It is the mother of all Bundesliga derbies. When Borussia Dortmund will meet their bitter rival, Schalke 04, the fans of the Schwarzgelben expect nothing less than a victory. And recent results have shown that BVB should be the favourite against a slightly overrated Schalke side.
Despite losing against Bayern Munich in decisive fashion, Borussia Dortmund has clearly regained the status as the second powerhouse in German football, with 26 points from 11 games, scoring 32 goals in the processes. While BVB won three from their last four league games, Schalke went the other way, gaining just four points during the same time.
After a bumpy start, the Königsblauen begun to win a couple of matches, but even then their performances remained unimpressive. Head coach André Breitenreiter, who came from Paderborn in the summer, tries to work with the tactical tools he has been used to during his time in Ostwestfalen.
That means he clearly prefers a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 system that emphasizes the individual quality of all players involved. Breitenreiter is not a coach who can make his team over-perform by out-coaching the opposing team or by introducing uncommon tactics.
Ahead of the Revierderby, a couple of injuries and a suspension weaken the team. After hurting André Hahn badly during the Bundesliga encounter with Borussia Mönchengladbach, Johannes Geis is still suspended until the end of November. Consequently, Breitenreiter misses his pivotal figure in central midfield. Roman Neustädter, who provides playmaking quality, could replace his 22-year-old teammate.
Benedikt Höwedes is also unavailable due to a broken hand. The same goes for the long-term injured defenders Matija Nastasić (Achilles tendon rupture) and Atsuto Uchida (development training after knee surgery). With Joel Matip also questionable, according to Breitenreiter, Neustädter could be forced to play in central defence once again. That would leave a hole in midfield, though.
Against Ingolstadt last week, Breitenreiter fielded Sead Kolašinac alongside Leon Goretzka, but substituted the Bosnia-Herzegovinian off at half-time after a lacklustre performance, playing only 12 accurate passes – 15 less than Goretzka (per WhoScored). Another option for the second number six position is Pierre Emile Højbjerg, who could offer box-to-box dynamic. Whatever the case may be, Breitenreiter is compelled to improvise.
Lack of compactness
Usually, the 4-4-2 formation is utilized by many Bundesliga teams to leave only little space between the lines defensively. Schalke basically try the same, but often have problems to shut down the zone between the midfield line and both strikers up-front. As a consequence, the Königsblauen are not able to attack the opposing players when they’re building up in deeper zones. The two strikers are outnumbered, and the distance for a centre-midfielder or winger is too high to move forward situationally.
For instance, both wingers advance to cover opposing players who had dropped into the deeper half-spaces, but as these runs are delayed, they just open the wing zones and enable the opponent to play longer passes to the outside or to the striker who then lays the ball off to the advancing wingers.
Dortmund could probably use this weak spot in two ways: A) by using the hole in between Schalke’s lines to circulate the ball between Julian Weigl, İlkay Gündoğan, and Shinji Kagawa or B) by luring the opposing wingers to the deeper half-spaces and then using Gündoğan’s or Mats Hummels’ passing range to target a winger, bypassing a lot of space.
Schalke lately haven’t shown they are able to absorb the kind of offensive pressure Dortmund bring to the table, or how they could constantly prevent passes to Henrik Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who seem to be unstoppable of late.
As mentioned, Breitenreiter prefers a rather customary 4-4-2, where the connection between both number sixes and the strikers is almost non-existent. Even dynamic and forward-thinking players like Goretzka or Højbjerg sometimes struggle to bridge the gap. Therefore, Breitenreiter usually asks Geis to play his well-known diagonal long balls to one of the technically superior wingers.
Overall, Schalke rely on the individual quality of the likes of Max Meyer or Leroy Sané. Both can stay near the side-line and receive these long balls, with Sané being the better and more dynamic dribbler, while Meyer lacks the necessary quickness to beat his opponents constantly. The 20-year-old, though, is very helpful when moving to the inside and serving as a situational number ten.
A 4-2-3-1 with Meyer behind a lone striker is also imaginable, as Franco Di Santo and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar have had problems to figure out sophisticated group tactical processes when playing together.
How could Dortmund defend Schalke’s attacking patterns ideally? First of all, BVB should see more of the ball which can enervate the Königsblauen, because they normally struggle with their decision-making when forced to counter-attack against a dominant opponent.
Secondly, Dortmund could allow Schalke to play long diagonal balls out of the back line. With Geis being suspended, they lack a bit of that accuracy the 22-year-old usually provides. Maybe Goretzka can take over the task of playing opening balls into the higher zones. If Dortmund, however, are able to cover the space behind Meyer and also the half-space away from the ball, Schalke should typically have trouble continuing these attacks or even finding a free man who can provide the header.
Thirdly, Dortmund’s active midfielders and the natural compactness in the middle are perfect to lead Schalke’s build-up play to the outside, where then their own group-tactical operating plan intends for the winger to move into the half-space. At this moment, BVB would have the chance to isolate the full-back at the side-line and constrain immediate turnovers.
Breitenreiter could react with an in-game adjustment. For instance, a defensive midfielder could drop between the centre-backs – particularly with Neustädter being fielded as centre-midfielder – so that the two are positioned wider, intending to play the first passes through the zones around Dortmund’s leading pressing players up-front. But even then Tuchel would have the opportunity to change between a 4-4-2 and a more man-orientated 4-3-3 in terms of pressing. With the latter, he would neutralize the possibility of a situational Schalke back three that bypasses BVB’s first pressing line.
Of course, nobody is counting out Schalke. Having said that, Dortmund is not only bookmaker’s favourite, but all key elements speak for a black-and-yellow victory in the 147th edition of the Revierderby as well.