Tactical Issues of Bayern Munich Under Carlo Ancellotti 

Following Pep Guardiola’s spectacularly exciting reign of tactical innovation and evolution of Juego de Posición, Bayern Munich decided to appoint Italian manager Carlo Ancellotti as the boss. Perceived as a manager focused more solely on the priority of winning, rather than his predecessor Guardiola, who many claim at times overexperimented and even complicated things. So far under Ancellotti, Bayern have begun to get the job done and no more, more often than they did so under Guardiola. In the pursuit of perfect, Guardiola made a few costly mistakes, whilst his successor Ancellotti is often more sensible and won’t experiment overly, rather allowing his focus to remain on winning, no matter how narrow or ugly it may be.

As expected, Manuel Neuer is Ancellotti’s goalkeeper. Lahm is usually the right-back for Bayern this season, though Rafinha has also played there at times, as well as Kimmich, usually when Lahm is playing in midfield. Boateng and Hummels are most likely Ancellotti’s first choice central defenders, though Javi Martinez has mostly partnered Hummels due to Boateng’s injury. Alaba has featured at CB, though is definitely seen primarily as a LB by Carlo. Juan Bernat has made a number of appearance as left back.

Xabi Alonso seems to still be seen as a starter for Bayern as 6 despite his noticeable drop over the last year or two. Kimmich, Vidal and Thiago have also featured as Ancellotti’s main pivot, though the three of them, alongside Renato Sanches and Thomas Muller, usually take up the other two midfield roles.

Frank Ribery has most often been the starting left winger, with Brazilian Douglas Costa the right. Arjen Robben seems to be beginning to take a starting spot on the right wing following his return from injury. Lewandowski is the main striker.

Poor Halfspace Occupation

As arguably the best area of the pitch in terms of proving efficient connections with other zones, the halfspaces have become somewhat neglected by Bayern this season.

In what Bayern hope to consider progressive possession, the halfspaces are initially used in slightly deeper areas of the field, as they are quite often easiest to access, both in terms of length/distance of movement required and frequently seen weak spots of opposition pressing. More frequently the left halfspace but also the right, is an area where Bayern often look to start their possession from. Frequently Thiago will drop from his left interior position into a deep left halfspace position. The reasons for halfspace usage in deep build-up are clear and have been spoken about in detail on Spielverlagerung, as well as being briefly explained a few times on my site here. Despite the benefits of the halfspace however, Bayern’s players other than Thiago don’t make use of them as much as they perhaps should. Alaba is often horizontal, or even behind Thiago when he receives here, meaning a pass to the wing is usually useless. Alonso doesn’t make many movements away from deep in the centre, and in these situations usually can’t do much more than Thiago could in terms of passing. Vidal, Renato and Kimmich are more defensive focused 8’s and remain deep in the other halfspace rather than offering an option within or between the opposition block. The wingers don’t make many movements to receive from Thiago here and stick close to the touchline as an out-and-out singer rather than drifting into a receiving position between lines, and Lewandowski remains on the last line. None of the above mentioned provide viable support to the halfspace here, especially in terms of vertical progression. 

From here, we see pretty heavy reliance on individual actions in order to allow Bayern to progress. Thiago will use his press-resistance to beat the initial press, and then attempt to penetrate the block by using a diagonal dribble. This is an unclean and inconsistent build-up method, though one Thiago is often forced to take upon himself due to Bayern lacking a capable receiver between the lines. The alternative, which is used if Thiago is in a bad situation, is for the Spaniard to play a simple pass to the full-back, who will then adopt the individual responsibility of making an inwards diagonal dribble. Though it varies depending on the opposition’s touchline pressing, this second approach is generally a more efficient approach to progression. 

By dribbling inward diagonally, Alaba forces a horizontal shift from the opposition who prepare to defend the area Alaba is headed towards. As this shift is made, the focus moves away from defending the wing, where Alaba previously was, to defending the other, seemingly more realistically accessible areas of the pitch. This means Bayern’s left winger doesn’t have heavy defensive focus on him situationally. He will from here attempt to find an open receiving lane from Alaba, within the spaces the opposition shift is momentarily neglecting. Alaba will attempt a line breaking pass into the anger who will likely have made an inverted movement. Using ‘against the grain’ is actually one of the few, slightly unique features of Bayern’s game this season. Despite this, their reliance on using it and Thiago’s dribbling to progress from good halfspace positions is inconsistent to rely on.

Another phase where Bayern often fail to occupy the halfspaces efficiently is in the final third at almost the very last stage of an attack. 

When the opposite winger is in a strong crossing position, Bayern will quickly load the box in numbers and prepare fully for firstly the cross itself, then a potential press if the cross is unsuccessful. 
With such a focus on the preparation of a potential press, this leaves Bayern neglecting other possibilities than a cross. From a wide-halfspace position, connecting with the underloaded side is a commonly used attacking option in order to generate qualitative or spatial superiority to create in the final third. By lacking anyone in the opposite halfspace, connections with other areas of the field are difficult, meaning around only half of the pitch can be used situationally. 

1:43 vs. Borussia Dortmund: Weak halfspace occupation makes connectivity with the opposite side impossible.

Risky Structure of Backline in Possession

As many high-possession-rate teams around Europe do, Bayern Munich’s centre-backs split into wider positions, usually in either halfspace early phases of possession. As well as having the benefits it is implemented for, the structure and it’s surroundings has also cost Bayern.

Before looking at the issues of Bayern’s structuring here, we must firstly understand why they use it.
Seen as the strongest team in Bundesliga, Bayern often face pessimistic opponent’s with a damage limitation mentality, defending in a deep, narrow block, willing to let Bayern have possession in unthreatening areas. By placing the centre-backs in wider positions, and usually the guys ahead of them occupying more zones, this forces the opposition block to defend a wider space, becoming more stretched. Ultimately, this should open up spaces which are too large to be covered by shifts and make the previously compact block penetrable. 

As the centre-backs drop into wide positions, the centre in the last near to their goals is temporarily vacated. A pivot, from a midfield position, should drop into this central position for two reasons; 1)provide strong connections with both sides from the centre 2)provide stability and defensive cover in a key offensive space for the opposition. The first reason is one Bayern have generally managed to avoid getting by without it being a great issue. Their use of diagonal passes to the switch sides despite bypassing the centre in phases where it is not occupied is effective, though if the diagonal lane is cut, Bayern do have some trouble in making switches. The second reason has troubled Bayern more so out of the two however. Using Thiago and Vidal as the two deeper midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 is a significant reason why there hasn’t been consistent occupation of the central space in the backline when the CB’s split. Thiago works best in between lines or opposition blocks, from the left halfspace and his dropping movements don’t occur so often and can’t be relied upon. Vidal is primarily a box-to-box player and prefers to offer only some movements from within midfield positions, rather than adopting a key central role in build-up. This has seen Bayern’s centre-backs split, only to leave a great space in the centre of the backline which no-one moves into.

43:11 vs. Rostov

In the case of a turnover, Bayern can be extremely exposed in what most would consider the key position to defend. Any quick and efficient counter-attack which focused on central play would most likely make it through this central space as Bayern’s wide CB’s simply wouldn’t be able to recover such a big distance in time to defend. This was evident in Rostov’s first goal in Russia, when Bayern lost 3-2.

Chance Creation…Or Not?

The final third is one area where Pep Guardiola’s team’s have not had issues in creating good situations for themselves, which result in clear chances and lots of goals. Since the Catalan boss’ departure, Bayern’s chance creation has hindered. 

The wide areas are ones where Guardiola place heavy focus on chance creation, as he seen wingers Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery as Bayern’s “unstoppable guys”, alongside bringing in Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman to aid with the quality on either wing. These wingers were often paired with full-backs in situations of numerical superiority, though the wingers were also often given their chance to remain 1v1 on the wing in situations of qualitative superiority. Ancellotti, though at times placing heavy chance creation responsibility on the wingers, seemingly does not trust his wingers in creating good situations for themselves, particularly 1v1, as he often places another player in close support of them in the offensive phase. 

