Why Dortmund should persist with the 3-4-2-1 – BVB 6-0 Gladbach – Match Analysis

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After a torrid time on Thursday in the UEFA Europa League, Borussia Dortmund needed a quick response against Monchengladbach in the Bundesliga. Dortmund’s recent record against Gladbach has been uber positive, while Adi Hütter’s men haven’t looked comfortable all season, except against Bayern Munich oddly enough. In the end, the Black & Yellows completely destroyed Gladbach through the centre of the pitch, finding their way to an impressive 6-0 win. Here is our tactical analysis of Dortmund’s massive win over Gladbach on Matchday 23.


After several successive weeks failing in a 4-2-3-1, Marco Rose finally made a change back to the 3-4-2-1 formation that served them well for a few weeks earlier in the season. Deploying a back-three was one of our many suggestions in our ‘Why Dortmund are so bad in defensive transitions‘ article, as the system allows so many players to be better supported by those around them. Importantly, wing-back is the best position for Raphael Guerreiro, who can be such a creative force for the Black & Yellows when given the right role. It also allows an extra defender to aid in Dortmund’s lack of pace, where the likes of Zagadou and Hummels have less running to do in behind.

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While Hazard might be better further forward, he also makes for an excellent wing-back due to his ability to hold the width on one side. It’s a bit like Atletico’s use of Yannick Carrasco as a left-wing-back, as he’s definitely not a defender, but also not the most rambunctious of attackers the team has in their side. Marius Wolf also performed well in the position after coming on from the bench, for the exact same reasons as Hazard. The German wolverine won a penalty, scored a muscle-busting goal, and played a massive role in assisting Reus’ assist on the Moukoko goal. With Reus roaming, Wolf perfectly drifted inside with the ball, or held the width down the right to best support his team’s attack. Guerreiro on the other side played his part in inverting into central areas, where Gladbach couldn’t cope with Dortmund’s lack of a real left wing presence in the team. They overloaded central areas to a massive extent, where even Mats Hummels was breaking lines on a dribble and then outside-footing it into space for Reus to run onto.

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Essentially, the change in formation allowed BVB to completely overload Gladbach’s midfield two into obscurity, without even needing their central midfielders to play a part in getting forward all that much. Interestingly, Jude Bellingham performed extraordinary well in a deeper role alongside Mahmoud Dahoud, cautiously timing his movement forward. Bellingham’s defensive awareness has always been high, and the Englishman positioned himself well in front of the back-five alongside Dahoud. In some moments, one midfielder would push up in Dortmund’s pressing diamonds, where it became a sort of 5-1-3-1. That meant the 18-year-old was even the deepest lying midfielder at times, a completely different role for him, but one that still complements what he can accomplish on a football pitch. With the midfield two shuffling well and screening Gladbach’s inverted wingers, Dortmund defended well in their 5-4-1 to 5-2-1-2 shape. But they still needed Gregor Kobel to be at his best in goal.

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The Dortmund keeper played like the bouncer at the club that simply didn’t want to let anyone in, even with a VIP access lanyard. Kouadio Kone had a brilliant chance to break the deadlock early on in the game, but Kobel denied, and continued to set the tone for what was to come from the Black & Yellows.


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At the front of the attack, Rose attempted to rest Julian Brandt in favour of Gio Reyna’s return from injury. However, that was short-lived when the American came off following a tearful goodbye upon the opening hello of a goal. Reyna’s need for replacing didn’t hurt Dortmund one drop, with Julian Brandt only adding further dominance into their ranks. The German excels not just creatively in possession, but has also ramped up his defensive presence and pressing knowhow under Marco Rose. He reacted brilliantly to Dortmund’s floatations (not a word but essentially a mix between positional rotation and floating…i.e. positional play), vibing off of Reus’ rampaging runs forward and even taking shots from range.

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Then you have Marco Reus, who expertly slithered around as a half-baked 10, half-baked left winger, making a fully baked cake that would beat all the other cakes on MasterChef and score a perfect 10 if it had dived into a swimming pool. On the day, that perfect 10 virtually did score a perfect 10 on WhoScored?, much in part to his role in five of Dortmund’s six goals (all in truth), with 2 goals and 3 assists on the day, and the final goal being scored via Can from the spot. Hutter’s decision to take off Kouadio Kone only allowed Dortmund more space to move into in central areas, with Christoph Kramer forgetting to take off his training wheels (with all due respect) before entering the pitch. Die Borussen consistently defended in a 5-2-3 shape, always getting outrun in central areas as the inverted wingers stopped defending after being bypassed. This forced Gladbach’s centre-backs out of position, where Dortmund floated into the open space through their perfect 10 swimming pool floatations. Marco. Polo.

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In attack, Hütter’s men were able to break Dortmund down in the areas you’d expect, threading passes in between the slowness of Zagadou and the high position of Raphael Guerreiro. Their best chances came through playing down this side, including a thundered effort from Jonas Hofmann in the second half, which struck the bar. Had they been able to generate greater possession, they might have been able to expose that space more often. While the 3-4-2-1 formation helped in limiting that deficit, it’s still the greatest concern for the Black & Yellows moving forward. If I were any Bundesliga team, I would do exactly what Leverkusen did and expose Dortmund’s left time and time again in transition.

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With all this in mind, Dortmund need to keep the 3-4-2-1 formation in the future. Having that extra centre-back massively helps their deplorable defensive transitions, while getting the best out of their best players. In addition to limiting the defensive responsibilities of players like Mats Hummels and Raphael Guerreiro, it allows Reus and Brandt to play in roles that suit their strengths well as inverted wingers. It would also allow the Black & Yellows to make room for Emre Can in a beast-mode back-three, as the German has been a key missing engine this season. The main task of any manager in the modern tactical era is to implement a tactical system and style of play that simultaneously suits their own taste, while getting the best out of their best players, if not the entire squad. Marco Rose has rarely accomplished that feat this season, and would be wise to stick with the back-three in the future.

So there it is! Why Dortmund should persist with the 3-4-2-1, after their massive 6-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach. Be sure to check out more of our Bundesliga analyses, Match Analyses, and follow on our socials @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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