Preview: Borussia Dortmund – FC Bayern

Justin Separator November 17, 2016
(Grafik: Michael Böck)
(Visual: Michael Böck)

Until now, Borussia Dortmund’s season has not unfolded according to their plan, for different reasons, but with a win against Bayern they would be back in the top group. We spoke with ESPN writer Stephan Uersfeld about the current situation at Bayern’s fiercest rival over the last years.

First of all, please tell us something about yourself. What do you do and what ties do you have with BVB?

Hello. Most of the time, I’m a Germany Correspondent at ESPN FC. I report about the odd stuff in the Bundesliga and about Bierhoff’s visions. If I’m having a very rough day, I take over the role of the drunken investigator Dietfried Dembowski, the almighty lord at DID. Coming from Dortmund, I didn’t have a choice. Everyone was born at the Borsigplatz, me too. There’s just no alternative. Until I turned five I supported Bayern and Schalke, wearing Iveco Magirus and Paddock’s. That changes quickly.

Dortmund had a very consistent and solid run last season. What was their key to success?

The excellent preseason. The squad got together very early, formed a team on their tour in Asia, and found their rhythm in the Europa League qualification matches. The opening matches were rather easy. The new serenity was especially visible in the 4-0 win against a catastrophic Gladbach team. Long stretches of possession, followed by break-neck speed transitions, and a pass between the lines. One quick movement. That’s how the system worked and the possession style was quickly adopted by the players. They learned to be patient. They gained confidence and stayed on point in the Bundesliga – for an amazingly long period of time.

This season started differently. One reason are the injuries and another reason are the transfers of three very important players, who left the club: Hummels, Gündogan and Mkhitaryan. Which player is missed the most and why?

Ilkay Gündogan. He had a strong first half of the season, being the connection between Weigl and the offensive players. He is a unique player. When he was side-lined after the Bayern game and his transfer was agreed upon, Dortmund’s season went downhill. Getting kicked out of the Europa League by Liverpool. Losing the DFB Pokal final. Missed a new total points record in the league. Of course, Mkhitaryan in last season’s form is also almost impossible to replace. Hummels’ build-up play was something, but despite him being captain he wasn’t undisputed.

Mario Götze and Sebastian Rode moved from Munich to Dortmund in the summer. How are they doing and what are their roles in BVB’s squad?

Götze found his place quickly. He is no longer the star, the stand-out player, but someone who creates and finds space on the pitch with his movements and short passes. His homecoming is not a topic for discussions anymore. Götze has to find back to himself a little bit more, just like the rest of the team. The central role in the 4-1-4-1 suits him very well. That’s where we’ll see him on Saturday, with Guerreiro next to him. Sebastian Rode is doing Rode things. He is not a bad player, but also not one that can inspire his team. In terms of defense, Weigl is leagues ahead of him. At the offensive positions Castro, Götze, Guerreiro and Kagawa bring other, bigger qualities on the pitch. It will be tough for him. The question remains whether he wasn’t just part of a trade deal.

Halb Europa jagte ihn, doch nur der BVB bekam ihn: Ousmane Dembélé.(Foto: Maja Hitij / Bongarts / Getty Images)
Half of Europe was after him, but only Dortmund got him: Ousmane Dembélé.
(Photo: Maja Hitij / Bongarts / Getty Images)

Besides some more seasoned players, many talents were brought in. Dembélé, Mor and Guerreiro for example, plus further talents from their youth teams, like Passlack or Pulisic. Are you optimistic that Dortmund will be able to be a bigger threat for the league in the upcoming seasons?

Borussia will again lose players in the next summers. Especially Christian Pulisic won’t end his career in Dortmund. He has the hopes of a whole nation on his shoulders. Of course, a player like Guerreiro is extremely talented. And the BVB will be among the top four in Germany. That’s what counts. Everything else cannot be influenced. In the Champions League, and later in the Superleague, Borussia will be a permanent member and win something every once in a while. Probably rather an international title than the Bundesliga.