72:57 vs. Rostov

In the above scenario it is clear that Juan Bernat has been instructed to support Ribery high up on the left wing, creating either a 2v1 or 2v2 situation. Ancellotti’s lack of trust in Bayern’s wingers in 1v1’s often leads to slow, predictable situations on the wing, due to the structure and circulation strategy requiring the wingers to be supported, usually by full-backs, before moving onto the wing. These extra seconds spent waiting for a second, or even third, player moving over to support the winger, give the opposition valuable time to shift and prevent an overload, or prepare to defend behind the first defender. 

Conceding only nine goals in sixteen games, an average of less than a goal conceded per game, it is clear that Bayern’s issues do not lie defensively, but instead in the cleanliness and efficiency of their use of the ball. The flaws in their possession game have a knock-on effect on the final third, which also in itself has major decencies, despite possessing such quality individually. Against the deep blocks of a few teams, notably Atletico Madrid and Rostov in the Champions League, Bayern’s attacking game has really been exposed. Goals have frequently came from counter-attacks, which seems to be the only phase where Bayern’s attackers get the freedom of a quick attack without being slowed down by weak tactical instructions. 

Going into the the second half of the season, where Bayern are likely to defend more, with tougher games in these five months than the previous, perhaps Ancellotti’s side will appear stronger, even if not always in full control, as their conceding of space and poor progression is masked by defensive strength and efficient counter-attacks. 

One thing for sure though; Bayern miss Pep and dare we say it, Pep perhaps misses Bavaria.


Bundesliga Transfer Analysis: Sebastian Rode and Mario Gomez

​The awakening of the new football season is nearly upon us “Commuters” of the footballing society and as always, there is a sense of optimism, and scepticism regarding the widely renowned annual transfer window. Considering the wide variety of transfers already completed during the summer of 2016, a minute collection of chosen key transfer deriving from the five preeminent leagues of European football have been carefully selected to be analysed within this series of upcoming articles. The selected signings will be assessed on the following;

– How the signings attributes (talents, tactical tendencies) will benefit their new respective outfits.

– How the player will be deployed within the teams system/formation.

Part 3: Bundesliga

Arguably the beautiful games most tactically astute league, the Bundesliga is the last of the supposedly 5 major European divisions to begin it’s campaign. Though the tactical mastermind that is Pep Guardiola has reignited his tactical revolution through a move to the Premier League, Carlo Ancelotti is a fine replacement. Not to mention the array of transfers which has lit up the footballing world. 

Borussia Dortmund’s business has been highly regarded, with media and supporters alike appreciating the influx of youthful, yet talented acquisitions. Take Raphael Guerreiro for example. A brilliant coup having starred in Portugal’s glorious EURO 2016 campaign, Guerreiro is adept as either a Left Back or Left Winger. One signing perhaps more experienced in comparison with others was the securing of midfielder Sebastian Rode. Captured from title rivals Bayern Munich for €14m, Rode failed to maintain a consistent place within the starting line up of the reigning Bundesliga Champions. Yet Rode will add necessary quality and depth, following Dortmund’s return to the UEFA Champions League. 

In similarity to many other modern defensive midfielders, Sebastian Rode is very comfortable with possession of the ball, and subsequently beholds competency when passing. Able to play diagonal passes, allowing wide players to influence chance creation, Rode is adept at progressing possessional build up, rarely giving possession away in the process (Rode achieved an average passing accuracy of 88% for Bayern Munich during 2015-16). The ability to progress buildup was exemplified during the recent DFL Super Cup final between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich; Rode would drop into the space between respective central defenders (Marc Bartra and Sokratis) to add another passing option. This allowed Rode to continue build up play in a progressive fashion, by carrying the ball from defence into the heart of midfield. Though Borussia Dortmund lost the match 0-2 Thomas Tuchel’s side were superior to the Bavarian giants for large quantities of the game. 

Furthermore, the passing range displayed by Sebastian Rode conveys even further footballing preeminence, in the sense that it exemplifies both tactical awareness and continuity with teammates; Rode’s occupying of central spaces allows observance of wide areas, allowing the opportunity to expand play by simply spraying diagonal passes, which would be met by overlapping runs made by either Full Back, or vertical passes between defensive lines. The directness in Borussia Dortmund’s play will aim to bring the best out of the wide midfielders; Ousmane Dembele and Andre Schurrle for example, are very quick, and will likely utilise their pace to make diagonal runs into the final third. Both Dembele and Schurrle will add extra goalscoring capabilities from midfield areas, and allow Full Backs to overlap therefore creating two possible passing interchanges for Rode.

During possible opposition counter attacks, Rode’s admirable positional awareness would assist in terms of maintaining the structure of Borussia Dortmund’s formation, and the congestion of tight spaces that could be ran into. Space congestion is crucial, as certain areas within the final third can be exposed through diagonal runs, spaces between lines would be essential to impede on vertical passes made into exposed areas closer to goal. Rode displayed deployment of space congestion during the recent Super Cup defeat to former club Bayern Munich; If Bayern Munich retained posssession, Rode would drift into wide areas and the half spaces, congesting space and thus relinquishing two aspects; passing options at Bayern’s disposal and the impact of Thomas Müller, positioned in the Interior role and Inverted Winger Franck Ribery. This itself is a prime example of tactical awareness, as Rode was able to analyse the importance of width regarding Bayern Munich’s new footballing approach; under Carlo Ancelotti, Bayern’s attacking build up is much more flexible and reliant on off ball runs/intricate movement, in sheer contrast from the structured and rather narrow possession orientated build up orchestrated by Pep Guardiola. 

Moreover, Rode is a superb tackler of the ball, which is brought to good effect by great reading of the game. Always willing to win possession at all costs, Rode’s dynamism would add a sense of aggression to Dortmund’s rather composed midfield, though unecessary fouls tend to be completed. 

Though not the most exceedingly versatile of Borussia Dortmund’s midfielders, Sebastian Rode would be adequate within an array of tactical variations. The frequently used formation, 4-2-3-1 is deployed effectively by Thomas Tuchel, orientating the game plan around quick, direct football with flexibility in possession, while counter pressing without possession of the ball. This particular system arguably suits the strengths of Rode, as Rode will be supported by another holding midfielder, functioning coherently as a double pivot. Rode in fact shares many a similarity with fellow holding midfielder Julian Weigl, both midfielders would complement each other well, immersing both similarities and differences


– Both Sebastian Rode and Julian Weigl display composure in possession and possess admirable passing ranges. Diagonal passes and passes made to on running forwards would be played from deep, offering a direct style of build, as well as the more patient, possession orientated buildup.

– Tackling comes naturally to both holding midfielders, bringing solidity and awareness to Dortmund’s space between midfield and defence. A Weigl/Rode double pivot would convey a more defensive approach to Borussia Dortmund’s game plan and off possession movement; a front line press, rather than counter pressing would be deployed, as both Rode and Weigl would aim to maintain structure.

– Both Weigl and Rode like to drop from their midfield positions into defensive areas to act as another passing option to receive the ball so buildup can be progressed; either midfielder after receiving possession would carry the ball back into midfield, attracting pressure before offloading possession into dangerous areas. Rode’s ability to progress possessional build up in defensive areas connotes the possibility of being deployed as an extra Centre Back (within a 3-4-3 formation) Playing as a alternative Centre Back would allow more direct passing options from defence, without having to leave space in midfield, as well as more space in the half spaces for wingers to move in towards, which would subsequently allow more attacking freedom for the Wing backs, with the knowledge that Rode will cover space left exposed (linking to attribute of space congestion).


– Weigl is much greater at outmanoeuvring opposition player with quick deft touches, where as Rode can carry the ball through tight spaces, perhaps this is because Rode possesses greater physiclaity in comparison to Weigl.

– Weigl tends to play passes that are longer in distance as well as effective ground passes.

