Is Peter Bosz’s defensive system working?

Manager Analysis
Michele Tossani

Michele Tossani


Since Borussia Dortmund appointed Peter Bosz as new head coach on two-year deal this past summer, team’s fans knew former Ajax manager would have continued the Black and Yellows’ legacy of entertaining football.

It was hard rock football under Jürgen Klopp, then it has been a more cerebral one – but still offensive – under Thomas Tuchel and while Bosz took the job since few months, there is no surprise watching Dortmund play in the opposition half. However, Dortmund remain a work in progress as they showed a lack of defensive compactness that produced a 3-1 loss to Bayern which took Bosz’s side sitting six-point far from the top of Bundesliga. And to make matters worse, BVB’s defensive fragility also sent them out from Champions League.

Following these results, the Black and Yellows’ defensive phase came under scrutiny, especially considering the fact that Dortmund allowed three goals in each of their big games against Tottenham, Real Madrid, RB Leipzig, and Bayern. It represents a strident image compared to the defensive stability they showed under the previous regimes.

So, Bosz’s tactics have been questioned and the finger was firstly pointed against the 53-year-old’s line ups.

First and foremost, in the eye of storm went goalkeeper Roman Bürki, whose mistake in the first leg against Apoel Nicosia highly contributed to bottom out Dortmund’s hopes to reach the last 16 in Champions League. That’s not good news as Borussia Dortmund’s netminder recently signed a contract extension through 2021, with club’s sporting director Michael Zorc that highly praised the deal as he considers the Swiss the perfect keeper for the Black and Yellows.

Zorc also admitted that Yellow wall’s idol and Burki’s backup, the 37-year-old Roman Weidenfeller, will leave the club at the end of this campaign. Burki was part of Tuchel’s side that won DFB Pokal in May, but his recent performances put him under pressure while rumors about Dortmund looking to Cologne no.1 Timo Horn and Paris Saint-Germain’s keeper Kevin Trapp have started to grow.

It’s not just Bürki to blame, though, as rivals often exposed Bosz’s high defensive line since the start of the season. It was the reason why Bosz tried to lower his backline in the game against RB Leipzig. But it didn’t work as Dortmund still have been exposed by Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side on the break.

xG stats from show us Dortmund’s defensive fragility against RB Leipzig.

Furthermore, Dortmund’s backline suffered a huge turmoil due to injuries and suspensions. Jeremy Toljan shifted from right-back to left-back but he has been still underperforming. Marc Bartra didn’t played better at right full-back where he’s trying to replace the injured Lukasz Piszczek, who is out for the season.

Dortmund’s centre-backs Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Omer Toprak suffered rivals’ high pressure and they also looked uncomfortable playing a high defensive line. Things didn’t improve against Frankfurt when Bosz has been forced by injuries to pair midfielder Julian Weigl and Nenad Subotic at centre-back.

But the main defensive issue for Bosz’s side relies on the ease with which opponents get the ball through Dortmund’s press. The same manager admitted it after their 3-1 Champions League defeat to Tottenham.

“We weren’t well organised at the back defensively,” Bosz told after the game. “When you play like that, with space behind the back four, you have to defend it, and we didn’t do that well enough.”

Bosz, believe in dominate through possession and, following Klopp and Tuchel’s legacy, is faithful to counter-pressing to regain possession when the ball is lost. Ajax under Bosz did it as they heavily pressed when they lost the ball, but this tactic didn’t work so well for the Dutch coach at Dortmund.

Are these criticisms right or a bit exaggerated? Is this a worrisome trend at which Bosz has to take a look?

Let we try to answer this question.

It’s true that Dortmund’s season started pretty well as the Black and Yellows gained 16 from an available 18 points out from their first nine games but they played against weak teams. Surely, stats show us Dortmund as first Bundesliga’s team when it comes to shots against per game (8.8) – and Bosz’s emphasis on retain the ball helped to minimise opponent’s scoring chances – but they are just seventh in goals allowed (14).

Bosz inherit a situation he knew pretty well. The Dutchman installed a new way of playing and players generally showed their ability to adapt. We’re most different when we don’t have the ball. We push very high with six players attacking the ball,” Bartra told reporters. “We want to start attacks from the front.”

Dortmund’s defensive phase has not been so efficient recently with Bosz’s side differential between for and against expected goals on open play at 11.20 with their xGA being 12.80, just the seventh best in Bundesliga. Expected goals difference (xGD) is the difference between expected goals for and expected goals against and is an analysis which can provide us a better idea on the current Dortmund’s defensive efficiency.


Bosz is a Dutch-school coach who likes a 4-3-3 system, with a ball-based approach, which is typical for Johan Cruyff’s Dutch disciples. When the opposition gets the ball, Dortmund side has to press with high energy. Sometimes it works, sometimes doesn’t and Bosz’s side leaves huge gaps in defense.

Bosz’s high backline sometimes left Dortmund exposed on the counter which could produce red cards as happened to Dan-Axel Zagadou against Hannover.

That said, Dortmund’s high defensive line had some troubles but it also gets the Black and Yellow catching opponents in offside on a respectable average of 2.4 times per game, seventh best in Bundesliga alongside Darmstadt and Hoffenheim.

Surely, some aspects of the game have to be improved and Bosz is aware of this. Above all, Dortmund players looked not yet comfortable into Bosz’s system and it could explain why a backline that conceded just two goals in seven games allowed 12 goals in four games. So, you can say Bosz’s method isn’t working so far.

Obviously, is too early to judge Bosz’s methods: his system showed potentiality at the start of the season whilst suffered some blows recently and injuries didn’t help to stabilise the backline. At the end, only time will tell us if this system will produce in a long term.

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