Bundesliga 2021-22 Matchday 7 – Tactical Review

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The Bundesliga continues to entertain as ever, with intriguing tactics, goals galore, and surprising results. Matchday 7 saw Frankfurt get a shocking win over Bayern, Monchengladbach surprise Wolfsburg, and Union Berlin leapfrog FSV Mainz in the table. Here is our tactical analysis of some of the key matches.

BORUSSIA DORTMUND 2-1 FC AUGSBURG

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Borussia Dortmund have yet to reach their highest of heights under Marco Rose this season, but they have started to show signs of a solidified defense ever since the return of Mats Hummels. The Black & Yellows truly should have won their match this weekend by a significant margin, and had the incredible natural finishing ability of Erling Haaland been on the pitch, they probably would have. Despite the narrow score-line, Dortmund were well organized defensively (for a change) and gave Augsburg very little chance of actually getting anything out of the game.

The Black & Yellows deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation with Bellingham and Witsel as a double pivot in front of the back four. While the flamboyant Bellingham still had license to roam forward, he was much more reserved than in other games, due to the greater defensive responsibility of being in that pivot. Witsel on the other hand was more instrumental to build-up phases, as the Black & Yellows used a four man ball rotation between the Belgian, Guerreiro, and the two-centre-backs. They passed the ball around in either a 2-4-4 or 3-3-4 shape to build out, before hitting Augsburg with their intricate little one-two’s toward the eighteen.

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Beyond utter dominance in possession, Dortmund were also brilliant on the counter attack. It is this that won them the game, as Augsburg foolishly threw men forward in numbers, and BVB countered expertly well. The speed and trickery of Marco Reus, backed by the silky smooth footwork and passing of Julian Brandt, was in itself enough to turn Augsburg into mush. Adding in the pace of Donyell Malen in behind the back-line, a more direct, long-ball approach could also be utilized to hit past Augsburg’s slow defense. This is exactly what happened for the first goal, as Mats Hummels’ looping pass over the back-four found the Dutchman, who won a penalty kick off the back of some sloppy defending from Gouweleeuw.

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Defensively, Dortmund pressured with intensity and individual bursts, rather than systematically or in any particular shape or structure. The greater positional caution of Bellingham was an added bonus, but Mats Hummels again was the key to Dortmund’s defensive lock. With Hummels’ astute organization and awareness of space, his growing relationship with Manuel Akanji has firmly become what it always should have been – one of the best centre-back pairings in the league. Thomas Meunier too has grown immensely this season in his self-belief more than anything, and the club will be hoping he’s back soon after he picked up a knock.

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While Augsburg never really stood a chance, they were effective at times in breaking up Dortmund’s intense speed of play. They resorted to an aggressive fouling approach, which frustrated the Dortmund hearts and minds (and bodies). In attack they played directly into their forwards via the use of long balls – which proved relatively ineffective due to the aerial presence of Hummels in particular. They did however score a goal out of nothing, against the run of play, and could have had another had Zeqiri not swung his arm at Akanji moments before stroking the ball into the net. Their greatest mistake throughout was however in pushing more men forward than necessary, leaving themselves cruelly exposed on counter attacks. In the end it was a routine win for Dortmund, and one that takes them back up toward the top of the table.

WOLFSBURG 1-3 MONCHENGLADBACH

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While Wolfsburg have needed to grind out a few tough-fought results this season, sometimes even against the run of play, this was different. While Mark Van Bommel’s side were the better team on the day, they conceded two early goals and could never recover, especially against a well-drilled Monchengladbach defense.

Gladbach defended in a 5-3-2 shape, with minimal space in between the lines for Wolfsburg to work their narrow and compact attacking combinations. After winning the ball, they then looked to break quickly through the dribbling and running power of players like Embolo, Hofmann and Zakaria. The common counter attacking approach for Hutter’s team was to utilize one of their dribblers to get defenders on the back-foot, until a challenge came along, where the Gladbach player would then slip in one of the two forwards on a through-ball. Despite having less of the possession, they were incredibly efficient in this regard, taking 19 shots to Wolfsburg’s 12. When you add in their serious set-piece prowess to their deadly counter attacking pressure, it’s no wonder they were able to score three goals. While operating compact and narrow in defense, they also successfully expanded their width in attack to stretch Wolfsburg’s organized press and play their way out against the pressure.

