Dortmund v Real Madrid: tactical preview

April 24, 2013

Probable starting line-ups

Dortmund have already defeated Real Madrid in this season’s Champions League – the problem is that Jose Mourinho so often learns lessons from these setbacks, and doesn’t make the same mistake twice.

Most obviously, there was Inter’s 2-0 defeat to Barcelona in 2010, when Mourinho’s side were thoroughly outplayed but had the last laugh in that season’s semi-final. The previous performance should give Dortmund great confidence, but the history might play into Real’s hands ahead of this clash.

Dortmund right v Real left

So what was Dortmund’s strategy when triumphing 2-1 over Real in the group stage? The key was their attacking down the right flank – Marcelo, Fabio Coentrao and Alvaro Arbeloa was all unavailable, so makeshift Michael Essien was attacked constantly with powerful breaks down the right flank. Marco Reus was deployed on that side, with Mario Gotze drifting right and Lukasz Piczczek providing further overloads from right-back.

Tonight, Marcelo, Arbeloa and Essien are all unavailable, so there’s no question that Coentrao will start. Granted, he’s Real Madrid’s first-choice left-back, so it’s hardly a weakness, but there’s still a good chance Dortmund will target him.

In Real’s previous Champions League game, the nervous defeat in Galatasaray, all their problems came down Coentrao’s side. Cristiano Ronaldo typically stayed high up the pitch and left Coentrao exposed – Emmanuel Eboue stormed forward to cause him problems, and the second half introduction of right-winger/right-back Sabri Sarioglu caused Real so many problems that Mourinho was forced to take Ronaldo away from that position for the final ten minutes.

Expect Dortmund to replicate their approach from the first leg, and create overloads down the right. Real’s area of advantage, of course, is that if Piszczek gets forward, Ronaldo will have space to break into. He compensated for his lack of defensive work at Galatasaray by scoring two goals – he needs to have an attacking impact here or else he could be Real’s biggest weakness.

On the other flank, Angel Di Maria and Sergio Ramos against Kevin Grosskreutz and Marcel Schmelzer feels like it will be much cagier.

Gotze v Ozil

Maybe the most interesting battle, however, will be between the number tens. Last year Mesut Ozil was outclassed by Toni Kroos at the semi-final stage, because Kroos was more comfortable dropping into deeper positions to allow Bayern to dominate.

More on that at ESPN…

They won’t literally be duelling on the pitch, of course – both will be fielded as central attacking playmakers, closely supporting their side’s main striker – but both will be charged with providing creativity from between the lines and leading quick counter-attacks.

Perhaps the style of this contest will suit Ozil, but if the match becomes a patient battle of possession, Gotze has the opportunity to dominate. Although a playmaker who thrives on space between the lines, and loves dribbling with the ball at speed, he’s also intelligent with his positioning, happy to drop deep into midfield to find space. In the previous round, with Manuel Pellegrini ordering Malaga to sit deep in two banks of four, Gotze often retreated to extremely deep positions, behind Dortmund’s holding midfielders, to collect the ball and start attacks. You won’t find Ozil doing that.

Gotze’s role this week will be fascinating. He unwittingly finds himself at the centre of a very modern tactical debate — next season at Bayern Munich he’s likely to become a false nine, but in this Champions League semifinal tie, will he play as an Ozil, or play as a Kroos?

Pressing, and staying compact

Dortmund are likely to stand off Real’s centre-backs, but press when the ball is played into the full-backs, central midfielders or the attacking quartet. As Bayern demonstrated last night, it’s more important to press as a unit than it is to press high – Dortmund are very good at staying compact.

Real’s approach is less predictable. They’re capable of pressing in midfield, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if they sat much deeper in their own half and then counter-attacked. Real don’t always remain compact – seemingly because of Mourinho’s instructions at times – but Dortmund are so good at cutting through opposition lines quickly.


The presence of Ilkay Gundogan, Sven Bender and Sami Khedira will result in an energetic midfield zone, but maybe the key player is the most unique player on either side – Xabi Alonso. Dortmund don’t have a midfielder with that vision and passing range, and if Real want to cool the tempo and make this a patient match, Alonso is vital.

It will be interesting to see how much space he gets, however – assuming Gotze and Robert Lewandowski stand off the Real centre-backs, one will be told to block easy passes into Alonso’s feet, and denying him the ball could be the pivotal part of Dortmund’s approach, to ensure the game is played at a high tempo.

as reported by

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