Though starting ahead of Weigl in both the DFL Super Cup, against Bayern Munich and Dortmund’s first Bundesliga game of the season (Dortmund secured a 2-1 win against Mainz), Weigl is a fan favourite and it would be very surprising to see the 20 year-old as an impact substitute, regardless of his age. It may seem unidentifiable with Tuchel’s style of football if a Weigl-Rode double pivot was to take place, Dortmund’s quick pressing is pivotal, and there would be a supreme lack of pace in midfield area. Perhaps squad rotation may come into place. The double pivot would be much more complacent within the UEFA Champions League, due to extra weariness and protection needed in defensive areas. 

Borussia Dortmund are obviously not the only Bundesliga club to have brought in new additions. Wolfsburg have secured the services of well travelled striker Mario Gomez, who has returned his native Bundesliga, following a season-long spell with Turkish side Beisktas. Gomez’s 28 goals spearheaded a successful title winning campaign and a well deserved return to the pinnacle of European Football. The question is, can Mario Gomez score 20+ goals this time around? 

Firstly, Mario Gomez is a predatory striker, and has showcased great goalscoring capabilities across Europe over the last 9 years; other than an injury hit 2013-14 season with Serie A side Fiorentina, Mario Gomez has achieved double figures in the goalscoring department in every season from 2006-07 onwards, with a career high totaling 41 goals for Bayern Munich (2011-12). The signing of Mario Gomez can be considered  necessary, bringing an aura of confidence along the way, as no Wolfsburg player scored more than 8 goals in the Bundesliga during the 2015-16 campaign.

This collection of highly impressive statistics immersed by Gomez come as a result of the German International’s direct approach; Mario Gomez is an archetype, or classic “9”. This means Gomez rarely drops off the shoulder of the defender, or moves deeper into midfield areas. Though less impact within midfield spaces conveys very little impact within possessional build up, thus arguably regulating the overall quality of the respective teams football, Gomez adds expert finishing qualities that can be put to good use through effective wing play and/or direct counter attacks; Wolfsburg are at their most preeminent when players positioned in Wide areas are productive and effective regarding attacking buildup. Much of threat offers by Wolfsburg comes from the movement and skill of either Winger and Full Back, this was exemplified during both UEFA Champions League group stage encounters against Manchester United. Gomez would enhance the impact of wide players, as Gomez would offer a direct option for when crosses are played into the penalty area. 

A theoretical example of this would be a crossing interchange made by attacking Full Back Ricardo Rodriguez, a previous transfer target of Manchester City, with a teammate making a run in the 12-yard box dragging the marker away to add space and time for the ball to be headed by Gomez. Respectable physique, ability in the air and awareness would allow Gomez to be the fulcrum of Wolfsburg’s attack. Is this a positive or negative aspect? Because Gomez is less likely to drift into midfield, more space would be allocated for either wingers to drift inside, or for the “10” to dictate chance creation and though not necessarily creative, Gomez would allow teammates to make runs into, while attracting pressure from markers.

Would it be possible for Mario Gomez to form a partnership with Julian Draxler? Gomez’s introduction to the German starting XI during the recently finished UEFA European Championships resulted in more convincing performances from the FIFA World Cup Champions, in the sense that German replaced a “False 9” with a traditional striker. This implementation resulted in less space congestion within the “10” space, revitalising the impact of Mesut Özil, who drifted across the centre and half spaces, subsequently maintaining possessional structure. Julian Draxler was a bright spark in a rather conservative European Championships; Draxler’s trickery, guile, directness and continuity with Left Back Jonas Hector brought an extra sense of excitement to the German team, with Draxler performing excellent against Slovakia during the Second Round.

In conclusion, Mario Gomez is likely to feature as a lone striker within a 4-2-3-1 formation, but could function within a balanced strike partnership, with the option to pressurise from the front line. Perhaps the traditional 4-4-2 may be the better option following the overall lack of goals last season and Wolfsburg’s 8th place finish. 

The Potential of Borussia Dortmund Under Thomas Tuchel

After a season of what some would consider relative success, Borussia Dortmund have entered the apparent annual stage where clubs with more money pinch all their best players. Die Schwarzgleben looked as strong as ever in the 2015/16 season and arguably look even stronger than Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund, who consecutively won the Bundesliga title in 2010/11 and 11/12. After what some would consider a disastrous start to the transfer window this summer, the Dortmund board seem to have rectified the situation, leaving Thomas Tuchel in a great position for the coming seasons.

The First Season – A Brief Analysis

After a period of tactical evolution in Bundesliga, with Jurgen Klopp truly turning the high press and the art of counterpressing into a trend in German and European football, the excitable Dortmund manager’s tactics begun to become predictable, stale and easier to beat than ever before. More ‘attractive’ managers such as Pep Guardiola found ways to escape this intense pressing game, such as utilising playmakers into the backline, as well creating a three chain during build-up to offer more stability, alongside other successful ideas. Klopp began to experiment with all sorts of formation, most notably 4-1-3-2 and 3-5-2, though without too much joy. Dortmund’s form worsened, they finished 7th in Bundesliga, and Klopp decided to quit. Along came Thomas Tuchel…

Tuchel, like Klopp, wasn’t afraid to fully implement his ideas, and experiment with different tactics in order to find the right team dynamics. In his opening season Tuchel primarily used a 4-2-3-1 formation, though he has also infrequently experimented with a 3-4-2-1, deploying a double 10 behind the striker. 

Most commonly used by BVB throughout the season, the 4-2-3-1, saw Dortmund play in a very fluid system with free positional play. The back five selection of Burki, Piszczek, Sokratis, Hummels and Schmelzer was pretty consistent, though Ginter and Bender were sometimes in in place of Piszczek and Sokratis. The midfield duo of Weigl and either Gundogan or Castro was the strongest area of BVB last season, with the pairing dictating from deep as well as making some movements into 8 positions excellently. The starting front four remained as Mkhitaryan, Kagawa, Reus and Aubameyang all throughout.

 The 3-4-2-1 formation was a cool experiment at times, particularly the 2-2 draw with Koln on the last day of the Bundesliga calendar, where Aubameyang was tested as right wing-back. This wasn’t the normal selection though. It was as follows;

Bender came in as the right defender of the back three, while Sokratis and Hummels played in the two roles left of him. Durm took over from Piszczek usually, though this was likely down to the 3-4-2-1 being used in games where Tuchel was rotating his side, hence Piszczek getting rest. Castro normally started as 8, with Gundogan on the bench, due to Castro’s greater athleticism to make dynamic vertical movements. Mkhitaryan and Kagawa competed for the role as right 10, while Reus usually played as left false 10, primarily working from the left halfspace. His forward runs supported Aubameyang up front.

The 3-4-2-1 is actually quite similar to the build-up shape which Dortmund move into in their 4-2-3-1, meaning not too much tactical changes would need to be made in training. The fluidity and dynamic positioning Dortmund’s 3-4-2-1 offers is even greater to that of what their 4-2-3-1 does, both with and without possession. 

After a 5-1 thrashing to Bayern early in the Bundesliga season, Tuchel realised he moved need to make alterations to his team next time the sides faced off. He did so very well, by deploying a 5-2-2-1 similar to the attacking 3-4-2-1, but with more defensive solidity. By deploying shape and strongly focusing on quick transitions in their next two games with Bayern, Borussia managed two 0-0 draws, which in both games the team showed they could’ve won the game with just more clinical finishing. These changes by Tuchel, which you can check out in more depth here, highlight how good a manager he is, particularly in tactical and game management terms.

I am aware that I haven’t looked at Borussia Dortmund in the 2015/16 season in too much depth, as that isn’t the purpose of this article. To find out more, check out this team analysis by @TomPayneftbl.

Activity in the Market Leads to Whole New Level of Squad Depth

Losing arguably your two best players before the transfer window has even begun is never a good thing, never mind rumours constantly floating around that three of your other best players were set to depart too. This was Borussia Dortmund’s exact situation. With Mats Hummels and Ilkay Gundogan leaving for Bayern Munich and Manchester City, it was clear that the summer may be a long one for Dortmund. Despite this, spirits within the camp were lifted when Marc Bartra, Sebastien Rode and Emre Mor all signed within the space of a week, as well as the knowledge that Mikel Merino and wonderkid Ousmane Dembele would be joining the squad for new season too. Star of their 15/16 campaign Henrikh Mkhitaryan left for Manchester United, but the money this generated was enough to buy Mario Gotze and Andre Schurrle as replacements. 