Has the style of play changed due to the transfers? What are the main strengths and weaknesses of the BVB?

It’s not even the transfers that caused the changes on the pitch. Tuchel almost exclusively fields a 4-1-4-1 now and, due to the long injuries of Reus and Schürrle, put his trust in the very young and fast players. Especially in his first games Dembélé tore apart oppositional defences, bypassing his opponent with his sheer speed. Pulisic has a stronger drive towards the goal.

The offence has performed excellently, whenever everything came together. But it’s extremely dependent on Julian Weigl, who, just like Hummels a couple of season ago, was identified as the key to success against Borussia. When he is marked out of the game, the offence has a very bad day at the office. Especially since Sokratis and Ginter hardly took over any build-up responsibility and Bartra was side-lined for a long time.

The Spaniard has an excellent packing rate. His pass in the build-up for the 1-0 in Wolfsburg was a beauty. Battered by injuries, the defence sometimes reminds of the Doll years. A new formation every week. No stability. A merry-go-round and everyone brings his weaknesses to the table. Piszczek has gotten old; Bartra’s positioning is far from perfect. Against Ingolstadt they conceded two headers after dead balls in the half spaces. What more can I say? That’s just bad.

Bayern has become more beatable. How do you rate the reappearance of Bayern’s mortality and do you see a possibility to have a different Bundesliga champion at the end of the season?

Let me check the standings. Bayern haven’t lost after 10 games. End of the discussion. Titles will end up at the Säbener Straße. That’s clear. No, I don’t see a possibility. Leipzig will ride the wave of the Dortmund game a little bit longer. That was to be expected, but they won’t sustain that level. Hasenhüttl is already complaining. Hoffenheim, Berlin are also out of the equation. BVB is not stable enough, Leverkusen has Schmidt. Blessing and curse. The contenders are at their maximum, the record champion gets into the groove for the second part of the season.

What kind of tactical set-up do you expect from both teams this weekend?

Dortmund will use their experience. This time they won’t adjust to Bayern. Reus, Guerreiro, Götze and Schürrle behind Aubameyang. That’s what we have been waiting for a long time. Plus Weigl. The back four with Bartra and Sokratis, Piszczek and Schmelzer. Vintage. Hoping to get some possession and to move the ball into Bayern’s half.

But who is fit at Bayern? Lahm and Alonso. That’s a given. 4-3-3 as well. What about Robbery? Müller? Costa? Kimmich? I don’t know. It feels like Ancelotti has already made some wrong decisions. He’s welcome to make some more. Start Ribery and have him sent off after a couple of minutes. Everyone will be happy. Vidal is the key. BVB’s hopes lie in him getting back banged up from the international break.

Final score?

A draw. 1-1.

If you could transfer one player from Munich to Dortmund, who would you pick and why?

Kimmich. Without a doubt. If only to destroy Miasanrot. And he can kick the ball.

It’s the duel of the two most successful German teams of this decade. We look at both teams and analyse the important points for Saturday’s game.

Scouting report

Dortmund had a very consistent and successful season. With Hummels, who took the pressure of Weigl, Gündogan in the centre and Mkhitaryan as an offensive allrounder, three important players left the club.

Is the BVB weaker than last season?

Right now, that’s a tough call, even though colleague Dembowski Uersfeld has a different opinion. Tuchel’s team not only had to replace the aforementioned players, but also had a bad run with injuries. Both reasons don’t explain every dropped point, but most of them.

When looking at the performance peak that can be let loose in any given game, BVB is at least on par to last season offensively, if not a bit better. The loss of Mkhitaryan has created a smaller hole to fill than was expected. Dembélé, Mor, Pulisic, Schürrle, Götze and even Guerreiro make up for that. Individual streaks of bad form can be balanced out with the depth of the squad.

The speed these players can use to attack their opponents is simply impressive. Add the goal scoring machine Aubameyang (standing at 11 Bundesliga goals already) to the mix and even Bayern supporters can get jealous at times. When they get the ball in the final third, they are hard to stop. Structured attacks, a lot of movement and many dangerous penalty box penetrations.

