Dortmund 1-2 Schalke: Klopp takes the blame as shift to 3-5-2 backfires
Dortmund surprisingly started in a 3-5-2 formation – despite not trying it in training beforehand – and produced a terrible performance.
Jurgen Klopp was without four regulars – Mario Gotze, Ilkay Gundogan, Marcel Schmelzer and Jakub Blaszczykowski – which was one of the reasons for his unusual formation choice.
Huub Stevens had Kyriakos Papadopoulos unavailable at the back, while Ibrahim Afellay started on the left of midfield.
Dortmund started awfully and played poor football throughout the game – the 3-5-2 didn’t last long, but was a key factor in their poor performance.
Without wishing to underplay the achievements of Schalke, who played well and deserved their victory, the real story was Klopp’s formation choice. In very basic terms you can understand why he played this way – without Blaszczykowski and Schmelzer, Klopp was robbed of half of his four regular starters in wide positions, and while he has reliable deputies in central roles, he lacks cover on the flanks. A move to 3-5-2 means that only two wide players were needed.
Sure enough, it was Kevin Grosskreutz (the regular left-winger) and Lukas Piszczek (the regular right-back) who started in the two wing-back positions. Sven Bender dropped back from midfield to play as a supplementary centre-back, while Sebastian Kehl played as the holder and Marco Reus played behind Robert Lewandowski. It could be called a number of things – you’d be justified in saying 3-3-2-1-1 if you really wanted to be specific (which is reminiscent of the ultra-defensive system North Korea played at the 2010 World Cup, incidentally), but it was basically a 3-5-2.
There were various problems with the system – Dortmund looked uncomfortable positionally and passed the ball extremely slowly, conceding possession too cheaply and exposing their centre-backs constantly. At the back, the reliable combination of Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic was split up, while Bender didn’t know how to play as the spare man. He often moved too high up the pitch towards Lewis Holtby (who, crucially, stayed in advance of Kehl and therefore had to be dealt with by the Dortmund back three) and left Hummels and Subotic as the last two defenders, far too far apart. Germany has a fine tradition of converting central midfielders into sweepers, but just as Bastian Schweinsteiger’s bizarre role against Dortmund early last year failed to work, Bender doesn’t appear suited to dropping between the centre-backs.
The real issue, however, was on the flanks. If Klopp’s logic for the change in system was that he needed fewer players out wide, it follows that Dortmund were exposed because they didn’t have enough players there. Piszczek and Grosskreutz were both exposed, and Schalke dominated the early stages by spreading the play quickly and attacking with pace. After all, they are a side with many talented players in wide positions – four decent wingers to choose from, plus a reliable pair of attacking full-backs.
The Dortmund wing-backs were rarely actually exposed to literal 2 v 1 situations (in terms of the Schalke wide players storming forward together and playing their way around a wing-back) they simply didn’t know who to pick up. Oddly, considering their usual roles, Piszczek played too high up and Grosskreutz played too deep, as Dortmund concentrated on attacking down the right.
Therefore, on the right Dortmund were exposed to the positioning of Afellay, who found a little pocket of space to himself. On the left, Gorsskreutz was pushed back by the natural wide tendencies of Jefferson Farfan, and Dortmund had no-one picking up Atsuto Uchida. Before the first goal Afellay had already looked dangerous and Uchida had already swing in a couple of crosses – but as the Japanese right-back assisted the Dutch winger for the opener, Dortmund’s weaknesses couldn’t have been clearer.
Back to 4-2-3-1
Klopp changed things after 29 minutes, moving back to the 4-2-3-1 system Dortmund are more accustomed to. This meant various changes in position – Bender moved to right-back, Piszczek to left-back, Grosskreutz forward to the left of midfield, and Perisic to the right of midfield. A couple of players were still out of position, but it seemed more logical than the 3-5-2.
Yet Dortmund were still rattled, and their passing didn’t improve – too many long balls towards Lewandowski underlined how desperate they looked. They went in only one goal down at half-time, with Schalke more conservative at 1-0 up.
Klopp made two changes early in the second half, which prompted yet more switching. Piszczek became the right-back, Grosskreutz was now at left-back, and Bender was finally in midfield. The game was now a fairly standard 4-2-3-1 v 4-2-3-1 battle.
Yet goals had already been scored – one at either end. Holtby stayed high up the pitch, and although Dortmund hadn’t exactly been solid with 3 v 2 and Bender wandering out of defence, they now had one fewer player goalside. Holtby got plenty of space in behind the midfield, while Klaas-Jan Huntelaar dropped deep to draw the Dortmund centre-backs out of position. The second Schalke goal was a superb counter-attack through the centre of the pitch, finished by holding midfielder Marco Hoger – the Dortmund centre-backs stuck to their men, opening up a huge space for Hoger to sprint into, and finish coolly.
Lewandowski got a goal back from a set-piece to make it 1-2, but Dortmund never rallied. Hoger and Roman Neustadter remained together protecting the defence, and Schalke were brave in leaving their wingers high up as an attacking option, keeping Dortmund’s full-backs in place, while Reus and substitute Leonardo Bittencourt didn’t have the natural width to create opportunities through crossing.
Schalke slowed the tempo cleverly in the second half, partly through some rather obvious timewasting that frustrated Klopp and co. Stevens’ players looked delighted at the final whistle – but perhaps they were simply surprised at how easy Dortmund made it.
Bundesliga.com: “Did you practice playing with a back three in training?”
Lukas Piszczek: “No.”
Bndesliga.com: “So Dortmund were trying out this variation for the first time against Schalke?”
Lukas Piszczek: “That’s right.”
“It was nothing to do with the formation, we simply played badly,” protested Reus. Which is an understandable reaction – footballers rarely blame results upon the tactical decisions of their coach, for obvious reasons. Yet the formation was precisely why Schalke were able to thrive down the flanks in the opening stages, and the constant switches were surely why Dortmund looked uncomfortable even in their more familiar 4-2-3-1. Grosskreutz and Piszczek both had to play at least three positions over the course of the 90 minutes.
Klopp has been a huge reason for Dortmund’s success over the past two seasons, but he rightly accepted the blame for this defeat. Dortmund are now 12 points behind Bayern after eight games, and now face a difficult task to retain their title.