Preview: Borussia Dortmund – FC Bayern

Justin Separator November 10, 2018

In Dortmund, fans, managers and players these days are largely trying to play down the importance of the encounter with the German champions. They don’t want to take on the role of favourites at all, and they are also refraining from declaring hostilities towards Munich. It is a quiet game.

BVB has learned from the past. Big words and ambitions were often crushed quickly. The balance of the last years speaks clearly for the Reds. But now it smells like a change. This hope was also expressed last year. At that time Dortmund had started the season outstandingly under Peter Bosz. However, it was clear to many that that kind of football would not go well for long. And so Dortmund suffered a 1:3 defeat against FC Bayern.

One year later the signs are different. The FCB continued to deteriorate and in Dortmund the balance between defensive and offensive was found. Favre’s team plays more maturely, more deliberately, more efficiently in addition, somewhat luckier. Of course, you need a certain amount of luck if you want to overthrow the big FC Bayern. But this Dusel is hard earned.

Is Dortmund a top team?

The fact that the BVB even wins the narrow games in which it does not achieve its best performance is part of a process. Many of the squad’s players have matured in recent years. There have also been a few young players who can play without worries. The transfers of Witsel, Delaney and Alcácer give the team the experience and stability it needed.

In addition, the clever fox Lucien Favre came to Dortmund. On many levels. His external image calms the environment enormously, his tactical skills provide a framework in which the young players find support on the one hand, but also do not lose their carefreeness and freedom on the other.

This complete package led BVB to the top of the Bundesliga in a very mature first phase of the season and to impressive successes in the Champions League. And yet there are still doubts as to whether Borussia can really overthrow FC Bayern this season. Is this team already so stable that it can hold the results for a whole season? Are they already a top team?

The numbers say no!

Looking at the various statistics, it is at least questionable whether the BVB is already taking the big leap. With 19.4 expected points, the Dortmunders are currently only in third place in the Understat table – behind Leipzig (19.54) and Bayern (22.25). In addition, with 12.27 expected goals, they are about five goals behind the team from Munich (7.26). However, the difference in the expected goals is particularly significant.

BVB scored 30 goals this season, more than any other. However, Expected Goals shows a value of 19.93 and thus the largest difference of all Bundesliga clubs to reality (-10.07). Only Eintracht Frankfurt (-6.61) shows a similar discrepancy.

Already in the last Bundesliga and cup games it became apparent that the BVB gets enormous problems, if it does not make a goal out of every shot. The short-term absence of Paco Alcácer and his regression to the mean will force Favre to create more chances in the offensive again. Otherwise, the big coup in the league could be a difficult one.

The feeling says maybe!

But often such figures do not have the strongest significance. They serve as a background for theses and as a tool to illustrate an analysis. The subjective feeling alone tells observers of this BVB that it is not just a strong overperformance this season that makes them so dangerous. It’s a feeling that a young, hungry and damn fast team paired with some experienced players will grow there.

Besides talents like Sancho, Pulisic, Diallo or Hakimi there are professionals like Reus, Witsel, Delaney and other more experienced players who can lead these guys. Marco Reus in particular has taken a few steps forward in his body language and demeanour, giving an otherwise wild offensive structure.

Favre is a coach who has always been able to break the laws of expected goals. The strong mix of the squad, the development of the footballing style and the fact that the BVB has also won difficult games so far – something is growing that could quickly become dangerous for an ageing Bayern team. Perhaps faster than they would like.

Read on page 2 what makes the BVB strong from a tactical perspective and where there might be weaknesses.

Especially in the tactical area the Black and Yellows are ahead of Bayern. Favre is developing a young team and has already achieved a lot. But there is also room for improvement.

Compactness against the ball

Lucien Favre initially had the clear goal in Dortmund of stabilising the defensive, which had been very rough in recent years. Already in Gladbach he managed to form a disciplined, heavily shifting and compact team, which could become uncomfortable for every opponent.

Also in Dortmund Favre succeeded relatively fast to establish a compact center. So far the coach has tried the 4-3-3 and his classic 4-2-3-1, but in both formations it is important to him that the midfielders remain narrow. Delaney and Witsel create a physicality that quickly presses many opponents onto the wings.

In addition, Favre demands a lot of discipline and running from his team. It’s typical for his teams not to run at the opponents all the time, but to wait for the right moment. Especially in longer periods without the ball, many players find it difficult to remain disciplined and patient. From a mental point of view, Favre football is therefore very demanding.

About ball possession and tempo

However, Dortmund does not only bring with them physicality and agility, but also a basic intelligence that ensures that pressing traps snap shut relatively quickly. In any case, the situation for Favre at the BVB is different from that at Nice or Gladbach. Especially in the Bundesliga, the Borussia automatically have a lot of ball possessions. Favre can’t hide from it because most opponents aren’t interested in taking over the game.

That led to problems in the initial phase of the season. In the first third, Favre managed to establish a secure game structure. But in the second third there was often no transition to the attack, where the coach relied on the individual class and pace of his players. But as Sancho, Pulisic and Co. are still very young and tend to make mistakes, Marco Reus was the one to hang on to.

There is no doubt that the individual class of the BVB is perhaps unparalleled in the Bundesliga. Even FC Bayern can only keep up with Lewandowski. Due to the completely normal fluctuations of the talents it is up to Favre to offer even more solutions in the last third. What was already hinted at against Union Berlin and VfL Wolfsburg was intensified at the highest level against Atlético Madrid.

