few turnovers and unnecessary runs when players start questioning the purpose of what Bosz wants them to do. The eye test may indicate that the team is simply not fit enough, while, in fact, it rather may be a mental and tactical issue first and foremost.
The tracking data, which does not provide indisputable evidence for how good stamina and freshness levels are yet is the best tool we have, recorded by the DFL and the UEFA suggest there has not been a dip in fitness since the start of the season, as the few graphs below show.
The matches against RB Leipzig and Hannover 96 are excluded because Dortmund conceded a red card in each match before the 60th minute. The UEFA only provides the total distance covered in a Champions League match. A sprint run is made when a players is faster than 20 kmph (12.4 mph). It is better to compare the stats between Dortmund and the respective opponent instead of analysing the distances covered and the runs made over the course of the season, because the intensity of matches can vary.