Müller und Lewandowski zählen zu den gefährlichsten Spielern der Liga, doch auch der BVB muss sich nicht verstecken.(Grafik: Lukas)
Müller and Lewandowski are two of the most dangerous players in the league, but the BVB players are not far behind.
(Analytics: Lukas)

Mario Götze plays a currently still underrated role, in the position where he also had his best games at Bayern. He moves between the lines of the opponent, sometimes dropping deeper and creating connections for his teammates. The world cup winner is not the single point of focus of his team anymore, but someone who sets up the players around him and who does the little things. That makes him very valuable for Borussia.

The consistency is missing

Besides injuries and the squad overhaul, the missing consistency is the third factor, causing some weaker performances. The squad is very young. Dembélé and Mor positively stand out a lot, but also make the wrong decision almost as often. At times both seem to want to just force their way through or do not engage in the counter-pressing quickly enough.

This will probably get better over time, because the basics already reveal why so many teams were after them. In comparison Pulisic’s performances stand out even more. The US international has already scored two goals and assisted four more in the Bundesliga. He’s convinced with clever decision making in the final third. His passing accuracy stands at 77.8%, with Dembélé at 66.3%.

Sowohl der BVB, als auch die Bayern sind sehr fokussiert auf die linke Seite, wenngleich die Münchner deutlich mehr Chancen aus verschiedensten Zonen kreieren.(Grafik: Lukas)
Both teams are very focused on their left wing, but Bayern are more versatile overall.
(Analytics: Lukas)

Offence isn’t the problem

Just like last season, the offence looks fine. They rather have issues to get the ball into the offensive areas. For many years, Ilkay Gündogan was the player who took on this task. This season, Gonzalo Castro and Mario Götze must compensate for that loss.

In some games, this has worked out very well. Castro has already collected six scorer points in the league and is comfortable in the role as a Gündogan replacement. The missing quality of Gündogan becomes visible in games in which the overall structure doesn’t work well.

Another problem is the isolation of Julian Weigl. The 21-year-old is still the focal point for BVB’s build-up play. Hummels and Gündogan took some burden off of him in the past. They forced the opponent to split their focus on multiple players, leaving Weigl more room to operate in.

This season, opponents focus on taking the young German international out of the game. Weigl’s impact on the game is reduced, even though he is very pressing-resistant. It’s a heavy blow for the Borussia when their deep-lying playmaker cannot play his vertical game.

TEXT(Grafik: Lukas)
While Bayern lead the league in verticality, BVB scored more goals with less chances.
(Analytics: Lukas)

Instable defence

One reason why Borussia Dortmund didn’t win the Bundesliga last season was their defensive weaknesses. They conceded 34 goals in 34 games, while Bayern only had 17. This trend continues this season, with Borussia already conceding 12 goals compared to Bayern’s 6.

Tuchel has a very deep squad in offense, but not in defence, where quality is limited. The Bartra and Sokratis back-up is Ginter in central defence. He has made improvements, but is still not on the same level as the other two. Besides these three, there are only midfielders (Sven Bender) or very young players (Merino) left.

At least one additional player is missing, since they couldn’t sign Toprak in the summer. The shaky defence is also caused by the at times incoherent defensive transition. The work against the ball remains the biggest task for Tuchel.

Im direkten Vergleich lässt der BVB mehr zu.(Grafik: Lukas)
BVB is more open in the back.
(Analytics: Lukas)

How to beat the BVB

There were some discussion about Carlo Ancelotti setting up the team in a more compact and deeper way. In the Supercup BVB was the dominant and better team. Bayern should try to take control of the game and not give away possession willingly.

Based on the weakened positional play, that will be a tough task. Both teams will probably have their spells of possession, the home team maybe a bit more. Tuchel’s team will try to utilize their speed in offense to attack the weaknesses in Bayern’s structure.

Ancelotti should have realized the Weigl conundrum. The record champion should attack the 21-year-old constantly. BVB will do the same. Whoever controls the centre will have a good chance to alter the scoreline in their favour.

