Dortmund 3-0 Shakhtar: Dortmund exploit Shakhtar’s poor positional play

March 6, 2013

The starting line-ups

After a 2-2 first leg draw, Dortmund performed excellently to qualify for the quarter-finals with surprising ease.

Jurgen Klopp was still without Mats Hummels, so Felipe Santana and Neven Subotic continued at the back. Otherwise, the side was as expected, and played in the traditional 4-2-3-1, rather than the 4-3-3 we saw against Bayern last week.

Mircea Lucescu named Taison on the left wing. Douglas Costa was only on the bench.

In a game between two similar sides, Dortmund were better in almost every department, dragging Shakhtar out of shape and exploiting the spaces in behind.


Both these sides play similarly high-tempo, quick football with excellent attacking combinations, within a 4-2-3-1 system.

There was a slight modification to Shakhtar’s shape – as usual, Fernandinho pushed forward towards the right of the pitch, pressing Dortmund in midfield and often turning Shakhtar into more of a 4-1-4-1.

Space behind Fernandinho

In a way, that was Shakhtar’s first problem. Their desire to press Dortmund was understandable – they needed to prevent the home side from getting into a good passing rhythm, and they also needed to force the issue (they had to score – a 0-0 would have sent Dortmund through). Therefore, Fernandinho’s advanced positioning made sense to prevent Dortmund from controlling the game deep in midfield.

But Shakhtar had two issues behind him. First, Marco Reus and Mario Gotze were both looking to work that pocket of space in an inside-left position – Gotze was more frequently central, but a couple of times he dropped back to the left as Reus drifted inside.

Furthermore, the usually reliable Tomas Hubschmann caused problems by being dragged wildly out of position – at one point he found himself trying to close down a Dortmund player close to the left touchline, while Fernandinho was still retreating back from an advanced zone. This meant the centre of the pitch was exposed, and Dortmund frequently exploited this space effectively.

Another knock-on effect was that Robert Lewandowski dropped deep from his centre-forward position excellently, drawing Olexandr Kucher into an early yellow card, while Yaroslav Rakitskiy was fortunate to escape a booking too. Both times, there was the same problem – the centre-backs would prefer to have passed Lewandowski onto one of the midfielders, but they simply weren’t in position to cope, so the centre-backs were dragged into uncomfortable situations. The good positional play of the attacking players was, of course, combined with Dortmund’s natural energy to charge into the gaps created, resulting in some good opportunities on the break.

Pressing and passing from the back

Dortmund’s good football also started from the back, another key difference between the sides. Shakhtar pressed half-heartedly, with Henrikh Mkitarayan joining Luiz Adriano to close down the two centre-backs. However, as Dortmund did in the second half against Bayern last week, they dropped one of the central midfielders (usually Ilkay Gundogan) into the back, created a 3 v 2 that Shakhtar didn’t respond to (Fernandinho would have had to advance even higher) and played out easily. Jakub Blaszczykowski shifted inside into Gundogan’s central mdifield position naturally, allowing Dortmund to work the ball forward quickly. Shakhtar’s half-press neither stopped the passing moves, nor allowed Shakhtar to get in a good defensive position.

On the other hand, Dortmund pressed Shakhtar more energetically high up the pitch. Gundogan, crucial in allowing his own side to play out – prevented Hubschmann from finding space between the centre-backs to do the same at the other end. With a relative lack of passing options under pressure, the away side frequently resorted to long balls forward – where Adriano didn’t win a single aerial duel all night. Dortmund were deservedly 2-0 up at the break, courtesy of Santana’s header from a corner, and Gotze turning in Lewandowski’s cross after a slick passing move.

Shakhtar changes

Having been desperately poor in the first half, Shakhtar looked good for the first 15 minutes of the second half. Costa came on to replace Taison and went to the right, with Alex Teixeira switching to the left. Immediately, Shakhtar looked more dangerous, and passed the ball forward at a greater speed – Costa had an early chance.

But the real reason Shakhtar was more threatening was simple – they were chucking more players forward. Darijo Srna and Razvan Rat both stretched the play in astonishingly advanced positions, allowing the forward four to narrow and combine in central positions. It created chances, but it meant Shakhtar were alarmingly prone to Dortmund counter-attacks.

Dortmund’s final goal, after an hour, was a perfect example of the danger. Costa lost the ball after Santana intercepted his pass, and immediately Shakhtar had a problem – there were six players (the front four and the full-backs) in advance of the ball. Hubschmann again found himself drawn to the left flank, allowing Blaszczykowski to advance 60 yards on the ball without a challenge, despite the Pole barely breaking into a sprint.

A fumble from Andriy Pyatov was also to blame, but Shakhtar conceded because of their desperation to get back into the game – it was never going to finish 2-0 with such an adventurous strategy from Lucescu after the break.


The home side dragged opponents out of position, then teammates charged into the spaces created. That’s classic Dortmund, but they’ll be surprised at how disorganised Shakhtar were without the ball – half-hearted pressing from the front four, risky positioning from the central midfielders, increasingly attacking roles from the full-backs, and the centre-backs’ inability to cope with Lewandowski’s movement.

“I hope Dortmund reach the fine as they are a really strong side,” said Lucescu. “I believe Dortmund deserved to go through – overall, the result corresponds with what we all saw on the pitch…At the half-time break I told the players that we needed to change the game, and you could see that on the field.”

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