Borussia Dortmund will be bitterly disappointed to leave the Etihad with just one point after a superb attacking performance in what is the best game I have seen this season, due to both the technical quality of the players on show and the tempo at which the game was played at…
For Dortmund, Roman Weidenfeller started in goal, with Jurgen Klopp’s men set out in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Lukasz Piszczek started at right back, with Neven Subotic and Mats Hummels in the middle and Marcel Schmelzer on the left. Ilkay Gundogan and Sven Bender sat in midfield, with the latter playing the deeper role.
Jakub Blaszczykowski started on the right wing with Marco Reus on the left and Mario Gotze playing in the hole. Polish striker Robert Lewandowski played as the lone striker for the German side.
Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City also took to the field in their familiar 4-2-3-1 formation. Joe Hart started in goal and had a fantastic match, with Matija Nastasic again starting at centre back, alongside City’s captain Vincent Kompany. Pablo Zabaleta started on the right of defence with Gael Clichy on the other side.
In midfield, Javi Garcia and Yaya Toure sat, but on 33 minutes Garcia was taken off through injury and replaced by Jack Rodwell who performed the same role. Sergio Aguero operated deeper than strike partner Edin Dzeko with David Silva starting on the right wing and Samir Nasri operating from the left.
It should be noted that it was Aguero on the left wing and Nasri through the middle for the first ten minutes of the match before the two players swapped roles, but either way, City always had a right footer on the left wing and David Silva, a left footer, on the right, and so it was no surprise to see how narrow City’s wide players were in attack.
This gave Dortmund a great opportunity to counter attack by exploiting the spaces available on either side for their full backs to move into at turnovers – the diagram to the right highlights how Schmelzer (red ring) had plenty of space to run into once Dortmund won the ball.
The left back was always an outlet for his side, partly due his attacking nature but also because that the first movement of the player ahead of him, Reus, was always to central meaning Zabaleta was dragged inside and Schmelzer was able to leave his opponent Silva behind and push forward.
As always with Dortmund though, the vast majority of their attacks were down the right hand side where the Polish trio of Piszczek, Blaszczykowski and Lewandowski could link up – it’s because Dortmund are so dominant down the right hand side that Schmelzer is able to be an outlet once his side switches play.
The diagram on the right shows that nearly half of Dortmund attacks came down the right, but it was interesting to see that rather than stay wide like usual, Blaszczykowski was a lot narrower and often looked to go inside with Gotze moving in the opposite direction.
As with both Poland and Dortmund, whenever a move starts down the right hand side, Lewandowski naturally drifts to the far post to get his head on a cross and the striker did so after just five minutes when he got the better of Zabaleta in the air.
Dortmund were just as impressive without the ball too. Defending as a 4-1-4-1 with Bender the deepest midfielder and Gundogan pressing higher up the pitch, they were excellent at limiting the amount of time City’s creative players had on the ball.
Dortmund’s defence used a high line and this naturally made the midfield press higher up the pitch and as a result they tempted City to play long balls over the top. However, City were reluctant to do this and instead kept the ball for large periods of time. But this suited Dortmund perfectly as it meant the home side were moving the ball at too slow a tempo to penetrate the Dortmund defence and also allowed the away side to keep its shape superbly and wait to hit City swiftly on the counter.
Eventually Toure started to look deeper and deeper to get on the ball, meaning the Ivorian was no longer a threat further up the pitch and so City were unable to use the one midfielder capable of bossing the midfield and dominating the opposition.
Gundogan and Gotze were happy to be responsible for both Toure and Garcia, leaving Bender to look after Aguero -whose movement as usual was superb when coming deep or wide to get into positions where he could receive the ball and try to create something.
At times Bender was made to look average when Aguero was able to turn him inside the Dortmund half before running at goal and it could be argued that the more experienced Sebastien Kehl would have been a more suitable holding player on the night for Dortmund.
By half time both sides had had plenty of chances to take the lead but the goalkeeping on show from both Hart and Weidenfeller was at times world class with both keepers called upon time after time as the attacking talent on show proved to be too much for the opposition defences.
With the score still 0-0 on the hour mark Mancini made a bold move in swapping to a back three with City now a 3-4-1-2. Nasri was replaced by Alexsandar Kolarov who operated as the left wing back, with the original City back four all moving one place to the right.
As shown in the diagram to the left, Toure and Rodwell continued to sit, with Silva playing in the hole (and slightly to the right), and Aguero playing off the shoulder of Dzeko, so that at times in attack City could even have been described as more of a 3-4-2-1.
However, Mancini’s move didn’t pay off after a sloppy pass from Rodwell to Nastasic was intercepted by Reus on 61 minutes who ran with the ball straight at the City defence before finishing past Hart to make the score 0-1.
City were visibly rattled after conceding with Hart called upon to save excellently from both Gundogan and Reus. It was clear that with three at the back they were too open and very vulnerable to Dortmund’s counter attacking. Huge credit should go to Klopp and his side for really taking the game to City at this point in the match and any side who has 16 shots in 71 minutes against the champions of England should be praised hugely.
Mancini saw his formation was not working and switched to a back four but City were still vulnerable with Lewandowski missing a guilt edge chance following a fantastic cross from Gundogan on the right hand side. The Polish striker would soon rue that miss as Subotic conceded a penalty for a handball and City’s third substitute, Mario Balotelli, coolly finished past Weidenfeller to earn his side a vital, but undeserved, point.
Dortmund deserve all the credit from tonight in what was a thrilling European tie. Both goalkeepers impressed immensely, as did Gotze for the Bundesliga club – his control in tight areas of the pitch it superb. So too was the performance of Lewandowski but the best player tonight was Gundogan who ran the midfield, and against a considerable opponent in Toure.
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