Last weekend Dortmund played the Revierderby, the game with the most emotional value. After a 3-0 win in midweek against Hamburg they now had the game against what has been their biggest competitive rival for the best part of seven years – Bayern München. The league leaders and all but winners went into this game on the back of what had been just their second Bundesliga defeat against Hoffenheim with the first one coming when Bayern and Dortmund met in Dortmund.
This time, the signs were quite different. Dortmund went into the game with an already significant injury list that was completed by Kagawa and Weigl in midweek. With Bayern at full strength apart from an injury to Hummels and with Dortmund “only” picking up 17 points away from the fortress that is Signal-Iduna Park it very much looked like it was going to be Bayern’s game to lose.
There are different sorts of games. Some games two teams just cancel each other out and both teams struggle to break through. There are games where both teams have awful defensive structures leading to a goal fest. And there are games that are massively shaped by early goals. The game on Saturday evening was the latter with Ribery (4.) and Lewandowski (10.) putting Bayern in the driving seat very early on and coming back from two goals down in the Allianz-Arena is almost impossible.
Dortmund returned to the 3-4-3 that they played for the best part of the last two months. With Schmelzer dropping in in build-up phases and Passlack pushing higher up on the right side it turned into a situational back four. However, there weren’t many build up phases for Dortmund because they gave the hosts the lion share of possession (if a lion is happy with 71%, that is). Without the ball, Dortmund dropped back into a 5-4-1/5-3-2 with the ball-near of either Pulisic or Dembelé pushing slightly higher up.
Just like the distribution of possession suggests, Dortmund didn’t particularly pressure Bayern a lot which is quite odd considering that one of the reasons why Dortmund won the first meeting between the two teams was the heavy pressure they exerted on Bayern in the starting phase of that match. This time, however, both Alonso and Vidal were able to complete more than 90% of their passes. With Bayern being 2-0 up with not even an eighth of the game gone, the record champions just took the tempo out of the game and they concentrated on slowly building it out from the back through Alonso and Vidal with Dortmund mainly standing off in the middle third and only really putting Bayern under any sort of pressure once they were about five to ten yards deep into the Dortmund half.
Once Bayern got the ball deep enough into the Dortmund half, they tried to switch it to either flank, preferably the right flank where Robben did, what he always does and that is cutting inside with Philipp Lahm on the overlap. A tried and tested combo that due to the high quality of both players despite their age still works wonders.
This goal – while it also a showcase of magnificent skill – highlights some of the main defensive problems Dortmund had during this game. Despite Dortmund having a man advantage in a 4v3 around the ball, Robben is allowed to do his signature move of cutting inside and playing the ball to Thiago. With Dortmund defending in a deep block you would expect the wide Centrebacks to push out to cut off space for a player on the edge of the box, just like Ginter did at the start of the highlight. However, especially Batra failed to do that several times this game – mainly against the likes of Robben who thus often had a lot of space to run into which is not something you should be giving a player like Arjen Robben. However, that got better during the course of the half and there was almost a glimmer of hope when Guerreiro scored for Dortmund after Vidal’s failed clearance.
The goal very much captures the general idea of the game because it was a game of a) superior quality on one side that performed to top level and b) Individual/Tactical mistakes on the other side. Bayern under Carlo Ancelotti are not known for playing a very complicated/sophisticated brand of football compared to the reign of Guardiola but especially in this second half of the season, he has found a system that suits everyone in his First XI well.
If there is one thing that is probably ingrained in your brains forever after three years under Pep Guardiola it is winning the ball back right after you lose it when you’re on it, to position yourself in a way that allows you to win the ball back easily and Bayern did this very well on Saturday. Especially Vidal shifted over very quickly to aggressively win the ball back once Bayern had lost it.
Here we can see how Bayern position after they just lost the ball. Thiago is closing down Castro on the ball with Xabi Alonso blocking the passing lane through the middle leaving just two options for Castro: He can either play a speculative ball over the top to Pulisic who is making a run on the left side but Martinez would probably just step up and close him down so he decides to just play it back to Bürki. However good Bayern’s Counterpressing was, their Pressing in the few Build-up phases Dortmund had was not very good and when Dortmund created chances it usually wasn’t because of the pace of Aubameyang – who was instructed to the run at the space between Javi Martinez and Philipp Lahm – but because of patient building from deep. Again, this leads to the conclusion that Pressing high and building from deep are better against Dortmund than just being passive in terms of Pressing – especially in the middle third where Bayern look to dominate central areas before moving it out to wide to their explosive wingers.
After Bayern scored the second goal, they dropped slightly deeper, affording Dortmund more possession and more time on the ball leading to what was probably the best spell in the game for the visitors. A spell that coincided with three of their nine shots and with the goal by Guerreiro. From the 30th minute one though, Dortmund fell back into the old pattern described earlier and they just sat back and defended which is not the best strategy to go for when you play against Bayern München.
At half-time, Thomas Tuchel subbed on Sebastian Rode in place of Gonzalo Castro. That substitution was a peculiar one at the time because it was seemingly aimed towards more defensive solidity. That made some sense because all of the central Dortmund midfielders were roaming from position so bringing someone in who can just hold his position probably wasn’t as bad as it initially seemed. This didn’t stop Robben from putting the game to bed in the 49th minute with a typical Robben goal. Again, neither Batra or Schmelzer are aggressively closing down Robben as he cuts inside and just finishes in the left bottom corner – as you do.
With 30 minutes still on the clock, Tuchel brought on Emre Mor for a disappointing Dembele, changing to a 4-2-3-1 that turned into a 4-4-2 out of possession with Ginter at Right Back. A long ball by Rode in behind the Bayern defence almost got Dortmund back in the game but it was Bayern who then hit Dortmund on the break to win a Penalty just seconds later.
Bayern show why they are ten points clear at the top of the table with the title just being two or three wins away. They dominate possession in the middle third and with both Robben and Ribery aggressively cutting inside, Dortmund just got overwhelmed in the final third and after a heavy 1-5 defeat in München last year, Tuchel’s men have been taught a lesson again.
Dortmund now has six Bundesliga fixtures coming up – the exact same that Hoffenheim has. However, with a seven point gap to 5th placed Hertha BSC, they might shift their focus a bit more towards the Champions League campaign where they have a tricky couple of games against Monaco coming up. Monaco doesn’t sound as hard as Real Madrid, but the likes of Mbappe and Bernardo Silva could be troublesome for a shaky Dortmund defence.
Bayern have Real Madrid coming up in a clash of two of the three biggest clubs in European Football. Bayern might be slightly favored but both teams are top of their leagues so this should be a very interesting couple of games.