The Hard Tackle takes a tactical deep dive into Borussia Dortmund’s narrow 2-1 win over Borussia Monchengladbach in the Bundesliga on Saturday.
Borussia Dortmund maintain their stellar form against Borussia Monchengladbach by securing yet another win at the Borussia Park on Saturday. The win helped them continue their push for the league title, with the Black and Yellows now second in the table, thanks to RB Leipzig’s draw with VfL Wolfsburg.
Meanwhile, here, at The Hard Tackle, we will look into Dortmund’s narrow victory over Gladbach from a tactical standpoint before the Bundesliga giants go out to face PSG in midweek.
Both the teams were without their respective stars going forward. Jadon Sancho was left on the bench for Dortmund presumably due to the Champions League game on Wednesday while Marcus Thuram’s knock meant he had to start on the bench as well.
Surprisingly though, the Foals shifted into a three-man backline in order to mirror Dortmund’s 3-4-3. But, they eventually ran into a host of problems that ultimately left Marco Rose ruing the decision later in the game.
For Dortmund, Marco Reus and Thomas Delaney were also missing, though they were blessed with the return of Erling Haaland.
A formidable Dortmund backline
One of the main problems Gladbach faced, especially when it came to breaching the lines of the opposition, is the presence of a rather disciplined Dortmund backline.
Indeed, the defensive trifecta of Mats Hummels, Lukasz Piszczek and Dan-Axel Zagadou looked pretty composed for the majority of the game, which is quite surprising given their inconsistencies throughout the season.
6/7 aerials won
— BVBstatistics (@BVBstat) March 7, 2020
Alassane Plea, in particular, got heavily isolated due to lack of support as the duo in behind him in Lars Stindl and Jonas Hofmann were often pinned down as well. Hummels was the architect, in this regard, having made more interceptions (four) than anyone else on the pitch.
With Gladbach failing to utilise long-balls, Hummels made use of his aggression and intelligence to cut off several forward passes, thus nullifying Gladbach counter-attacks. His aerial prowess was also significant in silencing the opposition from set-pieces, even though they did look threatening whenever they received a corner.
Emre Can & Axel Witsel
One of the biggest advantages when playing a three-man backline is that it offers numerical superiority in midfield. And the addition of this entity in the middle of the park often improves ball-retention and possession-game, in general.
But, despite mirroring Dortmund’s 3-4-3, the midfield was another area Gladbach completely lost out. This is mainly due to the presence of Axel Witsel and Emre Can. These two offered something most Dortmund midfielders haven’t been able, over the past five-six years – strength and reliability.
Indeed. Can’s arrival has served as a boon for the club. He has the aggression as well as the physical prowess that makes him an intimidating figure in central midfield. It was certainly felt by the Gladbach duo of Christoph Kramer and Florian Neuhaus while key midfielder Denis Zakaria was playing in defence.
Lucien Favre, in that regard, receives a lot of credit for sticking with Can and not deploying Brandt in central midfield despite his early successes.
The Sancho effect
While Gladbach certainly failed to live up to the expectations, the Dortmund attack wasn’t having a great time either. In fact, the Black and Yellows looked quite ineffective for a large period of the game.
Haaland was arguably having his worst Bundesliga night while Julian Brandt failed to make any impact either, despite appearing in a more advanced role. Thorgan Hazard was doing well, especially as far as his work-rate was concerned.
And then came Jadon Sancho, replacing Brandt, in the 66th minute. It changed the complexion of the game pretty quickly.
15 – Jadon Sancho has now assisted 15 goals in the Bundesliga this season, a new personal record. The only other @BlackYellow player to assist as many goals in a single #Bundesliga season was Henrikh Mkhitaryan 2015/16 (15). Artist. #BMGBVB pic.twitter.com/CiAWQ3bvAB
— OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) March 7, 2020
Unlike the ex-Bayer Leverkusen starlet, Sancho started operating in a more central role. It helped him become more involved in the proceedings and his combination play with the likes of Can, Hazard and Achraf Hakimi was just wonderful.
The English international ended up registering an assist for the winner while hitting the bar once, in what would have been a sensational goal.
Despite Borussia Dortmund appearing as the better side throughout the course of the ninety minutes, it was the hosts who racked up a significant higher xG score of 2.61.
— BVBstatistics (@BVBstat) March 7, 2020
Much of it should be attributed to Breel Embolo’s dreadful miss in the second half after substitute Thuram had initially served him up on a platter with an excellent run down the right flank. The Swiss international’s effort went out just wide.
And in what could have easily helped Gladbach equalise the score once again, the Foals will certainly be ruing their missed chances. It should also be noticed how BVB’s xG rating improved following the introduction of Sancho, which truly highlights the importance of the ex-Man City youngster to this team.