Atlético reveals BVB’s limitations

Diego Simeone’s side showed the weaknesses in BVB’s midfield centre when it came to playing a compact team apart. 68% possession, only three shots on goal – the stats were sobering. Although the Black and Yellows tried to leave offensive positions so that a team-mate could take advantage of the gaps, there was no idea to get the ball into these spaces. Such runs often went unrewarded. Due to a lack of structure, there was a lack of verticality, which in turn resulted in long possession phases and unnecessary turnovers.

Atlético is probably still the best team in the world against the ball. Dortmund steered them to the wings early on and thus forced many turnovers.

Reus, in particular, was keen to support his colleagues everywhere, to open up spaces and to develop pressure. But Atlético always steered BVB exactly where they wanted them to be. By clever pressing and shifting, they put pressure on Dortmund’s backline and forced further turnovers.

But this is no alarm signal for Lucien Favre. His team is young and in Madrid other teams have already been showcased this way. Atlético is hard to crack on good days. Rather, for the coach the learning effect will come first. He will have noticed that the transition from midfield to attack still needs improvement and that a link is missing.

Many movements, broad squad, enormous potential

Delaney and Witsel give stability with the ball as a duo. But they lack the class to make the connections to the front. To a certain extent, they lack the understanding of Julian Weigl, who in turn lacks the physique.

From Lucien Favre’s perspective, however, the good thing is that he has many alternatives in the squad to make the connection. He can rotate, adapt his team to the opponent and weigh different options. All that Niko Kovač only can do to a limited extent. The Borussia squad planners did a good job this summer.

Maybe that’s the key to a great season. Also the approaches in the offensive game are promising. The four attackers not only change positions, but also push when a team-mate leaves a position. They overload spaces together, combine in the penalty area and sometimes drop to create danger from the depths. Even if the processes are not always perfectly coordinated, a provider of structure in midfield is often still missing and the young players sometimes lose the ball, there is enormous potential in this team.

The last page is about the tasks of FC Bayern in Dortmund

While the Dortmund team is on the upswing and working on details, Niko Kovač needs a flash of genius to remain coach of FC Bayern. The rapid development into the negative is not only his fault, but certainly also has tactical reasons, which will also play a big role in Dortmund.

Learning from Atlético means learning to press. Whether FC Bayern wants this or not is on another sheet of paper. But the fact is that a more compact approach against the BVB could make sense. With the restriction that it must not be interpreted too passively.

A deeper approach?

If Kovač has achieved anything in Munich, it was the defensive stability in longer phases without possession of the ball. This was demonstrated not least by the game in Lisbon. In the last few weeks, however, this stability was also lost because the relief with the ball was no longer sufficient.

The distances in midfield were too large, the pressing was not followed up from behind and the holes in the centre and half spaces were huge. Despite bad positioning on the field Bayern went however again and again into the counterpressing and opened so still more areas.

Against Dortmund it will need more discipline again. Maybe that’s why it would make sense not to focus on the positional game in possession of the ball, which Kovač doesn’t seem to get under control, but on positioning without the ball. With more compactness and somewhat deeper staggering Bayern could perhaps succeed to catch the BVB on the wrong foot.

Back-five or back-four?

Starting from Kovačs 4-3-3, a back-five variation would be possible, in which Martínez drops between the centre-backs to form a 5-4-1. But it would be important for the wing players to actively defend and aggressively push forward. It would even make sense to defend with Kimmich and Alaba on the sideline and let the outer midfielders move into the half space.

Then you could either do without pure wing players altogether or only act with Gnabry, who would be more stable against the ball and more suitable in counter situations. Similar to Atlético, this could result in a constriction that would not let the Dortmunders into the centre – but with a more defensive variant that would be at the expense of an offensive line-up.

A wide back-five, a narrow midfield of four and Lewandowski as “the presser” – maybe an option against the BVB?

Of course, the classic 4-3-3 with a dominant approach is also possible. Then Kovač should make sure that the pressing is more aggressive and more compact and that a better staggering is achieved when the ball is in possession. If he wants to keep the passing lanes between defense and attack long, Martínez should at least secure the gap more strongly and ensure a counter-pressing that immediately takes effect in case of bad passes. Otherwise, Bayern would play into Dortmund’s cards.

Lewy, run!

Especially the own pressing was a mourning ceremony lately. While Lewandowski and at best Robben or Müller still started off aggressively, the midfield seldom pushed up. Müller can rightly be criticized on many points, but with him there was at least a little structure against the ball. There he is what Thiago is in possession of the ball for the Munich team.

Müller organises, coaches and starts off wisely himself. He is a pressing machine. Perhaps this is the only quality he currently delivers as added value. Maybe it’s one that could become important against Dortmund. Like Atlético, Bayern could then start with a two-man storm and force Dortmund’s defence to make mistakes.

But it is important that the whole team takes part. It must not come down to the offensive running wild and creating huge holes behind it. Dortmund will try to create disorder by changing their position. Fast handing over as well as compact pressing all over the field can be the key to a good game. With “Lewy, run!” this will not succeed.

Bayern are the quasi-outsider

As little as they want to hear about it in Dortmund, so much truth lies in the thesis that the BVB will go into the game as a slight favourite. In the last few weeks, Borussia has shown some weaknesses to attack. But FC Bayern, in the current condition, is certainly not the team you would expect to exploit these.

It seems to be an opposite development. On the one hand, Borussia Dortmund, who are successful despite mixed performances and are developing into a very strong team. On the other hand, FC Bayern, who are at the end of their great era and are becoming weaker rather than stronger.

However, a return of the empire should not be ruled out. Perhaps it’s the moment when this club will rise again and surprise all critics against the trend. Perhaps it even suits Kovač that he is not the clear favourite for the first time in his young career as a Bayern coach. But perhaps this top game will also be the last nail in the coffin. The club has already put all the other nails into its coffin with the greatest of care.

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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