After easing past Tottenham to progress in the Europa League, Dortmund headed back to Germany for a road match in Bavaria as they looked to maintain their unbeaten record in the Rückrunde against Augsburg.
The challenge was not a particularly easy one as Tuchel’s side had to come back from a goal behind against a side who defended well for the majority of the game.
Despite usually setting his team up in a 4-2-3-1 shape, Weinzierl deployed his side in a 5-2-3 formation as they hosted Dortmund. With the extra man in the defensive line, they took on a more defensive-oriented approach and looked to thrive in a shape which has recently worked well for teams such as Mainz and Dortmund themselves.
Between the front three of Caiuby, Koo and Finnbogason, Augsburg looked to cover the Dortmund double pivot closely through a narrow chain which featured some man-oriented movements. These movements helped Augsburg to maintain their ability to effectively pressure Dortmund’s build-up as well as have a strong coverage of the two sixes.
There were further and more clear man-orientations to be seen in the midfield pairing of Baier and Kohr. The two moved out of position quite commonly to cover the Dortmund players as they looked to aid Augsburg’s efforts to stop the opposition playing through the centre. On the left of the midfield, Baier would frequently follow Kagawa’s movements towards the right half-space whilst Kohr would often move up to follow the dropping of Sahin.
One of the key strategies of Augsburg’s defensive game was to force Dortmund to build through Sokratis, as have a few teams in recent games. Compared to the excellent Hummels, Sokratis doesn’t possess the same levels of playmaking and can struggle to break lines of pressure with his passing.
As a result, Augsburg restricted Dortmund’s building game which recently has been quite effective. The away side struggled to progress the ball and were restricted to largely horizontal circulation in the first phase with a distinct lack of penetration or access to the centre.
Sahin – Durm orientation
Although the weak ball circulation of Dortmund made the opening 35 minutes rather dull, one of the more interesting components of the possession game was the partnership between Sahin and Durm on the left.
In recent games, Erik Durm has seen extended playing time as Tuchel has looked to use him on the right side of a 5-2-2-1 formation. From this position he has played well, showing large improvements in his game under the new coach – similar to a number of players in the squad. One of his biggest responsibilities in this position is to occupy the flank to allow Mkhitaryan to move inside, where the Armenian is much more proficient.
However in this game Tuchel decided to rest Schmelzer and as a result, we saw Durm return to a left-back position which is perhaps more natural to him. As a left-back, he worked well with Sahin and began to move up higher during Dortmund’s build-up to give the Turk space to operate in.
Primarily this would open space in deeper positions around the left half-space and wing. Durm would occupy the Augsburg defender higher up the pitch and the front three would be more focused on channelling Dortmund’s ball circulation towards Sokratis leaving Sahin quite free down the left. Alternatively, Durm’s wide positioning would similarly open up the left half-space but higher up the pitch, usually after Dortmund had broken the first line of pressure.
During these moments, Sahin worked quite well in Dortmund’s possession game. Despite the wide and isolated position, he was able to support the circulation well and negated this deficiency by quickly looking to move the ball back inside diagonally.
One of the key factors in the game was Mkhitaryan’s role and his integration into the attack.
For the opening 35 minutes the Armenian, who has arguably been one of the best players in the Bundesliga this year, was restricted to a position on the right touchline. He rarely came inside and was isolated from the possession as he could only properly impact the possession game down the right. There was limited space to work with due to the wide position and teammates were few to cooperate with.
Towards the end of the half however, he progressively started moving further inside, into a position where he can be much more effective. A player of such a unique skillset is much more suited to a central position as he can use his needle-playing ability, team-tactical and positional intelligence as well as his proficiency in playmaking to a much greater extent.
The impact was near-immediate as he used the above attributes to nutmeg a defender and then combine through the centre. This clever play opened enough space in the box for him to get a shot away which snuck into Manninger’s bottom-left corner.
Second Half Developments
The second half contained a number of tactical changes which impacted the flow of the game. Following the interval we saw two changes already as an injured Baier was replaced by Feulner in the midfield. The replacement could not match the influence of his teammate out of possession, whose spatial coverage was crucial in the defensive shape in the first half.
Tuchel replaced Reus with Gonzalo Castro too and the midfielder immediately moved to the right of the shape whilst Mkhitaryan shifted over to the left. However Castro impacted the game much more of an extra midfielder in the centre and the two were important in Dortmund’s central access.
Later on in the game, more changes from Tuchel lead to Leitner coming onto the pitch in the place of Kagawa. The young midfielder moved to a right-sided position whilst Castro came inside into a more centrally-based role. Shortly afterwards, a third substitution was made as Felix Passlack entered in place of Nuri Sahin. He took on a role on the right of the attack whilst Leitner dropped deeper alongside Weigl in place of the Turkish pivot.
In his central role, Castro was to have a significant impact on the final result and he scored in the 68th after an excellent long pass from Hummels and an almost-equally good control and assist by Ramos. The German midfielder was free in the centre for a smart lay-off before he finished well to the left of Manninger.
Augsburg reacted by changing into a more attacking 4-3-3 shape with Gouweleeuw moving up into the midfield. However this was short-lived as they reverted back into a 5-chain after Ramos converted his rebounded-shot off of a corner to put Dortmund up by 2.
After quite a weak start from Dortmund, Tuchel’s changes proved vital in turning around the momentum of the game as they improved from the 30th minute onwards. In some cases, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see Dortmund lose such a match last year and it took some intelligent changes to amend the possession game and exploit Augsburg’s defensive system.
It must be said however that the opening 30 minutes wasn’t necessarily a result of some weak Dortmund play. Augsburg defended well and targeted Dortmund’s weaker areas well to disrupt their ability to progress the ball. One could say that they failed to adjust to Dortmund’s changes well enough however this was difficult after losing Baier and considering the quality of their opposition.