Following these transfers, Dortmund’s window appears to be over, bar maybe one or two minor departures which shouldn’t directly affect the first team squad. The window could be considered a success by some, while a failure by others, but one thing is for sure, Dortmund’s squad depth for the upcoming season is ridiculously well covered in all positions.

As their two goalkeeping options, BVB have Roman Burki, who will likely play all league fixtures, and veteran goalie Roman Weindenfeller, who will probably play in cup ties. The options at the right-back spot are Lukasz Piszczek, Erik Durm and Felix Passlack. All offer similar qualities, especially in terms of in possession. Piszczek will remain first choice if BVB play a back four, while his position on the right will be seriously challenged by a number of players if Tuchel goes with a back three. On the right of central defence if a back four is likely to be Sokratis Papastatopoulos or Sven Bender, while in a back three Bender and Sokratis will probably both play, as RCB and CB respectively. New signing Marc Bartra should start as the other centre-back, on the left in either a back three or four. At left-back this term there will be stiff completion, although Marcel Schmelzer is one of the world’s best LB’s, Raphael Guerreiro is an excellent addition and further proved his capability at Euro 2016. An interesting battle.

One of BVB’s best players last term was Julian Weigl. The young German performed expertly in the deep-lying playmaker role, between defence and attacking midfield, and will occupy the same role again this coming season. More interesting though will be who plays in midfield alongside him. Should Tuchel go with a 2-1 or 2-2 midfield again, Gotze will play as 10, while either Castro or Rode will partner Weigl, if it is a 1-2 midfield, then it will be Weigl with Gotze and either Castro or Rode ahead of him. It is hard to predict who will take up the third spot in midfield, though if forced, I would say Castro will start the first few games with Rode making appearances here and then, with Tuchel deciding from there who will be full-time start. Mikel Merino, Moritz Leitner and Felix Passlack should not be forgotten though, and offer good rotation options for games of low significance. Meanwhile, Kagawa and Pulisic will both be working hard in an attempt to compete with Mario Gotze for the position.

As if proving himself in Ligue 1 wasn’t enough, Ousmane Dembele has excelled so far in Dortmund’s friendlies, showing Tuchel he is definitely ready to be the team’s first choice right winger. This will be the case come start of the season. If he fails to do so, there are plenty of options in Emre Mor, Andre Schurrle and Marco Reus to replace him. Jakub Blaszczykowski is currently still with squad and options a versatile option anywhere on the right, but I would expect him to leave before the end of the window. On the left will be Marco Reus. Main striker will be Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, whom Dortmund will be delighted to have kept a hold of this summer.

Tactical Possibilities

As already mentioned earlier in this article, Borussia Dortmund were one of 15/16’s most intriguing sides in terms of tactics. With some players leaving, and Tuchel replacing, yet not directly with a like-for-like, this will only add further dimension to BVB’s tactical game in the future.

One tactical feature which is likely to carry on from last term is the dynamic movement of the deep midfielders during build-up. During the early stages of the season, when Ilkay Gundogan partnered Weigl, there were more variations of dropping movements, though when Gundogan got injured and Castro became Weigl’s new main partner, Weigl was always the one making dropping movements. Weigl would often drop into a position slightly higher than, in the centre of the two centre-backs when a CB was in possession. As this happened, Castro would make a vertical movement away from the ball. If Weigl was blocked by a presser, Castro would then drop again to prevent the CB becoming isolated with no support. This movement pattern has been continued in pre-season friendlies against Manchester United and Manchester City, but with Weigl still on holiday after the Euros, Rode has took over his role as the dropping DM for now.

The usage of the halfspaces has been a prominent component in Tuchel’s strategy at Dortmund. Deploying Henrikh Mkhitaryan in a role off either the right or left of the attacking midfield three, the Armenian has been used to provide connections in the halfspace, making inverted movement from his starting position on the wing. By drifting into the often unoccupied halfspace, while Piszczek/Schmelzer occupy the wing, Aubameyang makes a run in behind to occupy the centre-back, and Shinji Kagawa moves slightly towards the ball to create an overload, this makes it very difficult for the opponent to have defensive access to Mkhitaryan, with him now able to freely connect with either the wing or the centre, the two zones on either side of him.

Above we can see Mkhitaryan and Kagawa using the halfspace to then connect with the Cohen switch to the wing to create a good situation for Hoffman.

The frequent usage of the halfspaces to create connections in advanced positions may be seen far less this season though, and we have had an indication of this in the friendlies against Man United and Man City. Due to often having two more traditional wingers on the pitch at once, this means there will be less halfspace occupation by an inverted movement, a key component in BVB’s connection high up the pitch. 

The only frequent halfspace occupation in advanced positions has been from horizontal movements by the number 10’s in either game, Kagawa and Leitner. This hasn’t be so successful though, as with both United and City using man-orientated defensive approaches, their pivots have often just followed Kagawa and Leitner, making it difficult for them to receive the ball facing the goal and create positive connections vertically. In order to progress up through the stages of possession without reliance on the now less-occupied halfspaces, we have seen more long passes from deep than before. One common pattern is for Dembele to make a vertical movement in behind to occupy the full-back, this often clears the wing and isolates Schmelzer. Rode or Sokratis will often play a high diagonal from the right halfspace. 

Moving into a very widely discussed topic is the formation and team selection which Tuchel will utilise next season. After making a barrel load of changes to the squad, the options for team selection, and for the formation they are set up in are very high. Below are two selections I believe would be ideal for Dortmund to use.

The first is a relatively similar 4-2-3-1 shape which was deployed last season. It would allow for nice midfield rotation with Rode and Götze’s dynamic positioning allowing for occupation of many different horizontal and vertical lines. There is potential to become a number of different shapes, particularly in build-up, due to the variability that their is in all four players on the wings. This is a realistic shape to which Thomas Tuchel will regularly select throughout the season.

Though appearing to be a relatively normal 3-4-3, the variation this would offer in attack would turn this into an extremely unique shape. Despite being left footed, the deployment of Raphael Guerreiro as a right wing-back alongside Ousmane Dembele on the right wing would offer very interesting variability. The double wing occupation would allow the pairing to make movement in accordance to the other, either choosing to offer support in whichever zone they are in, or while the ball is on the wing, moving into the halfspace to isolate and create a 1v1. Despite the exclusion of Reus above, he could easily be brought in to replace Götze or Dembele, as he would be more than capable of carrying out the same role as them.

What’s Next?

After a season and a summer where excellent foundations seem to have been built at Westfalenstadion, Thomas Tuchel will be looking to build on the strong base he has formed. His quick implementation of such complex ideas which not many bar Pep Guardiola can teach in just a season has been extremely impressive. His Dortmund players must, and will continue learning under their coach for as long as he is there to teach them, as what he is building seems to be something special. Despite last season’s point gap of ten, which Tuchel openly stated his disappointment at, last season somehow felt like Dortmund’s strongest season by far, since their most recent Bundesliga win. The progression both individually but most importantly collectively in the 15/16 season was remarkable and a joy to watch for outsiders. 

Though it seems to be have been taken for granted amidst all the other positives at the club in the past year, Borussia’s automatic qualification for 16/17 Champions League is hugely significant for all at the club. With arguably as strong and deep a Borussia Dortmund squad as there ever has been, Tuchel certainly won’t be taking the competition lightly, and is sure to rotate and use the full depth of his squad in a similar fashion to how he did so last term, in order to remain competitive in the prestigious European competition. In domestic terms, despite many claiming the Bundesliga is already a foregone conclusion, no one at Dortmund will be thinking this way, and they are sure to push Ancelotti’s Bayern for as long as they can. 

