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The Dissection of Dortmund

November 25, 2010

Jurgen Klopp, sitting on the proverbial throne placed on the zenith of Die Südtribüne, has earned his position of Dortmund royalty this season.

His tenderfoot squad has exceeded expectations, and after thirteen games lead the ‘World’s Best League™’ by seven points.  The path to seniority in the Bundesliga has not been through attritional, grinding football, but with an expansive and unrepressed style.

The numbers are impressive, they’ve scored the most (31), five more than any other team in the division and have conceded the least (8), six less than their competitors.  But we don’t do things by numbers here (apart from painting, naturally), and this startling improvement surely needs to be legitimised through analysis.

Klopp’s men have handed a through old-fashioned thrashings to a few teams this season.  A particular esteemed walloping came at the Hannover after Mirko Slomka’s troops bent over and let Dortmund hand them a kind of spanking once commonplace in Victorian Britain.

It’s easy to understand why Dortmund are top; with an attack as smooth and anointed as a Catholic Priest and a defence as tight and cramped as a Nun’s ‘passage’ – it is as deadly as it is tempting, combination.

The first observation is that all the width comes through the full-backs.  The midfield stays tight, narrow and thoroughly impenetratable.

Dortmund's midfield is extremely narrow, with plenty of bodies in there.


When they push forward, the front trio, instead of staying wide and looking for full-backs to cut inside –  prefer to push forward and join the lone forward, Lucas Barrios.  It says a lot that previous Hertha BSC winger Łukasz Piszczek is now being played in a full-back role – illustrating Dortmund’s attacking tenets this year.



Here, Marcel Schmelzer is providing width on the left...


and crosses for Łukasz Piszczek, the right-back, who has moved forward.

From an attacking sense, they’re incredibly dangerous.  Klopp has unbelievably integrated a physical skill set with a technical proficiency that is only seen in the top European clubs.

Pardon my expressions, but this Dortmund has in its cupboard all the ingredients needed by a modern team to be successful in the long-term.  It has a young, talented batch of German players with a dash of elan and chic discovered in foreign lands.

Put simply, the team is chocker block full of players who are technically able, confident and always looking to receive the ball at feet.  What are the implications of such positive attitudes?  Well, it permits Dortmund to play in tight, narrow areas, without worrying about losing possession.

Their five-some in midfield are capable from passing from deeper positions as well as dropping deep to pick up the ball.  This allows them to transfer from defence into attack within seconds, something that less technically proficient sides really struggle to do.


Dortmund's technical midfield allows them to move the ball with one or two touches, allowing them to exploit poor defensive positioning

Their narrow midfield has another important function too – winning the ball back.  By playing with a very compact midfield and defence, with hardly any spaces between them, the Dortmund defence are great at pushing players into the unyielding arms of the Dortmund midfield.  This makes it very hard for teams to penetrate Dortmund through the middle, as their defence are not afraid to move forward and chase opposition forwards into their own half.

Subotic and Hummels are both only twenty-one – the youngest defence pairing in the Bundesliga – and have taken to Klopp’s high-line and pressing defensive philosophy like that proverbial duck to water.  Subotic may not be the most mobile of defenders, but Mats Hummels has the speed to cover for him if he’s moved too far out of position.

The pressing usually starts when the ball moves into the midfield or out-wide to the full-backs, however Kagawa and Barrios like to step forward and stop the easy ball in to the midfield, all the whilst Sahin and Bender are sitting off the central midfielders, ready to pounce if the ball moves to them.  Mario Götze and Kevin Großkreutz attempt to stop the ball moving to the full-backs – making it difficult for the opposition to really start moves off.

Kagawa and Barrios stop easy balls in to midfield. Sahin and Bender look to drop a few yards deep from midfield to intercept passes.


