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With just over a third of the Bundesliga season completed, Borussia Dortmund beat Mainz at the Opel Arena to win their ninth game of the season. Both teams had the joint-second best defence in the league coming into this fixture which meant that it was always going to be a tough duel for both sides. More so because Mainz, coached by Sandro Schwarz, approached this game knowing that their strongest asset was the team’s ability to contain opponent attacks for long periods. So it was all on Lucien Favre to figure out a way for his side to break down one of the Bundesliga’s sturdiest defences.
The end result was a 2-1 victory in favour of Dortmund thanks to a brilliant curling shot by Lukas Piszczek. Although it wasn’t the most entertaining game to watch, Dortmund stuck to their playing principles throughout the game and they took advantage of the opportunities they had.
Mainz(5-3-2): Zentner; Brosiniki, Bell, Hack, Niakhate, Martin; Gbamin, Kunde, Latza; Mateta, Quaison.
Borussia Dortmund(4-2-3-1): Burki; Piszczek, Akanji, Zagadou, Hakimi; Delaney, Witsel; Sancho, Reus, Bruun Larsen; Gotze.
Mainz Control Crucial Defensive Zones
The hosts lined up in a 5-3-2 structure that looked to deny Dortmund access into crucial attacking zones, and deny them they did. Their approach was highly conservative and they looked to get all of their players behind the ball whilst defending, which made the task of penetration extremely difficult for Dortmund.
The hosts pressed high when they had access to the ball situationally. However, the majority of the time, they were organized in a mid-block structure in midfield, retreating until they regained access to the ball. This allowed Dortmund time and space to build-up play and carefully structure their attacks but they found it tough to break through the inner channels despite the use of their full-backs, whilst circulating the ball in midfield.
The forwards were continually on the move, rotating positions but struggled to create space because Mainz’s midfield and defence worked so hard to close the space in between their respective lines. Similar to the way Atletico defended in the Champions League, Mainz focused on diverting Dortmund into wide areas and closing the inner channels by getting the whole team to defend in deep areas. Larsen, Sancho, Reus and Gotze were all active throughout the first half but were unable to have a significant impact on the game because of the lack of space in attacking zones in the final third.
The Need For A Positional Breakdown
Lucien Favre’s use of Gotze as the lone forward probably meant that he understood the challenge Mainz presented before kick-off. Gotze and Reus were tasked with pinning the 3 centre-backs during build-up (Reus, however, did occasionally drop into midfield to help dictate play). Unfortunately, the rotations in front of the backline to receive the ball, combine and continue attacks were really hard to perform. Firstly, because the three central midfielders acted as a screen to prevent any vertical balls being played through the channels. Even when Dortmund did sneak a pass in behind the midfield line, there were too many Mainz players in the centre which made space incredibly hard to find.
Secondly, the width provided by Hakimi and Piszczek (which triggered pressing from Mainz’s wingback’s) was generally used as a trap by Mainz. The obvious nature of Dortmund’s build-up made it quite simple for the hosts to predict their passing patterns and dictate their visitors accordingly.
One weakness that Mainz did have, however, is that their deep, conservative defending was always prone to conceding space at some point in the game. Dortmund absolutely stuck to their principles of controlling possession continuously circulating the ball to create gaps in the opponents’ defence. The lack of pressure on Dortmund’s backline and at times their midfield allowed Dortmund to establish possession in advanced areas, despite being unable to break down such a compact defence. Mainz were bound to make a mistake.
In the 79th minute with the score deadlocked at 1-all, Dortmund finally managed to breakdown Mainz’s defence. Their first goal came from a brilliant counter-attack. The second came after Mainz failed to apply any pressure while they circulated the ball near the final third.
Established possession in advanced midfield, occupation within Mainz’s defensive block and width provided by the full-back. Dortmund retained their principles and it eventually paid off after Mainz failed to prevent Dortmund from entering the exact zone that they shouldn’t have exposed. It was yet another high-quality chance that Dortmund created through patient and principled play, leading them to yet another win allowing them to retain their unbeaten run.
Despite the question marks over Dortmund’s performances in relation to winning the Bundesliga, this match definitely proved a point. That’s not to say that they will win it. However, with their most obvious challengers sitting on a goal difference of only +6, this side have the best chance of winning the league since 2012.
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