The Bundesliga is back! Borussia Dortmund’s opening fixture will see them take on RB Leipzig at home this Sunday. After a promising pre-season and an edgy comeback in the DFB Pokal, Dortmund come into the game as slight favourites. Leipzig, now coached by the legendary Ralf Ragnick also won their DFB Pokal fixture, by coming back from a goal down to win 3-1. The two teams are quite distinguishable from each other tactically and this will make for a fascinating matchup come Sunday. Below I’ll take a look at where Dortmund can exploit their rivals and where they can prevent being exploited themselves.
Borussia Dortmund (4-2-3-1): Burki; Pizcszcek, Akanji, Diallo, Schmelzer; Witsel, Dahoud; Pulisic, Gotze, Reus; Phillip
RB Leipzig (4-2-2-2): Gulacsi; Laimer, Mukiele, Upamecano, Klostermann; Ilsanker, Demme; Bruma, Forsberg; Augustin, Poulsen
After analyzing both team’s DFB Pokal wins (Dortmund 2-1 Greuther Furth, RB Leipzig 3-1 Viktoria Koln), Sunday’s game will most likely start very conservatively. Lucien Favre doesn’t like to concede too much space in midfield and he prefers the team to be patient in possession whilst looking for open gaps to exploit. During the build-up, we will likely see Leipzig defending in a 4-4-2 block in deep midfield. What’s interesting here is that Dortmund normally use wide areas to combine and progress, while Leipzig force opponents wide, before squeezing. It is in the wide areas where Dortmund’s build-up will be proven successful or not.
The key to their success is to use their horizontal backline passing as effectively as possible in order to create spaces down wide areas. Once the ball is played out wide, it’ll be down to the speed of Dortmund’s combinations which will see them make progress or not. The depth of the runs the attacking players make will also be key. In the pursuit of safe build-up play, the players might choose to remain close to each other to maintain possession. Unfortunately this has the negative effect of making it easier for the opposition to press the players close to the ball. Reus, Pulisic, Phillip and fullbacks Schmelzer and Piszczeck will have to be as adventurous as possible if they’re to stretch Leipzig’s defence.
In transition, Dortmund will also have the opportunity to create chances as leipzig’s fullbacks tend to venture quite high during attacks. In a 4-2-2-2, there will be large open spaces at the back. If Dortmund can bypass Leipzig’s vicious counter-press, then they’ll surely have a chance of exploiting those gaps at the back.
RB Leipzig’s approach:
Leipzig in possession are much more direct than their opponents. They use horizontal passes along their backline to open up vertical spaces in between the oppositions defensive block. Once a gap opens up, vertical passes are played at high-speed into the feet of a player positioned within the block. From there the players look to combine and progress or play passes to the full backs out wide, which also allows them to progress. Once they arrive in advanced areas, the aim is to create distance between the oppositions wide players and central players in order to exploit the gaps in the half-spaces. It must be noted that Leipzig are VERY effective at doing this through the use of their well-timed runs, and inverted positioning of Bruma and Forsberg. They believe that crosses from the half-space are generally more valuable than crosses from out wide, which are easier to defend.
To counter-this approach Dortmund will need to create as many defensive overloads as possible, especially in wide areas. Pulisic and Reus will be expected to drop deep during Leipzig’s build-up and defend the wide zones. Alternatively, remaining in advanced areas will prevent Leipzig’s fullbacks from attacking freely, which will weaken them in attack. Against Vikoria Koln, Leipzig struggled to create chances in the half-space as the hosts defended in a 4-5-1 mid-block. This allowed Koln to congest central areas and overload Leipzig out wide.
In the 2ndhalf, Ragnick adjusted their shape to a 4-3-3 with Augustin moving to the right wing and brought on Kevin Kampl in the place of Ilsanker. This gave them an extra player in attacking midfield and allowed them to switch the point of attack very easily. Secondly, they were able to combine more effectively because of their numerical advantage and helped them counter-press more effectively too.
Another potential danger is that Leipzig also use aerial passes if their player spot gaps and this could cause a few problems. Manuel Akanji and Abdou Diallo will have to be at their best to negate the threat of Youssuf Poulsen as a target. He is very good at flicking on passes and holding up play before distributing the ball to players around him.
Against Dortmund, it’ll be interesting to see how Ragnick sets his side up to breakthrough Lucien Favre’s organized defence. On the other hand, it’ll be even more interesting to see what risks Favre will take in order to get a result from this fascinating matchup.