With a victory over Krasnodar in the back pocket, Borussia Dortmund now focus on making it eleven wins out of eleven this season. The black and yellow army welcome Bayer Leverkusen to the Westfalenstadion on Sunday evening.
“These are footballers made for this kind of football we want to show on the pitch,” an obviously happy Kevin Kampl said after Bayer Leverkusen prevailed over BATE Borisov in their first match of the Champions League group stage. The home fans saw Kampl dominating the centre midfield with ease, while being comfortable on the ball and delivering three key passes including an assist (via WhoScored) in the 4-1 win on Wednesday.
Remembering his appearances in a Dortmund shirt throughout the Rückrunde, after BVB signed him during the winter transfer window, his display against BATE could surprise on the surface. However, the reason why Thomas Tuchel accepted the sale of Kampl was based on the fact that the Slovenian international does not fit in the newly established possession-based and positional play-focused style of Borussia Dortmund. And even when playing in Jürgen Klopp’s system of quicker vertical combinations, Kampl seemed to be an alien element for the better part of the Rückrunde.
In contrast, Kampl had been a vital part of Roger Schmidt’s RB Salzburg side, when the Roten Bullen not only won the 2014 Austrian championship in dominant fashion, but also steamrolled teams like Ajax Amsterdam in the Europa League. Schmidt, who joined Bayer Leverkusen last summer, has been able to transfer the RB Salzburg style of high intensity pressing to the Werkself. Under Schmidt’s guidance, Kampl once played as a right-winger for the most part. Schmidt calls this position “number ten,” as his two wingers in the 4-4-2 formation should behave like fluid number tens or false wingers. Kampl’s wild, hasty, and highly charged way of moving on the field was canalised by Salzburg’s overall strategy. The Slovenian led the second pressing wave, pushing forward to attack the opposing full-back during the build-up play. Moreover, he could use his speed and dynamic to move the ball forward after quick turnovers in the second or last third. Considering Schmidt’s and Kampl’s successful collaboration in the past, the signing of Kampl should not surprise after all.
Leverkusen’s tactical approach
As already mentioned, it is all about pressing and ball-orientated compactness. Leverkusen have usually a high pressing in a 4-2-2-2 and focus on controlling the centre, while maintaining a high level of coordination. This causes constant access to the ball carrier and the open men near him. At least seven outfield players are involved in the pressing actions, while usually a back three protects the zones behind them. By the way, this is only the result of a compromise Schmidt accepted after he had started with only two centre-backs protecting the offside line. But that approach had let his team be exposed to long diagonal balls. By now, Leverkusen look more resistant against opposing counterattacks and fast passes from one side to the other, yet are still vulnerable when they cannot regain ball possession quickly.
According to Schmidt’s plan, their extremely vertical passing style should be stabilized by intense counterpressing induced by their compact structure. Leverkusen’s focus on quick vertical plays, mostly using Stefan Kießling, who is set to make his 350th Bundesliga appearance on Sunday, as a target player up front who provides lay-off passes, simplifies the decision-making of every single player. Leverkusen tend to obtain a high game-rhythm until they start to fade, without adjusting to certain situations. Simply put, the Werkself just run like crazy.
However, Roger Schmidt has established general repetitive patterns over the course of the last months. For example, both wingers do not wait to start their runs towards the offside line, when the ball already moved forward and is at the striker’s feet. They usually begin to advance when a midfielder or defender intercepts the ball. Afterwards, a vertical pass into Kießling follows. The 31-year-old then lays back to an on-rushing midfielder, who plays through a gap of the opposing line, as the on-coming winger had already targeted the zone where he should receive the key pass. Since Lars Bender could not be able to compete on Sunday, as he suffered heavy bruising on the thigh in the BATE match, Kampl should be the one who picks up lay-off passes. Or Christoph Kramer, the prototype of a box-to-box midfielder, rushes through the middle, and unnerves Dortmund’s central players.
Leverkusen are highly coordinated and capable of running down opponents with these kinds of attacking patterns. And even if the through balls cannot find their initial target, Schmidt’s men are intelligent enough to transition into counterpressing mode in a twinkling.
Last weekend, Darmstadt 98 shocked Leverkusen to pick up the win with a 1-0 at the BayArena, though. The defeat, their second in a row, put them under pressure to at least gain one point against Dortmund. Otherwise, the gap between the Werkself and other title contenders grows alarmingly.
Ahead of the clash with Dortmund, Schmidt had words of praise for the opponent. “Dortmund are a very strong side capable of bringing a lot of depth into their game with a high tempo,” the 48-year-old said. “They are currently trying to retain possession to create even clearer goalscoring opportunities but this side have been known for their pressing and ability to switch play for years.”
Tuchel’s playbook – 09 key tasks
- Make the attacking patterns predictable by detecting Leverkusen’s plan during the first ten minutes of the match.
- Anticipate runs by the likes of Bellarabi, Brandt or Çalhanoğlu. Use zone coverage in the back line. Don’t be too man-orientated in the middle.
- Position Gündoğan and Weigl wide during the build-up play, as these players can resist Leverkusen’s pressure and avoid isolations near the side-lines.
- Expose the areas to the side of Kramer and Kampl.
- Play diagonal balls to Schmelzer and Mkhitaryan after luring Leverkusen to the right.
- Help Mkhitaryan to force 1-on-1 duels with Hilbert.
- Use Aubameyang’s speed and Kagawa’s agility against the statue-like centre-backs.
- Avoid fouls near the own penalty box. (We all know why.)
- Stay calm and tire Leverkusen out.
Adnan Januzaj did not look great against Krasnodar, but could keep his spot in the starting eleven. Despite returning to team training on Friday, Marco Reus is questionable to start as right-winger, yet he could come off the bench in the final 30 minutes. The 26-year-old did some sprints after practice on Friday, what was likely a test to see whether he is fit or not. “For now we’ll make sure that he can take part in training without suffering any pain, and then we’ll think about coming to a decision,” Tuchel commented on the situation.
Erik Durm and Nuri Şahin are still recovering from their injuries, while Łukasz Piszczek sat on the bench on Thursday after suffering from muscle strain in the adductor area.
Other than that, only Sven Bender and Neven Subotić have had slight problems, but could make the bench. According to Sky Sports reporter Stephan Schäuble, Sven Bender (influenza) and Neven Subotić (back pain) will not be available. With Joo-Ho Park having delivered a match-deciding performance against Krasnodar, the South Korean international could overtake Bender in the pecking order.
Meanwhile, left-back Marcel Schmelzer is determined to build on the recent success. “We have unfinished business, not just against Leverkusen but in general,” he told the Bundesliga website. “We are very motivated, not only because they beat us last season. We are on the right track at the moment, though: we’re focused, working hard and desperately want to succeed.”