Why did Dortmund have their best chances in the scoreless draw against Cologne only at the beginning? Jona Sändker explains how Peter Stöger’s clever in-game coaching reduced Dortmund’s dominance.
Both teams had the choice to start with three or four at the back. For Dortmund, Marcel Schmelzer could have played the left centre-back in a 3-2-4-1 formation next to Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Matthias Ginter, a position he played for the first time against Gladbach last weekend. Tuchel, however, opted for a 4-2-3-1 with Schmelzer und Erik Durm sitting relatively deep. Julian Weigl and Gonzalo Castro played in central midfield behind Shinji Kagawa, who assisted attacking both wings as a number ten, while Christian Pulisic occupied the right wing more consistently than Marco Reus on the left, who also moved in the halfspace. Cologne, on the other hand, also have a flexible player in Jonas Hector, who can play in the central midfield or as the left fullback or the left wing back. But the guests, too, decided to start four at the back – although it did not take long until the first change in formation.
The early phase: attacking through the wings and plenty of possession for BVB
Cologne started with a horizontally compact 4-1-4-1, with an emphasis on space-oriented midfield pressing. Striker Anthony Modeste marked Weigl and would move forward to press the ball-carrying centre-back when the situation called for it. Sometimes one central midfielder would also step forward. The wingers, meanwhile stayed in the half-spaces, securing more central zones while leaving the wings more open. This is why Bürki could play a couple of lobbed passes to the fullbacks when Cologne pressed high up the pitch, which happened rarely, though.
BVB concentrated on building up through both wings. On the right, Durm could carry the ball forward without pressure thanks to Cologne’s wingers occupying the half-spaces. The 24-year-old could combine with Pulisic and start overlapping runs. Both were assisted by Kagawa towards the final third, who made some promising passes. But all in all, the attacks down the right-hand side were rather predictable. Regularly, the United States international did short dribbles under pressure to move the ball back into the middle or towards the centre-backs since there was no way forward.
While Weigl played centrally and in the right halfspace in a fairly deep role, the left side had one more player in Castro to support attacks. That way, Reus could gamble on more direct plays and still had many players behind him. After a chance which initiated by Castro’s precise pass (12th minute), Reus and Kagawa teamed up at the edge of the penalty box – unfortunately it the resulting goal was offside. One minute after that the ball, again, only narrowly missed the goal after Frederik Sörensen made a wayward pass.
On the left: Dortmund’s build-up against Cologne’s 4-1-4-1; On the right: Cologne switched to 5-3-2 and BVB overloaded the left side.
Cologne switched to 5-3-2
Cologne changed formation after Dortmund’s three big chances. The host’s wing play was hard to contain: Cologne’s fullbacks had to cover the width while BVB players could move inside to invade the dangerous spaces between the fullbacks and the centre-backs, which Reus and Kawaga did frequently. In addition, the Black and Yellows could always switch play from the left wing and thus keep the ball as Cologne’s left fullback and left midfielder had to stay more centrally.
Peter Stöger intended to solve these problems by switching to 5-3-2 without losing the advantage of a 4-1-4-1. They still defended the midfield with a horizontally compact group that formed near the ball, maintaining a vertical 1-2-staggering used in a 4-1-4-1/4-3-3. That way, no space opens up behind the midfielders, as it may happen in a 5-4-1.
Cologne defended the wings asymmetrically. Central midfielder Milos Jojic often pressed Schmelzer and sometimes even dropped back to form a 6-man defensive line when Cologne defended deep. On the other wing, Hector stayed closer to Durm. When Cologne wanted to play a pass and pushed forwards a little, they practically formed a 4-4-2, where Dominique Heintz could pick up Pulisic on the wing easily. As a consequence, Dortmund’s fullbacks did not have as much freedom as before. The biggest advantage, however, was that the three centre-backs could easily move forward to cover their mark, especially when they were defending very deep. Now they could absorb the pressure brought on by Dortmund’s runs more easily without as much risk. Nevertheless, their runs were not always timed well: in one instance, Sörensen came out for Aubameyang too late so that the latter simply overran him and played a pass back to Reus in a very good position (27th minute).
