Dortmund 0-3 Juventus: deep defending and quick countering

March 19, 2015

The shapes after Pogba's injury - Juve switched from a diamond to a 5-3-2 (graphic:

Juventus produced a classic away performance to win this tie comfortably.

Dortmund selection

Jurgen Klopp named his default 4-2-3-1 formation. Kevin Kampl made his Champions League debut on the right, with Henrikh Mikhitaryan on the left flank – neither are natural wingers, and both prefer to drift inside.

Soktatis Papastathopoulos started at right-back, with Lukas Piszczek still out following the injury he collected in the first leg.

Juventus selection

Max Allegri initially fielded a diamond midfield system, although the early injury to Paul Pogba – when Juve were already 1-0 up – meant a switch to 5-3-2, with Andrea Barzagli replacing him, and Roberto Pereyra dropping back from the top of the diamond into Pogba’s left-of-centre role.

Andrea Pirlo was already out injured, although this probably wasn’t a significant blow against Dortmund’s intense pressing – he can struggle in that environment, and Claudio Marchisio has shown an ability to play the Pirlo role effectively.

Match summary

Juventus took the lead early and then produced a stereotypically solid Italian defensive performance, barely pressing in the final third and instead concentrating on clearing from the edge of their own penalty box. Their counter-attacking, meanwhile, was incredibly basic but also extremely effective.


The star of this game was unquestionably Carlos Tevez, and his stunning long-range strike within the opening five minutes put the tie beyond Dortmund. It showed how Tevez continually found space between Dortmund’s defenders and midfielders throughout the game, and for long periods he was effectively playing as a number ten and a number nine simultaneously, using his incredible dribbling skills to link the two roles. That’s an extremely tough skill, with perhaps only Lionel Messi capable of doing the same – and while Messi was getting rave reviews for his performance against Manchester City, Tevez was performing on a similar level tonight.

The goal, of course, exaggerated the situation of the tie. Dortmund started off needing one goal to progress, now they needed two goals simply to draw level – so the onus was unquestionably on the home side to attack. Similarly, Juventus could sit back, defend more, and only attack sporadically.

The key feature of the first leg was Juve’s tendency to bypass Dortmund’s midfield press with long balls towards Tevez and Alvaro Morata, who generally played very close together, and the same thing happened here. Tevez constantly received forward passes into feet, and while he was usually under heavy pressure from one of the Dortmund centre-backs, generally Neven Subotic, he repeatedly showed incredible strength to hold off his opponents, turn, and play a good pass to Morata. The Spaniard spent much of the first leg in the inside-left channel but here played on the opposite side – possibly because the different level of attacking tendencies from the Dortmund full-backs meant he had more space towards that flank – and had two fine one-on-one chances with Roman Weidenfeller to extend Juve’s lead.

Dortmund simply couldn’t cope with the first pass into Tevez. In defending two-against-two at the back, it meant one Tevez dribble could effectively created a clear chance for Juventus, and it was surprising one of the Dortmund midfielders didn’t look to shield the defence more effectively, preventing such easy passes. They also had to watch midfield runners, of course – and contribute in attack – but Juventus repeatedly created chances very easily. The second and third goals came when Tevez and Morata simply ran through the Dortmund defence with ease.

Juventus defence

Pogba’s injury could have derailed Juventus’ plans, considering they were already without Pirlo in the midfield zone. In truth, however, it may have slightly played into their hands – it was a good excuse for Allegri to become even more defensive and switch to a 5-3-2 system, meaning Juve had another spare defender at the back. The midfield shape was now different, and while Juve lacked someone at the tip of the diamond, Tevez was playing that role effectively anyway. Ilkay Gundogan and Sven Bender were free, but largely unable to exert any influence on the game.

This was very much a 5-3-2 rather than a 3-5-2. The difference is often minimal, but here when Dortmund’s full-backs got forward, Stephane Lichtsteiner and Patrice Evra stayed very deep, and it was usually the responsibility of Pereyra and Vidal to move across and shut down opponents in this zone. They got through lots of lateral running, and ensured Juve’s defence could pack the edge of their own penalty box.

Dortmund attack

For the majority of the game, however, the main feature was the sheer predictability of Dortmund’s attacks. Klopp’s team selection, and the overall performance of the side, was confusing and made life extremely easy for Juventus.

First, the use of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang upfront alone gave the home side few attacking options. Aubameyang is extremely quick, but his all-round footballing intelligence isn’t particularly good at this relatively early stage of his career, and his runs are often somewhat predictable. That was certainly the case here – he repeatedly tried to run in behind the opposition, which made little sense as Juventus were defending so deep, so there simply wasn’t enough space.

Furthermore, both Kampl and Mkhitaryan both came inside quickly, trying to play in the pockets of space between (roughly) Juve’s shuttlers and the outside centre-backs. This meant Dortmund played extremely narrow, which would have been OK if the full-backs had pushed forward and provided permanent overlapping runs. Marcel Schmelzer got up the pitch determinedly but seemed tentative in possession, while Sokratis simply isn’t a proper full-back and was entirely uncomfortable at providing width and taking the ball forward in his stride. It seemed a strange decision for Klopp to field a centre-back in that role, in a situation where Dortmund needed a goal, and were playing against a very narrow side.

Perhaps the only interesting feature of Dortmund’s play was when central players drifted wide to create overloads – Marco Reus naturally popped up in wider roles a couple of times, while it was more surprising to see Gundogan and Bender crossing from the right flank at an early stage. Otherwise, this was a very flat performance from Dortmund, and most of their attempts were from long-range.


The onus was on Klopp to change things. His first switch, at half-time, was cautious – Olivier Kirch replacing Piszczek and going to right-back, and Sokratis switching sides. This changed little, however. After an hour he introduced Jakub Blaszczykowski and Adrian Ramos for Mkhitaryan and Bender, and Dortmund ended up playing in something like a 4-2-4 formation, including Blaszczykowski storming forward from right-back, with Kirch moving inside. The Pole was probably the most prominent player in the final half hour, crossing for a Ramos header – arguably Dortmund’s best chance. However, he played Juventus onside for the second goal with sloppy defensive positioning, which hinted at why Klopp didn’t start him there in the first place.

Still, Dortmund needed to gamble in the final half hour, and conceding goals on the break was the obvious risk – it was the starting approach which was more questionable.


A hugely impressive defensive performance from Juventus, particularly because they defended solidly in two very different shapes – the 4-3-1-2 and the 5-3-2 both effective at shutting out Dortmund. The enforced change of system arguably helped considering the nature of the game because it introduced an extra defensive player, although to a certain extent formation is less relevant when a side is defending so deep.

Dortmund made life easy for them, however, with a confusing strategy that failed to take into account the fact Juve were always likely to sit deep. They’re still missing Robert Lewandowski, who was such a clever all-round striker and dangerous in so many different situations – they haven’t got around this problem yet, and are unable to break down top-level opponents sitting back.

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