Dortmund 0-2 Leverkusen: Dominance down the right decides the game in the first half

August 24, 2010

The starting line-ups

An interesting game here, because a 4-4-2 defeated a 4-2-3-1 – intriguing, in the light of Sampdoria, Tottenham and Liverpool’s recent problems with 4-4-2.

Dortmund played a fairly basic 4-2-3-1 system, with the main point of interest being the debut of Japanese international Shinji Kagawa, a highly-rated attacking midfielder signed over the summer from Cerezo Osaka.

Leverkusen, in their change strip of blue, played broadly the same system as they did last year, a 4-4-2 with attack-minded wingers. Their major new signing is the return of Michael Ballack, and he played a low-key, quiet passing role in the centre of the park – the running was done by his Chilean midfield partner Arturo Vidal, so Leverkusen’s central midfield zone operated similar to the Scholes-Fletcher partnership Sir Alex Ferguson has started the season with.

The game was essentially decided by two goals in the opening 25 minutes – although Leverkusen were the better side, a two-goal lead slightly flattered them in terms of the balance of play. The difference between the teams was that Leverkusen were quicker and more intelligent in the final third. Dortmund seemed disjointed and wasteful when they worked the ball into good positions, whereas Leverkusen had a clear plan.

Right-sided plan

That plan was to work the ball down the right, and cause Marcel Schmelzer problems in Dortmund’s left-back zone. Leverkusen’s two strikers, Erin Derdiyok and Stefan Kiessling, took it in turns to drop deep and provide a different option, but they both seemed to drift towards the right when Leverkusen won the ball. In addition, Gonzalo Castro made driving runs from full-back, allowing Renato Augusto to drift in and make direct runs towards goal.

Of course, when playing a 4-4-2 against a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, you find yourself with a deficit in the centre of the pitch. Leverkusen made sure this wasn’t an issue when they had the ball, by playing the ball quickly to their wide midfield players rather than through the centre of the pitch – similar to how Stuttgart caused Barcelona problems in the Champions League last season.

The opening goal arrived after great combination play from Castro and Vidal down the right, cutting out three Dortmund players with a quick one-two. Vidal pulled the ball back for Tranquilo Barnetta, who swept the ball into the far corner.

Dortmund had a Sebastian Kehl goal very narrowly disallowed for offside after a cross into the box wasn’t properly cleared, but Leverkusen went 2-0 up straight away, and Dortmund’s problem started in a similar zone to the first goal. This time the approach was more direct – Kiessling (6′4) and Derdiyok (6′3) were taking it in turns to challenge Schmelzer (5′11) in the air, and on this occasion Kiessling nodded the ball down for Augusto, now free thanks to Schmelzer being otherwise occupied. He took the ball forward, exchanged passes with Derdiyok, and after some poor defending, finished into the far corner.

Dortmund offer little response

Dortmund were actually well-organised and had a very good defensive shape when they lost the ball – it was more poor individual defending rather than poor tactical decisions from Jurgen Klopp which cost them the early goals.

With this in mind, he didn’t change things tactically until midway through second half, when he switched to a 4-4-2 system that caused Leverkusen relatively few problems. Amongst their biggest threats in the game had been the runs of Patrick Owomoyela from right-back: it was cross that created Kehl’s disallowed goal, and he also went close to connecting with a through ball in the second half that would have seen him in on goal. (Unfortunately the man ahead of him, Kevin Grosskreutz, had an awful game – completing only six passes, none of which were to the other three attacking Dortmind players.) Indeed, Dortmund sometimes took up an interesting shape when in possession, with Owomoyela getting well forward to join the midfield, and Neven Subotic briefly shifting over to the right, forming a temporary back three.

But Leverkusen were always in control, and rarely looked like letting their lead slip.


Dortmund didn’t offer enough going forward – Kagawa showed a couple of nice touches, but coming into a new league and playing in that position is very difficult, and he will take time to settle in. Despite the disappointment of a home defeat on the opening day, Dortmund’s shape was generally good – they simply need more finesse and craft in the final third.

Leverkusen overcame their numerical disadvantage in the midfield by getting the ball into wide areas quickly, especially down the right, and multiplying the threat on that side by pushing their strikers that way, and telling their right-back to bomb on forward. Domination in that one zone was enough to score two goals, and two goals were enough to win the game.

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