Cologne’s possession and the end of the 1st half
Changing formation had a big impact on Cologne’s possession, too. Previously, they lost the ball through hectic passes in unsuitable structures a lot before. Now, switching play to the advancing wingbacks brought some calmness. The back five also cleverly overcame Dortmund’s pressing from the wings towards the centre a couple of times. Cologne got three fairly promising chances – after a combination through the middle in the 23rd minute, a counter in the 29th minute and Bittencourt’s dribbling in the 32nd minute.
Shortly after, though, Kawaga played an excellent pass to Reus in the 34th minute (see graphic below), which Castro headed towards the net only for it to end in another offside call. In the last 15 minutes of the first half, BVB shifted the attacks even more to the left, which is best shown by Pulisic having only three touches during this period. Immediately after the break, Reus took a shot from the edge of the box on the left after a combination with Castro. The two players’ direct style complemented each other well once more.
Modified attacks down the wings and Cologne’s shifting into 5-4-1
In the second half, however, Dortmund’s attacks down the wings became more balanced. Instead of making horizontal runs, Kagawa stayed in the right half-space. After Dortmund established possession in the final third, Cologne’s 5-3 block showed its limitations. Although the strikers, and in particular Modeste, pressed back well at times, Dortmund could generally use the space between the two strikers and the midfield to switch play. Schmelzer regularly provided an easy passing option in the left halfspace when the attack was on the right. That way, BVB patiently circulated the ball, although they were not able to produce clear chances, except a shot from distance by Schmelzer in the 50th minute after such a switch of play.
After 55 minutes, Stöger changed formation again to solve yet another problem Dortmund caused and subbed in Zoller for Rudnevs. In a 5-4-1 formation, the substitute played close to Schmelzer in the right halfspace or wing.
This made switching play horizontally much more difficult for the hosts. Three minutes after the substitution, Kagawa again, probably out of habit, played a pass to switch play without paying attention to Zoller, who intercepted the ball and started a counter.
Also, BVB were more isolated on the right wing and thus their attacks yielded in many harmless corners. The 5-4-1, however, made it also easier for Ginter to move into the left half-space, as there was only one striker up front. Due to a lack of passing options and at times inaccurate positioning of surrounding players, he couldn’t exploit it.
BVB changed formation and the last minutes of the game
After 66 minutes, Kagawa and Reus were replaced by Raphael Guerreiro and Ousmane Dembélé. The latter started dribblings in many different areas of the pitch. Cologne’s central midfielders who camped just outside the penalty box were happily defending along until Dembélé beat them to take a shot (67th minute) or to play a dangerous pass (70th minute). At the same time, Dembélé lost the ball quite a few times as well and gave Cologne chances for counter-attacks(69th and 76th minute).
Lukasz Piszczek came on for Sokratis in the 74th minute to join Ginter and Schmelzer in an unusual back three. Dortmund played in a 3-2-4-1, although Castro stayed high in the right half-space most of the time, rather than in a double pivot alongside Weigl. Until the end of the match, the attacking focus moved to the right side. Meanwhile, Pulisic and Guerreiro switched position in promising ways on the left side. The latter would usually stay wide before cutting inside, so that Pulisic moved to the left wing to get the ball (see graphic below). In Schmelzer, the two had an excellent counterpressing player behind them.
Just before the final whistle, Guerreiro almost scored with a header after a long diagonal ball from Piszczek, but all in all, chances were far and few between in the closing stages of the game. BVB remained patient and also withstood Cologne’s rare pressing slightly upper field but weren’t able to get past the parked bus in the final third. Dortmund played a solid game that should have resulted in three points with better luck. Cologne had huge problems with Dortmund’s attacks through the wings initially but produced a few chances after changing formation. They defended very deep in the second half, visibly satisfied to walk away with a point.
Follow Jona on Twitter @halbraumrandale