Schalke 2-1 Dortmund: squeezed game allows full-backs forward on the overlap

March 12, 2013

The starting line-ups

Schalke won the Revierderby with an excellent first-half display.

Atsuto Uchida came back into Jens Keller’s side, with Marco Hoger moving forward into midfield in place of Jermaine Jones.

Jurgen Klopp recalled Mats Hummels – although he didn’t seem 100% fit and only lasted half the game. Klopp left out Marco Reus, presumably because of rotation after a busy couple of weeks for Dortmund.

This game was amazingly attack-minded in the opening stages, and almost solely about the flanks, with all four full-backs playing attack-minded roles.

High lines, compact game

A typically frantic start to the derby saw both sides closing down frenetically in the early stages, and both sides staying compact, with high defensive lines. This wasn’t necessarily a problem because of the threat of strikers in behind – Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Robert Lewandoswki aren’t slow, but they don’t depend primarily on pace, or naturally break in behind the opposition defence.

However, the two sides squeezing the play into the centre of the pitch had a huge effect upon the situation down the flanks. This match became all about full-backs flying forward, and because of the compact nature of the game, they had relatively little ground to cover before finding themselves in dangerous overlapping positions.

Where to start with the overlapping runs? Well, Schalke were more effective in this area, but Dortmund were also threatening. In fact, in a funny way this was a little like the Tottenham versus Arsenal derby last weekend, which also finished 2-1 – both sides were vulnerable in exactly the same way, and it came down to how ruthlessly the sides could execute the same attacking movements.

Piszczek forward powerfully

With Michel Bastos and Jefferson Farfan both taking up extremely attack-minded, aggressive positions on the flanks – and neither the most willing player defensively – both Lukas Piszczek and Marcel Schmelzer had opportunities to break past. For Piszczek, this generally came from sudden off-the-ball darts down the right to stretch the play – there was an early example of when Mario Gotze charged forward on a counter-attack, but chose to shoot rather than slip in Piszczek motoring down the outside.

Later, Gotze did play in Piszczek on the overlap, when Bastos completely switched off – Piszczek played a clever pass for Jakub Blaszczykowski, who pulled his shot across the box.

Schmelzer forward to cross

On the opposite flank, Schmelzer also got forward and overlapped, as Farfan stayed in a position to counter-attack. Whereas Piszczek tended to motor forward to help out on counters, Schmelzer got forward when Dortmund had enjoyed a good spell of pressure – although also received a couple of good passes when Hummels stepped forward with the ball.

Schmelzer enjoyed his freedom on the flank to cross the ball into the box – most notably for half-chances in the same move for Lewandowski and then Blaszczykowski.

Dortmund's full-back's passing and crossing (attacking right to left)

Kolasinac forward with little effect

The most cautious of the four full-backs was youngster Sead Kolasinac, not a Schalke regular and perhaps slightly daunted by the occasion. He had the first shot of the game when breaking forward to the edge of the box, and then got past Blaszczykowski a couple of times to create two-versus-one situations against Piszczek, allowing Bastos space.

However, he was also lucky to escape an early booking for a rash tackle on Piszczek when out of position – and with Dortmund’s right-wing Polish combination charging forward into space, he looked more comfortable when staying in position – and Dortmund probably should have attacked him more.

Uchida forward to assist both goals

The most effective attacking full-back was unquestionably Atsuto Uchida, who played an extremely attack-minded role on the right flank, and provided crosses for both Schalke’s goals. Whereas Dortmund’s full-backs got forward because Schalke’s wingers were positioned very high up the pitch, the situation was different for Uchida – he usually got space when Kevin Grosskreutz was drawn inside, as Dortmund tried to squeeze the game laterally. The narrowness of the Dortmund midfield played into Schalke’s hands.

The positioning of Hoger was crucial, too. Whereas Roman Neustadter stayed in position ahead of the back four, Hoger moved forward and towards the right flank, creating an easy passing triangle between himself, Farfan and Uchida. He also stayed in a position to cover for Uchida, and the first goal was a brilliant example of Schalke’s play down the right: Uchida, forward to Farfan, inside to Hoger, forward to Farfan, on for the overlap to Uchida – and a pull-back for Julian Draxler to open the scoring.

This was a continual theme throughout the first half – Uchida simply getting into advanced positions to provide overlaps. There was one move that summed it up: Uchida received a cracking long pass from centre-back Benedikt Howedes, and the Japanese right-back was level with Huntelaar as Schalke’s highest player up the pitch – and this was when the ball had been in defence! The second goal simply came from Hoger knocking the ball out to Uchida, who crossed for Huntelaar’s free header. Two Uchida crosses, 2-0.

Schalke's full-backs' passing and crossing

Klopp changes

It was no surprise that Klopp immediately took off Grosskreutz at half-time, bring on Marco Reus and moving Mario Gotze central. He also replaced Hummels with Nuri Sahin, moving Sven Bender back into the centre of defence. Grosskreutz had been embarrassed by Uchida, and Hummels by Huntelaar.

After the break, Schalke’s full-backs were less advanced and stayed in traditional, defensive-minded positions as the home side played more cautiously. Dortmund attacked more through the middle – their wingers were still involved, but Gotze cut inside more and Blaszczykowski found pockets of space between the lines, from where he assisted Lewandowski’s goal. Dortmund improved in the second period, although they left themselves open to counter-attacks – inevitably, from Schalke’s wingers.

Other issues

It wasn’t all about the full-backs, of course – but all the other issues were of secondary importance to the battle down the flanks:

  • Draxler’s role helped Schalke work the overloads on the flanks. As a player formerly deployed on the wing, but now used as a number ten, he naturally drifts across the pitch laterally (a la Valbuena) to combine with the wingers. The way he was left unattended between the lines was also reminiscent of Toni Kroos’ freedom against Dortmund earlier in the season.
  • Schalke’s second half performance was a little like PSG’s in the win over Marseille a couple of weeks ago – because their gameplan was about counter-attacking down the flanks, the game stayed at a high tempo and Schalke were unable to retain possession to close out the game – as, say, Fiorentina did this weekend.
  • When Huntelaar got injured after 54 minutes, Keller was forced to bring on Teemu Pukki in his place – Pukki is a much shorter, less physical player and couldn’t really deal with long balls played towards him, which played into Bender’s hands nicely.
  • With Kolasinac struggling at left-back, Keller removed Neustadter, put on Christian Fuchs at left-back and moved Kolasinac into the centre of midfield, which seemed to work better.

Schalke (blue) and Dortmund (red) both attacked primarily down the right (courtesy


This was most entirely about the overlapping runs down the flanks, and the two-versus-one situations that were frequently obvious for both teams, on both sides.

However, it was unquestionably Uchida who profited most from these situations, combining excellently with Hoger and Farfan to provide the two decisive crosses which put Schalke into a commanding lead.

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