Borussia Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp experimented with a back three against Schalke but his side failed to adapt to the change in shape and after conceding an early goal, Dortmund lacked any fluidity as they madly tried to bring on players and change to a more familiar formation…
Schalke lined up in a very standard 4-2-3-1 formation. Lars Unnerstall was in goal behind a back four from right to left of Atsuto Uchida, Benedikt Howedes, Joel Matip and Christian Fuchs. Marco Hoger and Roman Neustadter sat in midfield, with Hoger the more attacking player. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar started up front, with Lewis Holtby playing very high up in the hole, and width was provided on the right by Jefferson Farfan and on the left by Ibrahim Afellay.
As already mentioned, Dortmund moved away from their famililar 4-2-3-1 to a 3-5-2. Roman Weidenfeller started in goal and the back three featured Sven Bender in the middle, with Neven Subotic to the right and Mats Hummels the left. Lukasz Piszczek started as the right sided wing back with Kevin Grosskreutz doing the same on the left. Sebastian Kehl played a holding role in midfield, with Ivan Perisic higher up to his left and Moritz Leitner doing the same to the right. Robert Lewandowski was partnered up front by Marco Reus.
Before the match had really got going Dortmund were already on the back foot after conceding a goal on 14 minutes when Afellay applied a clever finish on the volley after Dortmund failed to clear a cross.
With three at the back, the most interesting aspect of the match early on was Piszczek v Afellay. Piszczek is an instinctively attacking full back but playing as a wing back he at times seemed to forget that he was still required to defend and get goalside of his Dutch opponent. With Piszczek playing so advanced, Afellay was happy to just tuck in slightly and stay high up the pitch, ready to hit Dortmund on the counter.
As the diagram on the right shows, 46% of Dortmund attacks came down the right and so this was a very important one on one battle.
With Piszczek often high up the pitch when Schalke won the ball, there were repercussions for the shape of the rest of his side.
Afellay often tucked inside slightly into a pocket of space where he was able to get the ball and turn, meaning Dortmund had to make a decision as to whether Subotic would allow himself to be dragged up the pitch, leaving Holtby and Huntelaar in a 2v2 situation against Bender (inexperienced at centre back) and Hummels. If Subotic decided to stay with the backline, then Kehl had to drift over towards that side of the pitch meaning Holtby, Hoger and Neustadter would be marked by Leitner and Perisic – meaning a 2v3 in the centre.
Dortmund never really found the best way to solve this problem when they had three at the back, with Kehl sometimes picking up Afellay (light blue ring below) and on other occasions leaving it for Subotic to come forward and mark.
When Schalke did attack they were a clear 4-1-4-1 with Farfan and Afellay both relatively high up on the wings and Hoger breaking forward from midfield, leaving Neustadter to sit. Huntelaar did well at trying to occupy both Bender and Hummels with Holtby playing very high up the pitch, almost as a second striker at times.
The German often made diagonal runs towards the left of the pitch when running past Huntelaar, making use of the gaps created by Subotic and Kehl over that side of the field as a result of Afellay’s positioning.
In attack Dortmund were their usual fluid self with lots of interchange between Perisic and Leitner – who impressed. A common feature for Dortmund in attack was for Reus to start deeper than Lewandowski but for the two players to swap positions with the Polish striker coming short, with neither Schalke centre back following him, and Reus then running forward from deep into the vacated space.
Just after half time Schalke extended their lead following a swift counter attack opportunity where the Dortmund defence were at sixes and sevens, allowing Hoger to run straight down the middle and latch onto an incisive through ball before shooting past Weidenfeller.
After conceding the second, Klopp brought on Julian Schieber and it was clear Dortmund had switched to a back four of Bender, Subotic, Hummels and Piszczek but in attack they lacked shape and at times looked like they had a lone striker, then a front three then two up top.
However, a Lewandowki header soon after the substitution brought Dortmund back in touch, after a fantastic set piece delivery from Reus. After scoring, Dortmund slowed down the tempo of their play considerably when they would perhaps have been better off stepping up the tempo – with Schalke potentially susceptible to conceding a quick second.
The home side changed shape again to more of a 4-2-3-1 after the introduction of Leonardo Bittencourt, but by this point there was no real understanding of what every player’s role was and attacks lacked a cutting edge. Dortmund seemed to lack a genuine creative talent – they clearly missed Mario Gotze.
Schalke were brave once Dortmund started to chase the game. The away side reacted by playing Afellay and Farfan high up the pitch and it worked by restraining the willingness of Dortmund’s full backs to get forward in attack, as doing so would leave them susceptible to a repeat of Schalke’s second goal.
Overall the away side thoroughly deserved the victory. Dortmund were too slow with the ball and looked short of creativity through the middle of the pitch. Schalke were well organised, a real threat on the counter, and Afellay’s positioning caused all sorts of problems for Dortmund in defence.
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