Dortmund 3-2 Malaga: Pellegrini’s side defend well, but are unable to cope with late pressure

April 10, 2013

The starting line-ups. Malaga's three attackers rotated, particularly on the right

An astonishing stoppage time turnaround means Dortmund to progress to the semi-finals.

Jurgen Klopp used Jakub Blaszczykowski as his winger, rather than left-sided Kevin Grosskreutz, so Marco Reus started from the left. Sven Bender returned, but Mats Hummels was only on the bench.

With a couple of suspensions to cope with, Manuel Pellegrini brought in Sergio Sanchez and Ignacio Camacho. He pushed Julio Baptista upfront, dropping Javier Saviola, with Duda coming into the side.

Malaga coped well for most of the game – and two goals should have been enough to see them through.

Malaga defensively solid

Dortmund ripped Malaga apart with their quick attacking in Spain last week, and should have been at least 2-0 up coming into this leg. The away contest suited Malaga better – at home they felt the need to play reasonably high up the pitch and attack Dortmund, whereas here they dropped much deeper, and weren’t so vulnerable to Dortmund’s quick transitions.

Malaga’s best defensive work came high up the pitch. Baptista and the second central player (often Joaquin, but sometimes Duda or Isco) didn’t press Dortmund’s centre-backs energetically, but instead dropped deep and prevented easy passes being played into Ilkay Gundogan and Sven Bender.

This was the game’s defining feature. Crucially, it meant that the match was played at a very slow tempo, which benefited Malaga. Had this been a high-tempo game of quick passing and pressing, Dortmund would surely have emerged victorious. Instead, they spent long periods playing the ball slowly between their two centre-backs – who completed more passes than any other players. Considering Dortmund always needed a goal to progress (until the 93rd minute), keeping the ball at the back for so long was unhelpful.

The lack of pressing meant Malaga could keep a deeper defensive line – playing too high up was their major problem in the first game. Between the forwards and the defence, Camacho and Jeremy Toulalan stuck tight together, playing as a unit and focusing upon minimising space between the lines. They closed down Gundogan and Bender when necessary, although those two rarely received the ball because of the good work from Malaga’s forwards.

With Neven Subotic and Felipe Santana unable to get the ball forward, Gundogan tried dropping between the defenders, allowing Dortmund to push their full-backs higher up the pitch. These experiments weren’t particularly successful, despite the Malaga full-backs tending to track runs from Blaszczykowski and Reus inside, leaving gaps on the flanks. After a while, Dortmund were having such problems getting the ball forward, that Mario Gotze dropped incredibly deep to collect possession, since he was unable to get the ball between the lines.

Dortmund were much less fluid than in the first game, with Gundogan less of an influence. Malaga denied him time on the ball, forcing him into simple sideways passes – but it’s also arguable that Bender is a less suitable partner for him than Sebastian Kehl, who was more disciplined with his positioning and allowed Gundogan great freedom. Today, his passes were much less vertical than in the first leg.

Malaga attacks

Malaga attacked mainly through their front four, with support from Jesus Gamez bombing forward down the right, sometimes taking advantage of Reus’ narrowness. The majority of Malaga’s attacks went down that side, with the combination of Gamez, Duda and Joaquin working very nicely. Malaga’s top two passing combinations were Gamez to Joaquin, and Gamez to Duda – showing how the two attacking midfielders switched positions down that flank.

On the other side, Isco was rarely involved in the first half. Baptista started quietly but then started to collect long balls and bring others into play. He also defended the left flank when Isco drifted inside. The opener, through Joaquin, came out of nothing – but was a decent example of Malaga attacking quickly, and the front four combining.

Joaquin actually threatened on two other occasions – headers from set-pieces. A common feature of the first leg was Dortmund’s inability to defend at dead ball situations – that continued here.

Dortmund’s equaliser was also out of the blue – but a tremendous goal that flowed quickly through the Malaga side with excellent one-touch passing. It started with the Polish combination down the right, and ended with great touches from Gotze, Reus and finally Robert Lewandowski finishing coolly. It was almost unstoppable.


The goal gave Dortmund confidence, and throughout the second half they put together some good passing combinations. Lewandowski, quiet aside from his goal, started to drop away from the centre-backs into deep positions – this caused problems, as Malaga’s defenders tried to stick tight to him, opening up gaps for Dortmund’s other attackers to sprint into. Blaszczykowski wasted a good chance when Martin Demichelis, who was generally excellent, got dragged out of the back.

But the pattern was the same – Dortmund pressure, Malaga patience. At 1-1, Dortmund needed to score to progress, while Malaga were heading through on away goals. But Klopp knew a second Malaga goal would leave his side needing to score twice, so Dortmund remained cautious.

Klopp changes

Pellegrini’s substitutions simply replaced attackers with fresh legs, but Klopp changed things in the final third. Bringing on Nuri Sahin for Bender altered little, but a more crucial switch was Julian Schieber on for Blaszczykowski. This turned Dortmund into something more like 4-4-2, with Gotze now starting from the right, and Lewandowski playing a little deeper.

This nearly worked brilliantly – Gotze’s chance, when he was thwarted by a brilliant save from Willy Caballero, came after a one-two and a run in behind the two centre-backs, who were both getting too tight to Lewandowski and Schieber, acting as a ‘double false nine’, moving towards play and leaving only the two full-backs covering. They were too far apart, and Gotze should have scored.

Amongst all the Dortmund attacking and missed chances, Malaga’s second goal on the breakaway – scored by sub Eliseu, assisted by Baptista with Isco involved too – seemed to seal the tie in Malaga’s favour.

But Klopp’s final change, on 86 minutes, proved crucial. In theory it was odd – Gundogan, a midfielder, was taken off, with centre-back Hummels on. However, with Dortmund now playing long balls into the box, Dortmund could afford to be light in midfield. Hummels went to the back and launched accurate forward passes, while Santana and Subotic went upfront.

99 times out of 100, it wouldn’t result in two goals in four minutes. But this time, it did. On 91 minutes, Hummels’ long ball found Subotic in the box – he squared to Santana who was challenged, with the ball breaking to Reus to score into an empty net. That gave Dortmund renewed hope – and on 93 minutes, Santana again found himself free in the box to score a highly unlikely winner.


There was much to admire about Malaga here – especially after their preparations were disrupted because of Pellegrini’s personal tragedy this week. They improved from the first leg, dropping deep towards their own goal and preventing Dortmund playing through midfield, while offering a sporadic counter-attacking threat.

Dortmund were considerably worse than in the first leg. However, they demonstrated an ability to put together sudden, lightning-fast attacks from back to front, and their late Plan B was highly effective, if very simple.

Tags: , , ,