An obvious response to this is to by-pass the midfield, which was seen when Freiburg playing Dortmund last weekend.  Freiburg were quite unlucky to lose 2-1, and Freiburg did well to contain Dortmund until a ten minute period in the second-half.  Their gameplan consisted of using Papiss Cissé’s strength and ability (must refrain from using ‘good touch for a big man’) to move the ball forward quickly.  Freiburg’s narrow five-man midfield looked to offer support for Cissé – and it worked for the best part of 90 minutes.


Łukasz Piszczek: a copy & paste name if I’ve ever seen one

Łukasz Piszczek is an interesting proposition at right-back. Used primarily as a winger at Hertha Berlin for a long period of time, he’s successfully transformed himself into a competent right-back. He’s used very well at Dortmund his attacking forays into the attacking third are something to keep your eye on – in particular, his movement in-field was something that was extremely common – or, for its correct terminology – ‘something straight off the training ground.’


Łukasz Piszczek starts the move, moving the ball to Mario Götze, who places himself on the sideline; dragging the full-back forward and wide.

Kagawa follows the movement and drops deep, moving the centre-back out with him, creating a Piszczek-sized gap for him to run into when Kagawa moves the ball to him.

Often you see full-backs exploiting the space in wider positions and behind the full-backs, it’s rather novel seeing a full-back cutting inside and finding himself with shooting opportunities. As with the Portuguese international, Fábio Coentrão, Łukasz Piszczek finds himself as a winger being used well in a deeper position.

The attacking intent shown by Łukasz Piszczek has its downfalls, with Dortmund’s defence finding themselves sometimes rather stretched, with the space between centre-backs being large enough for even the most monolithic of strikers to move into.


Piszczek's attacking movements sometimes causes splits in the Dortmund defence.



Nuri Sahin: a left-foot crafted in the womb of Virgin Mary, made specifically for Dortmund

The German-born Turkish midfielder is the creator and provider of all things beautiful for this Dortmund side. Against Hannover and HSV his one-touch passing and movement allowed Dortmund to move the ball quickly and into dangerous spaces whilst his piercing longer passes often dissected the cumbersome Hannover defence. In this video, the first two goals illustrate how Sahin is able to place the ball exactly where his teammates want it. Due to the way Dortmund play, in intricate, tight arenas, Sahin’s precision with the ball is fundamental to the success of this team.


From a tactical point of view, the narrow attacking midfielders create migraine-sized headaches for the opposition.


Götze & Großkreutz: Two Double G’s that have nothing to do with Hip-Hop

As mentioned, Mario Götze and Kevin Großkreutz rarely stay on the sidelines, preferring to find pockets of space between midfield and defence in central areas. Kagawa, put simply, just moves.

The troublesome trio operate tightly together and centrally.

However, it’s the two German youngsters that provide difficulties for the opposition.

They operate in areas where there is not a direct opposition player designated to combat their effectiveness. Although ‘in the hole’ players may now be meeting their match with the increasing importance of defensive midfielders, players who operate in the channels and deeper can be now seen with relatively the same importance.

Why are Götze and Großkreutz effective this season? Well, it forces the opposition to make a decision on who is going to pick them up.

If they leave them in the realm of central midfielders responsibility, they’ll be outnumbered unless they play with two or three deep central midfielders; this also leaves the full-backs as largely redundant.


If the opposition instruct their full-back to pick them up, it allows them to have a spare man in the middle of the park to close down whoever the manager instructs or to sit and be used as a spare man. Dortmund, however, have options to rebuff this tactical repositioning.



The problem is Kagawa is a clever little player. He knows when to move wide to drag players with him, creating space for Götze or Großkreutz to play with. Kagawa has a very Ozil-esque left-foot, which is able to design and create a first-time ball through a defence from wider areas of the pitch.

The attacking quartet (+Piszczek) is able to create sparkling football at times; their movement quick and incisive, only matched by their penetrative passing and two-touch football. Klopp has them organised in such a way that they can respond to the opposition’s organisation as well as being hard to play against. Their youth allows them to press for seventy minutes without changes, and, by that time, the game is usually over. Teams without a clear game-plan or midfield players capable of handling the tenacity of the ‘Die Borussen’ will struggle to play through the middle of the park.

