So far this season we have seen strong evidence that Borussia Dortmund are starting to settle in to the pace of the Bundesliga and the demands of the early stages in the Champions League.
The club had an incredibly busy summer transfer window with a plethora of young and talented players moving to Dortmund and these youngsters were further augmented by the likes of Sebastian Rode and Mario Götze. The likes of Ousmane Dembélé, Emre Mor and Raphaël Guerreiro add to a young core that already included Felix Passlack and Christian Pulisic to give Dortmund one of the most exciting young squads in Europe.
Recent results have included the 6-0 demolition in the Champions League of Legia Warsaw and comfortable domestic victories over both Darmstadt and Wolfsburg.
Their opponents for this match however would be the newly promoted Freiburg who will prove difficult opponents for whoever comes up against them this season.
Thomas Tuchel made some interesting changes to the first team for this match. With Marc Bartra injured the slightly unconvincing Matthias Ginter came in to partner Sokratis in the centre of the defence.
In midfield we saw the Portuguese player Raphaël Guerreiro rested and on the bench. He was signed primarily as a left-back to provide competition at the beginning and with the understanding that he could also operate in the more advanced area of the field if needed. Tuchel has very quickly identified that Guerreiro is more tactically flexible than first thought. He has filled in as an ‘8’ with great success so far this season.
— Yellowwallpod (@Yellowwallpod) September 23, 2016
For this match, however, we saw the continued assimilation of Mario Götze in to the squad as he tries to adjust to playing in the deeper number 8 role as opposed to the 10 role that he was used to in his former stint at Dortmund.
We also saw the young Turkish international Emre Mor starting on the right of the attack with Christian Pulisic being rested after a run of games. Mor has shown flashes of his undoubted talent so far this season but he has still been inconsistent with his interplay and defensive pressing.
Freiburg make life difficult
Although Freiburg have just been promoted from Bundesliga 2 they are still difficult to play against. They are a young team that are extremely well coached by Christian Streich and that play an aggressive pressing style that can make them difficult to attack.
Here you can see an example of the structure in the Dortmund half as they try to play the ball out and through the thirds. Freiburg are aware as we all are that the key to Dortmund in these situations is the intelligent positioning of Julian Weigl in the ‘6’ role and his ability to shift the ball forwards and through the press of the opposition.
They have a midfield player who is detailed to shadow Weigl and ensure that should the ball be played in to him he cannot turn and move towards the middle third. If Weigl does take possession in this example, then any move to go past his immediate marker is high risk in this area, so he would be forces to bounce the ball back in and towards his goalkeeper.
Once again in the example above Freiburg are willing to commit resources to try to disrupt the Dortmund at source. This time there is a mix in the pressing system with some players marking their man closely whilst on the right side of the Freiburg system they are using positioning to make any attempt to play through that zone from Dortmund a high risk one.
They are trying to force Burki to try to access the middle third of the pitch without playing through a connecting player in the hope that a mistake will be made.
There were times in which Dortmund caused themselves issues with their poor spacing in the build up.
In this example Freiburg are slightly more passive and have dropped off to allow Dortmund possession of the ball along their defensive line. The player in possession has two very clean options to progress the ball and change the angle of the attack.
Whether the ball is shifted to the left or to the right in this area makes no real difference. The next pass has been made more difficult without a player accessing the highlighted space to offer a connection for the ball to be progressed through.
This is a symptom of the desire from Tuchel for the side to play a more incisive and vertical passing game with the purpose to move the ball through the lines of the opposition press and in to the feet of players that are able to turn and threaten the oppositions defensive line quickly.
Rotation and Movement
Thomas Tuchel is known as an extremely inventive and capable attacking coach. The movements and rotations that we are beginning to see from Dortmund this season pay testament to that.
Part of the offensive gameplan that we see from Dortmund this season comes in the tendency for the two wide attacking players to come in off of their wide lanes to create space for the advancing fullbacks and create overloads against the opposition full backs. These rotations are extremely hard for the opposition to defend against.
Here the rotation has seen Emre Mor move infield and take up a slightly deeper position in a pocket of space that is not directly challenged by the opposition. This movement has opened up the space for Lucas Piszczek to advance forwards in to.
The key in this movement is the threat that Dortmund are going to continue to attack down the wide area. This threat and the movement from the advanced players forces the Freiburg defence to drop back down in to a passive block.
This movement from the defenders serves only to further open up the space that Mor has to collect the ball and run in to the central area of the final third.
This time I have captured an image that shows Dortmund in a sustained attacking position. Freiburg have been forced back deeper and deeper in to an almost completely passive deep block.
When a defensive team has dropped in to this kind of narrow configuration then they leave the wide areas undermanned. This allows Dortmund to overload the centre of the pitch and then switch the ball out to the isolated side of the pitch. This movement forces the defensive block to shift across and will eventually lead to spaces appearing in the defensive organisation.
I have to be honest and say that for me no piece of analysis on Dortmund is complete without a look at the movement or passing of Julian Wiegl.
As I touched upon earlier on Julian Weigl is incredibly important with the vertical passing and movements for Dortmund under Tuchel.
One underappreciated aspect of Weigl’s play is his ability to dribble the ball in central areas to either break an opposition press or provoke a defensive player to leave his position and engage with the ball.
As soon as a player is out of position in the defensive structure Weigl has the capacity to play the ball through the gap and in to a team-mate in space to exploit.
For all that Freiburg were difficult opponents for Dortmund in this match the final score of 3-1 was still slightly harsh on Dortmund. There were periods early in the match when the passing from Tuchel’s side was poor and they looked off of the pace of the game.
As the match continued, though, Dortmund began to stamp their authority on the match and the guests were forced to shift their defensive block across the field over and over before the gaps began to appear.
The likes of Götze, and Ginter especially, still need to find their form this season but there are definite signs that the team is moving in the right direction.