The Bayern coach would be well advised to bench the out-of-form Alonso and replace him with Thiago in a position where the pressure will be very high on Saturday.

An interesting tactical approach would be a 3-2 staggering in build-up. Alaba, Hummels and Boateng in the first and Thiago and Kimmich in the second line. Costa and Lahm could be the wing-backs, with Müller occupying the zone 14 behind a free roaming Ribéry and Lewandowski. That would create a 3-4-1-2 formation that could quickly morph into other shapes as well.
But who are we kidding here? On Saturday, we will see the all too familiar 4-3-3 we have gotten used to in the last months.

Bayern are strong enough to be successful with that formation in Dortmund, but a peak performance will be needed. The zone 14 has to be occupied at all times, speed in all directions is needed and the distances have to be optimal. Furthermore, the spaces have to be occupied in the right way to create connections and triangles all over the pitch. Of course, Bayern will need a certain amount of speed in their game, but also enough patience to pick the right moment for vertical actions.

Bayern did not have one single game where all of these things were implemented, but what better game for a positive surprise than a meeting with the BVB?


Last five games against the BVB (without the Supercup)

  • FC Bayern 4-3 pens Borussia Dortmund (DFB-Pokal, final 2015/16)
  • Borussia Dortmund 0-0 FC Bayern (Bundesliga, 25. matchday 2015/16)
  • FC Bayern 5-1 Borussia Dortmund (Bundesliga, 8. matchday 2015/16)
  • FC Bayern 1-3 pens Borussia Dortmund (DFB-Pokal, semi-final 2014/15)
  • Borussia Dortmund 0-1 FC Bayern München (Bundesliga, 27. matchday 2014/15)

Overall record

  • 113 games, 52 Bayern wins, 33 draws, 28 losses
  • 205-138 goals
  • BVB only won one game out of the last seven matches (2015 in the DFB-Pokal semi-final after pens). The last eight Bundesliga matches had 4 draws, 3 Bayern wins and only one win for the Borussia.
Mats Hummels wird an seine alte Wirkungsstätte zurückkehren. Auch Götze, Rode und Lewandowski treffen auf ihren jeweiligen Ex-Klub.(Foto: Patrik Stollarz / AFP / Getty Images)
Mats Hummels will return to his former club. Götze, Rode and Lewandowski will also meet their former club.
(Photo: Patrik Stollarz / AFP / Getty Images)

Fun Facts

  • Dortmund’s last win after 90 minutes against Bayern was on the 30th matchday 2013/14 (3-0 in Munich, Bayern had already secured their title by then).
  • Bayern only won two of their last five Bundesliga games. Bayern dropped fewer points in the whole first half of the last season.
  • Borussia haven’t lost any of their last 26 Bundesliga home games (club record). Bayern haven’t lost a domestic match on the road in 2016.
  • Against Dortmund, Bayern collected the most draws in the league (29).
  • FC Bayern’s highest Bundesliga win was against Borussia Dortmund (11-1 on 27th November 1971).
  • Lewandowski, Hummels, Rode and Götze meet their former club.
  • It’s the duel of the best strikers of the league. Aubameyang (11 goals) and Lewandowski (7).
  • Aubameyang has scored 65 goals and assisted another 18 in his time in the Bundesliga. That’s 0.94 scorer points per 90 minutes.
  • In the same timespan Lewandowski scored 74 league goals and assisted another 24. Close to one scorer point per 90 minutes.
  • It’s the duel of the world cup winners. Weidenfeller, Ginter, Durm, Schürrle and Götze in black and yellow and Neuer, Boateng, Hummels, Lahm, Müller, Martínez and Alonso in red.

Five bold predictions

  1. Bayern won’t win.
  2. Both teams will score.
  3. Götze will be directly involved in one goal.
  4. Bayern won’t be first in the league by the end of the matchday.
  5. Kimmich will start. (HOPEFULLY!)

Only one prediction from the Hoffenheim preview was correct. Overall: 35/75

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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