Borussia Dortmund vs Atletico Madrid UEFA Champions League Tactical Analysis

Dortmund’s fixture against Hoffenheim presents an interesting contest in which both teams will be seeking a positive result in order to secure a top 4 finish.

The Black and Yellow’s ran out 2-1 winners against Hoffenheim at home in December in one of Peter Stoeger’s first game in charge at the club. Despite the criticism surrounding his style of play, the game against Hoffenheim provides the perfect platform for Stoeger to remind fans of why he got the job in the first place. To get results. Here are 3 ways in which Dortmund can potentially overcome Julian Nagelsmann’s men at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena:

1: Use a back 3 during the build-up

I’ve been a vocal critic of how poor Dortmund’s build-up play has been for most parts of the season. Sides like Bayern Munich and Red Bull Salzburg(in the Europa League) exposed the weaknesses in Dortmund’s 1st phase of possession, leading to an inability to get results in crucial fixtures. One such fixture was the 2-0 defeat against Schalke.

For 70 minutes Schalke defended using a midfield press allowing Dortmund to control possession in non-threatening areas. Domenico Tedesco set his side up in a 5-3-2 shape, while Dortmund used a 4-1-4-1, in which Nuri Sahin played as a holding midfielder. By being outnumbered in midfield, Dortmund were forced to play the ball into wide channels, a move which the Schalke players has already anticipated allowing them to squeeze Dortmund effortlessly before regaining possession.

With less than 25 minutes to go though, Dortmund suddenly began to create a stream of chances, which unfortunately they failed to convert. This was due to an adjustment to their shape during their build-up. Lukasz Piszczek moved into the backline while Marcel Schmelzer moved forward to play on the left of midfield. Christian Pulisic dropped into the right of midfield. The shape resembled something similar to a 3-4-2-1. The difference this adjustment made was that it allowed Dortmund to outnumber Schalke’s 1st and 2nd lines of pressure, which helped them progress further up the field, bringing me to my 2nd point.

2: Get the ball in-behind Hoffenheim’s wingbacks

Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim use a similar shape that Tedesco’s Schalke use. A back 3, with a 3 man midfield, 2 wingbacks and 2 forwards. The only difference is that Hoffenheim have a more adventurous, attacking approach. With that in mind, it is important to understand how the late flurry of chances Dortmund created against a conservative Schalke side could be used as an example of how to create opportunities against Hoffenheim.

As Dortmund outnumbered Schalke in midfield 4 to 3, Schalke’s wingbacks were forced to push forward and mark the opposing Dortmund wingback(Schmelzer or Pulisic, depending on where the ball was situated). This created space in-behind Schalke’s wingbacks, which Dortmund used to great effect. Marco Reus made several, well-timed diagonal runs into these areas before getting early crosses into the box. Christian Pulisic also made a few penetrating runs from deep(more than 1 if my memory serves me correctly), before getting the ball into the danger area. And despite losing the game 2-0, Dortmund notched up a higher XG score, proving that they played much better than our Gelsenkirchen rivals.

Nagelsmann’s wingbacks are quite attack oriented, and Dortmund should make sure they take advantage of this. In the previous win, back in December, Dortmund managed to create several chances on the counter, by exploiting the vacant spaces left by Hoffenheim’s out of position wingbacks. How they achieved this brings me to my 3rd and final point.

3: Use a mid-block set up during defensive organization(then transition into attack at pace if possible).

Hoffenheim are quite adept at paying out from the back, even when under pressure, so using a high-press against them is unlikely. Especially if you take Stoeger’s preference for a conservative approach to defending into consideration. Dortmund will probably line-up in a 4-1-4-1 shape, which will allow them to control the midfield zones if the midfielders work well as a unit.

Nagelsmann’s side are fantastic at playing pretty passing pattern’s through defensive structures by creating numerical advantages around the ball. In his side, the ball carrier always has good support around him, allowing Hoffenheim to attack effectively. Dortmund will have to be patient off the ball, defend in numbers and avoid getting drawn towards the ball without actually being close enough to win it. If they do so and manage to regain possession, chances are they’ll be in a great position to transition directly into attack, something they should look to do, in order to take advantage of spaces in advanced areas and to avoid the dreaded counter-press Nagelsmann’s team have become brilliant at executing.

Here’s a clip from the previous fixture in December. Dortmund, sat in mid-block before regaining possession and counter-attacking. Unfortunately, Yarmolenko couldn’t convert the chance into a goal.