It’s not that the quartet has technical ability; they have power and pace and the ability to cut-through a defensive line with one run. Their right-side is always dangerous, with the pacey Jakub Błaszczykowski often coming off the bench to replace Mario Götze.

It’s easy to understand why out of all the top leagues in Europe that Dortmund have scored the third most (after Real Madrid & Barcelona, respectively) and have conceded the same amount as Barcelona (even if they don’t dominate games as much as the Catalan giants do). Jurgen Klopp has concocted a delicious mix of technical adroitness and physical accomplishment to propel his Dortmund team to the top of the Bundesliga after 13 games.

Bespectacled Jurgen Klopp is animated on the pitch, never giving the fourth official, his face – or anything else for that matter – a moments rest. His energy and youthful exuberance has been disseminated throughout his team – from the defence to the attack, Dortmund are spasmodic, yet paradoxically, have a fluidity of a team who have been playing together for years.

We may just be looking at the Bundesliga champions this year…




Łukasz Piszczek is an interesting proposition at right-back. Used primarily as a winger at Hertha Berlin for a long period of time, he’s successfully transformed himself into a competent right-back. He’s used very well at Dortmund his attacking forays into the attacking third are something to keep your eye on – in particular, his movement in-field was something that was extremely common – or, for its correct terminology – ‘something straight off the training ground.’

13 Comments leave one →
  1. November 25, 2010 10:18 am

    Great analysis but you kind of ignore my favourite player in this team, Sven Bender. He has to hold and plug the gaps that result from their aggressive pressing and all out attacking. Bender’s tireless efforts allow Sahin to have a free role.

    I profiled him on my blog

    I love how Kagawa always has his head up when he runs with the ball, looking to slip the ball for one of the runners. Brillian signing. I think he is more important to the team than the two young German wide players. Reminds me of Ozil hoow he just finds space in between defenders.

    • November 25, 2010 1:26 pm

      That’s a great post about Bender by the way.

      He was very good at finding Sahin after collecting the ball, their relationship is obviously very good. You’re right about the pressing, he just sat there in the gap left by Sahin et. al going after the ball. He’s perfect for that role.

      You’re right about Kagawa, he’s very Ozil-esque in his striking of the ball and the movement off-the-ball. His dropping off to the wings, then receiving a ball only for him to pass it first time beyond the defence was extremely Ozil-like.

      Who do you think will win the Bundesliga this year?

      • November 25, 2010 3:07 pm

        The league has been crazy this season(which is great). Dortmund are a very young team and I worry about how they will handle all the pressure and attention. Their success has been built on hard work and good team play. Will they maintain that when people start calling them superstars? I don’t know, I have seen other German teams lose the plot. I also worry about their defensive depth, they have all these attacking midfielders but if one of the back four or Bender gets injured they may struggle.

        Leverkusen have been quietly moving up the league and they have veteran players on the team and depth at most positions. They seem to have sorted out their defensive problems now. If i had to pick I would say they are more likely to win it.

        I dont trust Bayern Munich’s defense, they lose too many leads and make too may errors.

  2. November 25, 2010 10:36 am

    I am sorry, but how could you use the name Schmelzer just once in your post? Ha! That lad deserves big accolades.

    I consider the full-back duo of Dortmund along with Schwaab of Leverkusen the best defenders this season till now.

    Loved the way you have defined the importance of full-backs and monumental contribution from the back along with controlled finesses of Sahin.

    The second best article on Dortmund I ‘ve read so far this season, along with Swiss Ramble’s break-down of the Dortmund affairs.


    • November 25, 2010 1:29 pm

      Sorry Vampy! Yeah, he was very good too. I only chose Lukas (can’t spell his surname yet off the bat) because they’d obviously planned moves for him to implement throughout the games I watched.

      Sahin could quite easily move to a bigger club by the way, I know early in the season there was talk about Bayern moving in for him, he and Schweinsteiger could make a wonderful partnership in the midfield I think.