Bayern 1-0 Man City

After three seasons of mind-boggling, yet genius tactics from Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich the Catalonian coach made the decision to leave Bavaria in search of a new challenge. Guardiola made the switch to the English Premier League, for the first time in his career, while his successor was announced as Carlo Ancelotti midway through December. Many have made somewhat understandable claims that although Ancelloti’s Bayern are unlikely to be as exciting to watch as Guardiola’s, his superior game management and preference of trophies as a measure of success rather than quality of play, will most likely be more successful. In the first match under Pep Guardiola’s tenure at City, he will face off against his old club, Bayern in a tantalising affair which will be the second of Ancelloti’s reign. 

In a 4-3-3 formation which looked not too dissimilar to the one Guardiola commonly used at Bayern, was the Bavarians. With a number of key players still on a break following summer tournaments, Bayern were without a few. Ulreich was in goals in place of the resting Manuel Neuer. Bayern used a back four consisting of Rafinha, Feldhahn, Javi Martinez and Bernat. As 6 was Alonso, Lahm and Alaba played to either side of him in central midfield. Benko played in a wide right role, Green retaining role of centre forward in absence of Lewandowski and Muller, while Ribery played left wing.

Willy Caballero took the goalkeeper role. In front of him a makeshift defence of Maffeo, Adarabioyo, Kolarov and Angelino. The double-pivot was made up of Fernandinho and Fernando. The three pronged attacking midfield was Jesus Navas, Zinchenko and Barker. As 9 was Kelechi Iheanacho.

An Early Coaching Impact – City’s Reconstructed Build-Up Phase

Under Manuel Pellegrini, one of the weakest areas of their play was their build-up. Due to an apparent lack of coaching to the centre-back pairing of Otamendi and Mangala in terms of their fluency in build-up, as well as Fernandinho and Fernando lacking barely any quality in build-up between the two, City very often struggled to penetrate their opponent’s when building from the back. 

City’s passing network by @11tegen11 in the UCL semi-final last season. Shows their worthless U circulation.

Although not on show on the match tonight due to injury, Ikay Gundogan has been signed by City early in the transfer window. Gundogan will instantly improve City’s build-up, as his vertical passing and ball-carrying make him among the best players in the build-up phase in Europe.

Against Bayern however, Guardiola showed off City’s new structure in build-up. Similar to the 3-4-3 build-up structure he has used at previous clubs, it was evident that changes are already being implemented in possession. Man City occupied a 3-3-1-3 which could probably be considered a 3-4-3 if it wasn’t for the significantly staggered positioning of the advancing 6 and Oleksandr Zinchenko. The shape was pretty simple and familiar with Guardiola, though there were a few changes. Dropping in between the centre-backs who would split wide would be either Fernando or Fernandinho. This is the first change. Usually Pep has a single-pivot who is tasked with dropping between their centre-backs when they split wide, to provide stability. The fact that Fernando and Fernandinho alternated the role depending on the situation is something we have rarely seen from a Guardiola midfield. Wide full-backs Maffeo and Angelino advanced forward onto the same line as the non-dropping 6, while Zinchenko positioned himself some metres ahead of them, ideally in between Bayern lines. Navas and Barker occupied the wings in high positions, usually in line with the spearhead of the attack, Iheanacho. This was another differentiation from Pep. Usually at least one of his wide players, either full-backs or wide midfielders/wingers move into their near halfspace, though this didn’t happen, and Pep usually had four players occupying the wings.

The movement into the 3-3-1-3 possessional structure were very smooth and it looking in from the outside, it seems that the initial movements in preparation of building are what Pep has spent the most coaching time on in his first weeks as manager. Despite these fluent movements, expectedly after such a short time, there were flaws in City’s build up. Coming with Fernando and Fernandinho’s lack of technical quality was their lack of movement to create angle to receive the ball while the centre-backs or Caballero had the ball. This made short passes in triangles difficult as City couldn’t create strong structures local to the ball to play out quickly and effectively, while drawing Bayern players out of positions, particularly on the left, where Alaba’s overzealous pressing could’ve been exploited at times.

Pressing Traps and Miscommunicated Orientations

As seemingly every manager in Europe makes the change to 4-4-2 without the ball, Pep Guardiola seems to have followed the trend. 

As Bayern’s centre-backs collected the ball, Zinchenko and Iheanacho lead the City press a front two. Defending in a mid-high block, City’s defence and midfield four used zonal coverage. Without being too tight horizontally, the players maintained a relatively close distance which allowed them to spring into pressing traps in certain areas, these I will speak about later. Zinchenko and Iheanacho used body shape to block Lahm and Alaba out of build-up as much as possible, while opening up a vertical passing-lane, though one City were prepared for.

As the ball-near presser showed the Bayern centre-back the open passing-lane in the halfspace, this was often seen as a good opportunity for Bayern to penetrate with a vertical pass. As the pass was made the ball-near 6 would press the receiver, while the ball-near wide midfield would pinch in, also pressing, while making sure a first time pass out wide wasn’t possible. The ball-near presser would then attempt to drop towards the ball quickly, to block backwards pass and trap them in possession and to make the space even tighter, making it hard to escape. 

Despite this seemingly successful pressing trap, there were flaws, largely down to miscommunication. In order to escape the tight pressing traps, Lahm and Alaba often made dropping movements in their respective halfspaces. Here, Fernando and Fernandinho were far too keen to follow them, and often did, defending in a man-oriented approach while their teammates defended with a passing-lane orientation. This had a clear negative effect on City’s vertical compactness between their back-four and midfield, leaving a ton of space in between their lines. Frank Ribery began to exploit this with inverted movements, first into the halfspace, then even getting closer to the centre as his success grew when infield. From deep in the right halfspace, we often saw Lahm play chipped diagonal balls into the advanced Ribery in the left halfspace. This gave Bayern great success and was probably the reason why Ribery was man of the match.

A Blossoming Partnership?

Starting game as City’s 10 and 9 (admittedly wearing 35 and 72) were Oleksandr Zinechenko and Kelechi Iheanacho, respectively. The pair had relatively dynamic roles where they chose their movements and positioning depending on the situation, rather than a strict positional game.

Zinchenko and Iheanacho made vertical movements both towards and away from the Bayern goal. Though Iheanacho is more of a movement-orientated forwards, he is strongest running in behind on the last line, he made a number of dropping movements in and around Zone 14. This may be a sign of Pep trying to mould him into a more complete forward with more to his game. Zinchenko, played very close to Iheanacho in terms of line heights. As Iheanacho made a dropping movement to into Zone 14, Zinchenko would burst forward with a quick vertical movement to occupy Bayern’s CB’s, this ensured Feldhahn and Javi Martinez didn’t have such an easy time and their defensive line wasn’t always able to be held.

The reactive movements from Zinchenko and Iheanacho were very fluent and with such a small time of training together, they seemed to understand each other very well. Their dynamic positioning and vertical line heights seemed to be glanced at and understood in an instant by each other. Perhaps Pep has begun the start of a promising partnership…


After many seasons of a significant lack of game model, particularly in terms of build-up and transition, Pep Guardiola already seems to be working hard at rectifying two of the most important tactical concepts at Manchester City.

Despite the flaws with build-up, there are definite positives to take. The fact that City’s players have understood the possessional structure and can fluently move into it after such a short time is extremely promising. The technical issues shown from CB’s and particularly DM’s can and most likely will be sorted over the next months. Ikay Gundogan will offer solid qualities in terms of build-up, as well as City having a number of players returning soon, who will also aid this phase.

Although City did lose the match 1-0, Pep Guardiola, as always, will learn a lot from the match. He got glimpses of the qualities, and at times lack of quality from many of his youngsters, which will give him a a relative idea of his plans and strongest starting 11 for the minute. Most importantly for Pep though, he will likely rewatch the game a number of times, analyse tactically, and train where he sees improvements needed.

Celtic 2-1 Wolfsburg

After a nightmare start to his reign at Celtic, with a 1-0 defeat to part-time outfit Lincoln Red Imps, Brendan Rodgers took his place in the Celtic Park dugout for the first time in Saturday’s friendly against Wolfsburg.

Rodgers made five changes to his team from the midweek defeat, bringing in O’Connell, Lustig, McGregor, Armstrong and Roberts in place of Ambrose, Janko, Bitton, Christie and Rogic. These changes were led by a range of factors including injuries sustained, return from injury, some poor performances and perhaps a change of shape.