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But for what it’s worth, Wolfsburg also had quite a good game and did not necessarily deserve to lose 3-1. They pressed extremely well in their 4-4-2 defensive structure, ramping up the intensity and diamond shapes in the wide areas. Their press also remained flexible in terms of the positioning of their players, as Wout Weghorst often found himself as one of the wingers in the press rather than one of the forwards. This in turn meant that when Wolfsburg won the ball back, Gladbach’s right-wing-back, the excellent 18-year old Joe Scally, was often defending in right half-spaces and centrally, rather than truly wide. Yannick Gerhardt perhaps could have taken advantage of this to a greater effect by overlapping the inverted Ridle Baku, but that never really happened. Kevin Mbabu on the other side was the more effervescent source of attacks, but his many crossing attempts ultimately came to nothing. From a Wolfsburg perspective, it’s also worth noting how much they’ve missed Xaver Schlager since going on that impressive winning run at the start of the season. Joshua Guilavogui is a solid box-to-box midfielder and can theoretically operate in the same way, but he doesn’t have the same vision, distribution or awareness of space. This has been a massive miss for the Wolves and perhaps one reason for their recent slump in form. That said, their performances have been good even when losing, and that is a sign of a team who should easily be able to get out of this a stronger team.

LEIPZIG 3-0 BOCHUM

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It seems strange to say that this match ended 3-0, when Bochum completely contained Leipzig’s attempts throughout the opening 70 minutes, and then went on a McDonald’s styled strawberry flurry. Leipzig were up and down, far and away the better team, but they could not find a route forward for most of the match, at the hands of some solid defensive organization from Bochum in their 4-2-3-1 defensive block. Die Roten Bullen played out from the back in their 3-2-5 shape (as part of their 3-4-2-1 formation), with Josko Gvardiol the one actively stepping out from the back and carrying the ball forward into the opposition’s half. It was he who perfectly unlocked the Bochum defense with an expertly timed ball over the top, matching Christopher Nkunku’s excellently timed run in behind. But that was in fact the third goal of the game, after Jesse Marsch had made an important tactical tweak back to his own 4-2-3-1. Marsch expertly deployed the 3-4-2-1 last week against Hertha Berlin, but Bochum found ways to shut it down this time around, and the American was right to look for a change within the system.

So, Leipzig’s pressing shapes can be categorized now into three different categories. In the 3-4-2-1, as we noted in our September Magazine, they press more actively in a 3-4-3 when the ball finds its way to the wide areas. Then it becomes more compact in a 3-4-1-2 when the ball is in central areas – including goal kicks. That one change sees Emil Forsberg drop into the centre, where he can create and send the rapid Christopher Nkunku through on goal if Leipzig win back possession. In the 4-2-3-1 however their press becomes much more 4-4-2, which in this match suited Nkunku’s ability to run in behind on Leipzig’s post-recoveries.

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Andre Silva was another key playmaker on the day, as his substitution in the second half completely changed the game. While Poulsen was doing well to drop in and receive, it was Silva who found the back of the net upon his arrival. The Portuguese forward then carried on with the same sort of role, coming in deeper than Nkunku to receive, and then looking to thread the needle for the on-rushing Frenchman. It was changes like these to Marsch’s system that won the match, as Nkunku was able to make himself a nuisance in that higher position, and Leipzig were able to play directly over the top of Bochum’s defense into his path. It’s also worth briefly mentioning just how brilliant Marsch’s compact back-three worked yet again in stopping attacks. Bochum had a fair amount of possession in Leipzig’s half and constantly worked the wide areas to create, but die Roten Bullen’s big men at the back were in the way of absolutely everything. Leipzig now extend their clean sheet run in the league for another game, putting 9 past their opposition in the last two matches in the process. After we criticized Marsch and his early-season tactics, RB Leipzig are suddenly now looking very dangerous as they find their form.


So there it is! A tactical review of Matchday 7 in the Bundesliga! Be sure to follow the social media links below, and subscribe to never miss an update. Also be sure to check out all of our tactical reviews for each and every matchday. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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