Leverkusen 0-0 Dortmund: two similar systems cancel each other out

August 27, 2011

The starting line-ups

Arguably the first ‘big’ game of the European League season produced a fairly uninspiring 0-0 draw.

Both sides were unchanged from their previous league fixtures, and both lined up in familiar 4-2-3-1 systems.

This was a slightly frustrating game to watch. The first two-thirds of the match were tense, tight and evenly-balanced, and with two clever young coaches in Jurgen Klopp and Robin Dutt on the sidelines, it seemed the game might have been decided by an astute tactical switch or a well-timed substitution.

As it turned out, both coaches were forced to adapt when their side went down to ten men, and late on it appeared that both were happy with a point.

Early pressing

The start of the game was a frenetic battle of pressing and passing in the centre of midfield. Dortmund came out of the traps quickly and immediately pressed, forcing Leverkusen into a couple of dodgy passes in dangerous positions.

Strangely, whilst it was Dortmund largely responsible for this type of game, it was probably Leverkusen who benefited from it. Klopp’s side wanted to play clever passes and involve Shinji Kagawa and Mario Gotze in play as much as possible, whilst Dutt’s side was a little more direct, with balls played from defence to attack bypassing the congested midfield zone. They weren’t playing ‘long ball football’ as such, but Stefan Kiessling was more of an outlet for direct balls than Robert Lewandowski.

Kagawa anonymous

Dortmund’s main problem was that Kagawa couldn’t dictate the game. In fact, that was a secondary issue stemming from a more immediate problem – they couldn’t get the ball to him in the first place. Leverkusen played intelligently against him, keeping it tight between the lines and blocking off the passing angles to him. Kagawa could have been more intelligent with his movement, moving to the flanks when Gotze came inside, for example – instead he stayed central and the first half bypassed him.

Renato Augusto, playing broadly the same role for Leverkusen, was more involved because he played deep and passes into his feet were easier. The home side had a clear route of attack: Dortmund were playing high up the pitch and keeping an aggressive offside trap, and whilst Kiessling wasn’t a huge threat in that respect, Andre Schurrle played high up against Marcel Schmelzer, and moved in behind the defence for passes played between Schmelzer and Mats Hummels. Roman Wiedenfeller had to make a brave save with his head for a Schurrle one-on-one, the game’s best chance.

Second half

Things opened up a little in the second half, and Dortmund were more of a force. There were few major tactical shifts at the beginning of the second period, though it seemed that Klopp instructed his side to sit deeper, as they weren’t so vulnerable to balls played in behind. The knock-on effect, though, was that Leverkusen players had more of a chance to run at the back four, and Hummels was lucky to escape a second booking when he brought down Augusto on the edge of the box.

Another result was that the midfield zone was more stretched, and this suited Dortmund, who put together some fine passing moves as the half went on. They also had more of a chance to counter quickly, something rarely seen in the first half but a key part of their strategy last year. Kagawa was more visible yet still not a huge threat, and it felt like he needed one of Dortmund’s two holding midfielders to make more of an effort to break forward, distract Leverkusen’s holders, and potentially open up space for Kagawa. In that sense, they miss Nuri Sahin.

The red cards (to Michael Kadlec, for a challenge on Gotze, and then Gotze for kicking Kadlec’s replacement at left-back Hanno Balitsch) rather ruined the end of the game, and meant the sides went into safety-first mode. Dortmund had passed the ball excellently in the 13 minutes when they had a numerical advantage, keeping width and spreading play from one flank to the other, but Gotze’s dismissal put an end to that, and also to the contest.


Not a huge amount of overall interest here. 4-2-3-1 played 4-2-3-1, and Dutt probably would have been happier with his side’s performance – managing to stifle Dortmund’s creative players, and also work a couple of good chances.

Neither side did enough to win the game – there was a lack of ambition in the sense that midfielders and full-backs rarely broke past forwards, and neither defence became overloaded. 0-0 was fair.

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