A new formation?

Through pre-season and in, Rodgers has employed fairly standard versions of 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1, looking to work the players in the squad into a structure. While the players were not unsuitable to the system as such, there was an element of compromise that seemed to cast a shadow over the team, particularly with regards to the role of Leigh Griffiths, and the effect this had on the rest of the squad.

Saturday’s friendly against the German opposition was the first appearance for a new hybrid formation, where the team switched between a 4-4-1-1/4-4-2 while defending and a 3-5-2/3-6-1 in attack. These kind of mixed formations are rather common now in football, with a well known example being Real Madrid who have been known to switch between a defensive 4-4-2, and a 4-3-3 in possession.

This change in shape seemed to be designed around getting the players into their preferred areas of the pitch in possession, leading to a large amount of asymmetry in the team. An example of this would be the differing roles of full-backs Kieran Tierney and Mikael Lustig. While Tierney’s strengths lie in the final third, looking to attack the opposition defence and deliver crosses, Lustig is clearly more comfortable as an auxiliary wide centre back, looking to distribute the ball from deep. Furthermore, in the wide midfield areas, Stuart Armstrong is at his best drifting centrally to link up with his teammates and look to break through the centre of the opposition block, Patrick Roberts excels at beating players in wide areas, before cutting in around the edge of the box. The final positive effect was that it allowed Rodgers to fit both Leigh Griffiths and new signing Moussa Dembele into the side without having to forfeit numerical superiority in central areas, or play Griffiths in an unfamiliar wide position.

Improved positional structure

A common issue Celtic had under Ronny Deila was the issues around the structure of the team in possession of the ball. This was not only an issue in an attacking sense, limiting the team’s ability to effectively circulate the ball and look to progress up the field, but it also left the team vulnerable to counter attacks, arguably the leading cause of Celtic’s defensive issues.

In the early weeks of Brendan Rodgers spell as manager, these problems did not seem to have been improved. Just as under Deila, there were too many players stationed in wide areas, and as a result a severe lack of central presence, particularly in advanced areas of the pitch. However, in the match against Wolfsburg this issue seemed to have been alleviated.

One of the benefits of playing an asymmetrical shape is that it often leads to players taking up a range of positions on different lines of play, creating more passing angles, adding variability to the attack in different areas of the pitch. The benefits of this could be seen in Celtic’s structure during Saturday’s friendly, with almost every player playing on a different line, both horizontally and vertically, creating a serious defensive headache for the opposition. Celtic also played with only one player oriented to each wing, rather than the two we have often seen. The more central positioning of Right Back Lustig, and Left Midfielder Armstrong created a more structurally sound shape for Celtic to both exploit(in attack) and protect(in defence) the more valuable centre and half spaces.

“Packing”, McGregor and Eoghan O’Connell

A new statistical measure has arisen in Germany, known as the “packing-rate”. The inspiration behind the metric was that two players from the German Bundesliga (both defensive midfielders) felt their contribution was being overlooked in the game, and there was no quantitative way of showing the importance of what they did. The concept is that each action(pass, dribble etc.) is measured on the number of opponents that it “beats”, so as a simple example a direct ball from the goalkeeper to a striker in behind the opposition defence would score 10, as it beats 10 players, whereas a simple 10 yard horizontal pass from one centre back to another, would likely score 10.

The strength of this metric is that it measures the “quality” or purposefulness of an action, rather than treating all as equal in the way that pass completion% does. Packing-rate also has clear value, with a strong correlation between teams who score highly on the metric winning the game.

After last week’s defeat in Gibraltar, I raised the issue of the Celtic midfield, particularly Scott Brown and Nir Bitton, being culpable of playing too many sidewards passes, and simply moving the passing the ball around in front of the Lincoln midfield. Rarely did they cause the opposition block any problems, and this was a key factor in Celtic creating very little in the way of chances.


If you were to attempt to quantify the contribution of Brown and Bitton’s passing, their Pass Completion% would be in all likelihood very good, but their packing-rate would be awful, simply because they play safe passes, which neither concede possession to the opposition, nor cause them any danger.

Unlike Brown & Bitton, a Celtic player who would rate highly through Packing would be Callum McGregor. A product of the Celtic academy, McGregor consistently poses a threat to the opposition from a deep lying midfield role, through not only his penetrative passing, but also his combination play, dribbling ability, resistance to pressing and his understanding of how to move into dangerous areas behind opposition lines to receive passes. While a player such as Brown or Bitton may have more to offer defensively, in matches where Celtic face a deep block, and the main focus of the match is breaking down that block, McGregor is a far more useful player.

In the aftermath of last weeks match, I spoke about the need Celtic had for a centre back with strong ball-playing capabilities on the left side, during this chat with Harry Brady from celticunderground.net. While Celtic have some very capable centre backs, particularly Erik Sviatchenko, who has become something of a stalwart since his January arrival, none of the options at hand were confident playing out from the back on the left side of the pitch.

The weekend’s friendly was perhaps the stage where Brendan Rodgers found that the solution to this problem was already at the club, in the form of 20 year old Eoghan O’Connell. After some impressive performances during pre season, O’Connell was a standout against Wolfsburg, particularly before his partner Sviatchenko went off with an injury, putting in what was probably the best display of distribution from a Celtic defender since Virgil Van Dijk left the club.

O’Connell continually found passes into the midfield, not only seeing the passes, but executing them with excellent timing and precision. While there was not much in the way of defending for O’Connell, if he can do so with relative quality, he may be able to retain his place in the team for a long time.

Eoghan O’Connell plays an excellent pass (that would score 7 on the packing metric) to, you guessed it, Callum McGregor


After the dissapointment in Gibraltar, Celtic fans will have much more to be pleased about on the back of saturday’s friendly. The impressive new shape and impressive individual performances of O’Connell, McGregor, Armstrong and Roberts will provide much more optimism ahead of the 2nd leg.

Weakened Spurs Suffer at the Hands of Vertically-Orientated Dortmund

Borussia Dortmund-Tottenham promises to be an extremely exciting affair in many different ways, one in particular which I will be analysing, is the tactical side of the meeting. Tuchel-Pochettino has potential to be one of the most exciting tactical battles of the 21st century, especially considering the youthfulness (in terms of age in management) of the two coaches. 

Tuchel’s Dortmund side have hugely impressed in Bundesliga this season, and lie just five points off league leaders Bayern Munich, which would be by no means an embarrassing deficit for BVB. Dortmund go into the first leg with a fully fit first-team squad bar Sokratis Papastatopoulos on the back of an impressive 0-0 draw against Bayern which could have went either way. With Spurs key defensive midfielder Eric Dier likely to be absent, one area Dortmund may find some joy in could be Zone 14 where Kagawa and drifting movements from Mkhitaryan and Gundogan may find space.

Tottenham don’t have the same availability of squad players as BVB do for the first leg. Key players Dele Alli and Jan Vertonghen will definitely miss out through injury and suspension while back-up striker Clinton N’Jie will also not be available. Other queries include Danny Rose and Eric Dier, who are both struggling for fitness following the weekend’s North London Derby clash with Arsenal. Argentine manager Mauricio Pochettino has conceded that his players are going through a fatiguing period, especially considering the club are currently challenging for both the Europa League and Premier League titles. Nonetheless, Spurs have depth in their squad to fill gaps, although the lack of a pivot with same intelligence as Dier may be harmful to them in the first leg.


Borussia Dortmund’s shape altered between 3-5-2, 4-3-3 and even other ‘telephone numbers’ throughout the different phases which I will look at later in the analysis. Europa League goalkeeper Roman Weindefeller took his place in goals. The defence was made up of Piszczek, Bender, Hummels and Schmelzer, who played as a wing-back. Weigl played as pivot, while Mkhitaryan and Castro played as 8’s ahead of him. On the right flank was Erik Durm. Up front was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Marco Reus, Reus making drifting movements towards the left wing.