  3. hwk permalink
    November 25, 2010 10:38 am

    really great work!

  4. November 25, 2010 11:35 am

    Just to add to what the previous 3 have already said. Loved the article – along with SwissRamble you two have managed to comprehensively cover Dortmund’s (re)rise.

    For me the key to the midfield, what gives it the X-factor is easily Kagawa. Sahin gets the ball to the crucial areas at the right time, Bender does the *ahem* donkey-work, but it’s Kagawa that can unlock a defence in the final third.

    I love seeing Dortmund on the break – all short, flicky type passes. Direct and irresistable.

    They are also incredibly strong and organised through set-plays. They have the 3 main elements – organisation, range of good set-piece takers, and height/power in the box. Great for both defensive and offensive purposes and just another string to their impressive bow.

    I think the natural riposte for opposition teams is surely a counter-attacking 4-5-1 – with a pacy striker (and/or wingers) key. The 2 wide-men on each side should in theory be able to neutralise Dortmund’s, the 3 men in midfield with heavy pressing should again in theory be able to stifle Dortmund’s, with a good man-marker on Kagawa perhaps key. Finally their high-line is there to be exploited by someone with a bit of pace. That’s the way I’d stop them anyways….

    Just as an aside, and I don’t mean to criticise but it’s strange that these articles are only appearing now. You’d be hard pushed to find anything even towards the end of last season. And it was back then that this Dortmund team really materialised as a strong outfit. Shame the hype machine is only picking up pace now (at least vaguely in the UK).

    Wonder if they’ll be able to resist raids from the EPL for guys like Subotic, Hummels, Sahin and Kagawa?

    • November 25, 2010 1:32 pm

      You’re completely right about Kagawa, but his success depends wholly on Sahin’s ability to find the quick ball to him. Together, they perform wonderfully.

      I watched Dortmund struggle against Freiburg last weekend and Freiburg set themselves up in a very narrow 4-5-1 with a high line. Sahin and Kagawa struggled to find space whilst Papiss Cisse was used to hold up the ball and wait for the midfield support. It worked – until the final 15 minutes.

      I’d like to see the team stay as they are for the next few years, they could really build something great, they have a really great first XI and a few extra.

  5. November 25, 2010 8:13 pm

    Great post, well done! Kagawa looks like one of the signings of the century at £350k(!) and Dortmund have been an absolute joy to watch this season.

  6. Ecsktatic permalink
    November 25, 2010 9:14 pm

    As an BVB- Fan I approve this message.
    Great analysis.

  7. Kloppo permalink
    November 27, 2010 1:21 am

    Even better, Flair20, 350k euros!

    He’s probably worth 5 or 6m now. Doubt he’s going anywhere soon. Interesting to note that his agent has several other Japanese players under management, many (Hasebe, Uchida, Yano, Soma) of which are in Germany already.

    Nice article. Liked the realistic assessment of Neven Subotic, who I believe is marginally overrated. Think he will go for the right price (15m+). Would take Hummels over him every day of the week and Felipe Santana showed last season that he can play, too.

  8. Kaminski permalink
    November 27, 2010 1:45 pm

    Nice post. I think you analysed Dortmund quite well. I only think you coul have noted some weak points of Dortmund. When the ball is at the opponents right-back, Barrios is not covering the space between Kagawa, he still is on his lines, so the opponent has the possibility to pass from ight-back to holding midfielder, and then to play quick forward, before Dortmund can react.

    I think there is also a weak point, when Dortmund is pressing on one flank, there is often space in the central of the pitch in front of the back, and when they one time don’t have pressure on the ball, the opponent can pass in that zone and outnumber Dortmund in centre.

    Bit these are only two points of little weakness in Dortmund’s performance, so it is very diffiult to beat them, and they are a quite interesting and successfull team, which I will observe more in future.

  9. December 7, 2010 9:22 pm

    Excellent post. Not had a chance to watch any German football this season so great to read how Dortmund have managed to set the league alight.


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