With injuries/suspensions expected to force Tottenham into starting with a slightly weakened side, this was certainly the case, but even more so than expected. Pochettino rested key players such as Dembele, Lamela and Kane who dropped to the bench, while neither of Dier and Rose made the squad due to fitness issues. Lloris was in goals. Trippier, Alderweireld, Wimmer and Davies made a relatively strong back-four. In midfield and attack was where Spurs looked weaker. Mason and Carroll made up a double-pivot. On the right of the attacking midfield trio was 18 year-old Josh Onomah, as 10 was Eriksen and on the left Heung-Min Son. As already mentioned, Harry Kane was given a rest which meant Nacer Chadli started as striker.


Change Defensive Structure Has it’s Flaws

So far this season, Pochettino’s Tottenham have mostly pressed high up the pitch in a 4-2-3-1 shape but tonight, probably due to changes in personnel, Spurs pressed in a 4-3-3 formation.

This change in shape was probably designed by coach Pochettino in a bid to prevent Dortmund having an overload when in deep build-up. On paper it seemed a viable approach as it would allow Son, Eriksen and Chadli to press high, as well as giving them the option of forcing them to build-up close to the touchline with Eriksen marking Weigl and Son and Chadli using body shape to force Piszczek and Hummels towards the touchline. 

In Dortmund’s build-up, Spurs adopted a man-orientated defensive approach which seemed logical considering the shapes matched up well. From the front, Son pressed Piszczek and Chadli pressed Hummels, while Eriksen dictated the angle of the press by choosing to either mark Weigl or to press Bender. This left Josh Onomah free to drop in line with Mason and Carroll. While Mason and Carroll marked Castro and Mkhitaryan, Onomah was left free to rush out the midfield three to press Schmelzer if Schmelzer received the ball behind Spurs initial press. 

Despite Tottenham’s man-orientated approach during BVB’s build-up seeming an intelligent move, as it would perhaps nullify the impact of Dortmund’s pressing-resistant deep players in build-up, this wasn’t so much the case. The resistance of Hummels, Bender and Weigl allowed Borussia to escape Spurs initial press by Son, Eriksen and Chadli, who are all good pressers, and find space in behind the front three. After Spurs initial press was beaten, Onomah and Davies were then usually the next layer of pressing, as Dortmund normally moved the ball towards Durm or Schmelzer in the next stage of their build-up. This was where problems began to arise for Spurs. Due to Piszczek playing as hybrid between a RCB and a RB, he frequently made forward movements as the ball moved towards his wing, as the Polish full-back moved forward, this pushed Durm even high up the pitch. This often meant Dortmund had an overload on the right as Son would be caught high up the pitch after pressing and unable to support Davies defensively for quite a few moments. 

At half-time Mauricio Pochettino altered Spurs defensive system, rather than pressing high up the field with a front three, Tottenham moved into a flat midfield five. This meant a couple of changes. Chadli swapped positions with Son, while Eriksen dropped to either the right or left of the central midfielder, depending on positioning of himself, Mason and Carroll. This formation provided far better support defensively for Trippier and Davies, as well as providing Spurs with an easier transition as Eriksen was the only player who really had to cover too much ground to get into his defensive position. 

Spurs 4-5-1 after half-time

In the 58th minute, Pochettino made further alterations to his side’s defensive system. The introduction of Moussa Dembele for Chadli meant Eriksen moving out to the left, with Dembele taking the position of Eriksen but with a slight change of role. Due to BVB’s 6 Weigl dominating possession with excellent circulation, Dembele was instructed to break the midfield chain of three by rushing out of position to press the the pivot.

Vertical Movement Causes Chaos

One element of Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund which has been analysed and improved upon by Thomas Tuchel is the running done by BVB’s players. Klopp’s Dortmund were known for pressing extremely intensely with lots of running covering tons of kilometres. This running has been built upon by new manager Tuchel, who has adopted a more mental-orientated approach with more intelligent transitions and defensive systems focusing on astute positioning while making the most of players such as Aubameyang, Castro and Reus’ powerful and quick running but circulating the ball in a more controlling approach to combine the strengths of both himself and his players.

A very impressive example of Tuchel combining intelligence with physical qualities on a football pitch is the use of, and goalscoring exploits of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang this season. Last season under Klopp, Aubameyang managed an impressive 25 goals in 46 games for Dortmund. Under Klopp, Dortmund made full use of Aubameyang’s speed by playing lots of balls in behind the opposition defence. The Gabonese forward was even used as a right-winger as to make full use of his pace. This season though, Aubameyang has been even more brilliant, in both general play as well as his goalscoring form. Tuchel has helped Auba evolve his game and become a more intelligent striker who made intelligent runs, rather than always relying on pace to get into a goalscoring position. With this evolution, Aubameyang has managed a wonderful 32 goals in 35 games this season. 

In this particular game, Aubameyang and his strike partner Reus, showed great intelligence to exploit the spaces in between Tottenham’s full-back and centre-back on both side. With players such as Hummels, Mkhitaryan and Weigl on their side, all players who can break lines well, these are perfect runs to make. Below is an example of Marco Reus running onto one of these passes by Mats Hummels.

 Another player for BVB who combined physical attributes with intelligent running was Gonzalo Castro. Due to lacking the skillset to play as a deep midfielder with a key role in the build-up phase, Castro often shuttled out of the build-up from his 8 position in between Spurs lines. Although he was unlikely to receive the ball here, it did have a positive impact on BVB’s build-up. The first thing Castro’s movement did was create more space for pivot Julian Weigl. Although Weigl is excellent under pressure, as any player is, he is more effective when he has time and space to play in. Another impact Castro’s movement had was the disruption it had on Spurs shaped. Due to Reus and Aubameyang always occupying Alderweireld and Wimmer during BVB’s build-up, this meant if anyone was to move into the 10 space neither of the two would be able to step forward to mark, meaning Carroll or Mason would have to track them, meaning they were often leaving the midfield three with a gap. 

Spurs Struggle in Unsung Hero’s Absence

As already mentioned, Mauricio Pochettino started the game with a pretty weak side in comparison the Borussia Dortmund team Thomas Tuchel lined-up with. Most probably down to a fitness issue, pivot Eric Dier was left at home. So far this season Dier has been a key figure for Spurs and has established himself as one of the best number 6’s in the Premier League. His conversion from centre-half to pivot has been an impressive one, and in the few games Dier has missed, Tottenham have looked considerably weaker, particularly without the ball. 

One issue which I have already touched upon, is the poor positional intelligence in defence which Tom Carroll and Ryan Mason have, compared to Dier at least. Gonzalo Castro’s movements towards the 10 space seriously disrupted Tottenham’s defensive shape as Carroll/Mason often followed the German midfielder into areas they didn’t need to track him into. Often they would find themselves marking Castro in a space between their own full-back and centre-back, which really wasn’t ideal as it left a large gap in their shape, which is extremely dangerous as Dortmund have players such as Hummels, Weig and Mkhitaryan who can break lines very well, even without a large gap to do it through!

A second problem which Tottenham encountered directly through the absence of Eric Dier was unsmooth circulation. So far this season Spurs have arguably been the best team to watch in the Premier League. This has largely been down to their effectiveness in possession. Against Dortmund however, this was not the case as their trusted pivot Dier wasn’t in place to aid with rapid circulation. Ryan Mason often found himself in Dier’s usual role in possession and although he attempted to provide stability as well as a passing option in circulation, his positional play was really poor at times and forced Spurs into playing pointless horizontal passes from halfspace to wing due to not having an outlet in the 6 position.

Situation at 52:00

Where Mason should have been positioned to allow quick circulation


A rather strange team selection by Mauricio Pochettino saw Borussia Dortmund dominate the match for the full 90 minutes with some effective vertical passing from deep.

Pochettino’s selection seemed strange considering Spurs are playing bottom-placed Aston Villa at the weekend, meaning rest was overly necessary for players such as Kane, Dembele and Lamela. A possible explanation for the starting 11 would be that now that Pochettino has guaranteed Champions League qualification for Spurs next season, he isn’t focusing on winning the Europa League to get into the main European competition next season but instead, solely focusing on winning the Premier League title now.

Tuchel Changes Shape as Dortmund Dominate

One team which haven’t managed to match their terrific league form in Europe are Borussia Dortmund. Thomas Tuchel’s side have been in wonderful form in the Bundesliga this season, not suffering any major blips apart from the 5-1 loss to Bayern Munich in the opening weeks of the campaign. This form hasn’t been mirrored in the Europa League however, with the German’s struggling in both the group matches against Krasnodar and PAOK, luckily qualifying by three points due to PAOK’s inability to beat minnows Gabala in either match. Despite the blunt Europa League performances, it will be a huge positive for Dortmund to see their progression from the massively disappointing 2014/15 season.

Porto on the other hand, don’t seem to have made massive progression this season, even going through a change of managers recently, seeing Julian Lopetegui replaced by Jose Peseiro, who Porto hope will solidify them defensively, an area Lopetegui struggled to take care of when in charge. Defending may be one thing that Porto will have to do in this first leg, to keep themselves in the tie ahead of the home leg.

Due to Weindefeller being out with the flu, he missed out on his turn in goal as ‘cup goalie’. This meant Roman Burki retained his place. At right-back was Piszcek. Sokratis and Hummels were the centre-backs, although Hummels ventured into left-back positions when BVB were in possession. Schmelzer played a left wing-back. In midfield was a double-pivot of Weigl and Sahin. On the right-wing was Mkhitaryan, although he often swapped positions with 10 Shinji Kagawa. On the left Marco Reus and as striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Porto lined-up as follows; Casillas in goals, in front of him a makeshift back-four of Silvestre Varela, Martins Indi, Layun and Jose Angel. The double-pivot was Ruben Neves and Oliveira. The three attacking-midfielders was Marega, Hector Herrera and Brahimi. Up top Aboubakar. 
Innovative Shape in Build-Up Phase

One area of Dortmund’s play which has improved massively since the appointment of Thomas Tuchel’s is their positional structure in possession. Tuchel has experimented with a number of shapes during the build-up phase, most notably a 3-4-3 similar to Pep Guardiola’s Barca shape, tonight we saw Dortmund use an even more interesting shape in the build-up phase, a 3-2-5. 

It is evident that Sahin and Weigl are key in the formation during the build-up phase for a number of reasons. 

Firstly, they must fulfill the standard duties of central-midfielders, to support the building of attacks from the centre of the pitch and deep in the halfspaces. In order to create, Sahin made dropping movements into the left halfspaces, moving away from midfield partner Julian Weigl, while doing this however, the Turk was careful not to block the lane from the defence to Weigl, as he is a key component in the build-up phase. Sahin also had to open lanes from the defence to Mkhitaryan/Kagawa(whoever was playing as 10 at the time) as if Porto’s lines were broken a 1v1 situation against either of the defensively uncertain Martins Indi or Layun would be a dangerous situation , this being another reason for the dropping movements into the left halfspace. In order to open the lanes, Sahin often had to play short and simple combination passes with the centre-backs to drag Herrera and Aboubakar out of position as these two would often attempt to prevent Porto access to Zone 14.

 As well as supporting the team in moving the ball forward, Sahin and Weigl also had to provide balance for teammates moving into advanced areas. Another purpose of Sahin’s dropping movements deep into the left halfspace was to cover for Hummels and Schmelzer, who would move into positions where they were able to support play in the final third. 

We can see here that Sahin has dropped into the left halfspace to provide cover for Hummels

Weigl also had to remain in a balanced position as if Piszcek ventured down the wing slightly, to support Mkhitaryan/Kagawa, Weigl would have to move over to nullify the threat of a Porto counter-attack down Dortmund’s right.

One positive of the 3-2-5 was the huge number of overloads it created in different areas of the field. Perhaps the key overload was in the first line where Sokratis, Piszcek/Hummels and the ball-near midfielder of Sahin/Weigl had an overload over Porto’s two pressers Herrera and Aboubakar. This allowed Dortmund to dominate the ball in their own half as they always had at least a 3v2, meaning they always looked stable in possession in their own half. Other overloads were the left wing/halfspace where Reus and Schmelzer had qualitative superiority over Varela and Marega and sometimes even a numerical advantage when Marega was out of position, also the right halfspace where Kagawa and Mkhitaryan often had a 2v1 over a lone defensive midfielder while Aubameyang occupied the nearest centre-back to prevent him from supporting the defensive midfielder. Lastly the big one, five attackers versus Porto’s four defenders. This was an important overload as with Porto’s defensively poor backline, Dortmund were able to create lots of chance from all across the final third.

Accessing Zone 14

(Note: If you are unsure of the definition of Zone 14 give this a quick read before reading this subheading, as it may be a little confusing:  http://leochanperformanceanalysis.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/what-is-zone-14-in-football.html  it’s a pretty simple tactical theory, just a necessary one to understand in my opinion)

As we have already spoken about in the previous subheading, Dortmund had a numerical superiority in their five attackers over Porto’s four defenders. Porto obviously couldn’t just ignore the problem, meaning Marega and Brahimi had to put in a shift defensively to support their respective full-backs. This in itself caused Porto some problems though, as it meant Marega and Brahimi were often defending near the touchline, therefore leaving space in the centre and halfspaces as well as improving Dortmund’s access to Zone 14 due to opening up passing lanes for Kagawa/Mkhitaryan.

With Porto’s wingers being forced to defend mostly on the wings rather than the halfspaces, this obviously had a negative impact on their horizontal compactness, this leaving the double-pivot of Neves and Oliveira exposed. Despite not enjoying an exceptional period in his second spell at Dortmund, Shinji Kagawa has demonstrated his intelligence on a football pitch under a manager who appreciates this attribute greatly. Tonight his movement was excellent and caused Neves and Oliveira big problems. Due to Sahin and Weigl intelligent movement’s to open up passing lanes from defence to Zone 14, this allowed Kagawa to get on the ball a lot. In order to stretch Porto’s midfield further than they’d like, Kagawa often moved into the halfspaces to force the double-pivot to cover a lot of ground, dragging them out of position. This movement was improved further by the intelligence of Mkhitaryan’s positioning. The Armenian often moved into Zone 14 to force not just one pivot to defend Kagawa but both were required to defend Kagawa and Mkhitaryan, who had moved alongside the Japanese playmaker. 

Lack of Threat on the Counter

When a team is dominated into he way Porto were against Dortmund, it is important to have a clear game plan to either shut up shop by ‘parking the bus’ and simply defending what you have with no intention of attacking, or defending in a deep, compact block and attempt to hit your opposition on the counter-attack as often as possible. It seemed as if Porto were caught in two minds with this one, as manager Jose Peseiro seemed to want his side to be a bit more positive and counter-attack Dortmund more, by leaving Brahimi in a slightly more advanced position to prepare for a counter, while his side seemed to have no choice but to defend very deep, as they simply had no way of escaping Dortmund’s constant waves of attack.

One player who caused his side problems was Vincent Aboubakar. A player who seems to work in patches of form has been branded one of the most inconsistent strikers around. Aboubakar showed so much promise in his first season or two in professional European football but recently his potential seems to have wavered and the big Cameroonian hasn’t been a massive positive recently for Porto. Tonight was no different as his work rate was poor, particularly at key moments. When you have pace, strength and good finishing, three key weapons on the counter-attack, it is important to make use of these when an opportunity for a counter comes by putting yourself in a good position to receive the ball. Aboubakar didn’t fulfil this and often stood lazily next to Sokratis(the most uninvolved outfield player for BVB)when his team defended in the last third, rather than moving closer to the defence or moving slightly wider to prepare for a lucky clearance which may reach him. 


A totally dominant performance from Borussia Dortmund ended in a scoreline which may actually flatter opponents FC Porto. If Dortmund had managed to find Aubameyang in the box more, rather than less clinical finishers such as Kagawa, the deficit may have been far high than just two. A 2-0 lead certainly puts BVB a in pole position to qualify for the last 16 of the Europa League but if Porto are to hit the ground running in the second leg, they may find themselves back in the tie.