Analyzing Marco Rose’s time at Borussia Dortmund

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Right from the very first match of the season, I have to be honest… I feared for Borussia Dortmund. The greatest quest of any new manager entering the fold at BVB was not just to continue allowing the Black & Yellows to continue playing free-flowing, exciting football in attack. It was to fix the tremendously poor gaps that open when the ball changes hands and they’re required to defend in transition, and often times the subsequent set-pieces that follow. Dortmund ended up conceding at least 2 goals in each of their first five Bundesliga matches of the season, a clear signal that Marco Rose had not properly prioritized the defensive side of the game in his pre-season planning.

From the very first whistle, Rose had clear attacking intentions and tactical ideologies that he wanted to implement, but few of them panned out in application. While many individuals consistently performed to the highest level, very few of them gelled together as a cohesive unit, working toward an over-arching tactical plan. Here in lies Rose’s greatest failure. Those who watched Dortmund once in a blue moon were able to see the exact same problem as those who watched Dortmund week in and week out. The Black & Yellows simply played like a team of individuals.

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In fact, in trying to write a Rose analysis midway through the season, it became quite the task to identify any degree of consistency in tactics from one match to another. The likes of Julian Brandt, Marco Reus, Jude Bellingham and Manuel Akanji consistently impressed throughout the season, but rarely did their brilliance ever feel pre-meditated or automatized. Throughout this crux, the team’s abysmal defending in transition continued, with sluggish defensive players continuing to exacerbate the problem as they continued to be deployed (Witsel and Zagadou most prominently).

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At times, Dortmund could change to a back-three and accomplish greater avenues, particularly in getting the best out of the likes of Raphael Guerreiro and Dortmund’s long list of right-backs who aren’t particularly sound defenders. In a 6-0 win over Gladbach, they completely undid one of their fiercest rivals, with greater freedom for the likes of Brandt and Reus to roam within the grand scheme of greater cover in behind. But even in a back-three, Dortmund continued to look wobbly at the best of times. Their surprising lack of depth struggled to cope with injuries to players like Mats Hummels, Mahmoud Dahoud and eventually Gregor Kobel, with each of their replacements more prone to individual errors and possessing greater physical culpabilities to the poor transition puzzle.

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Now as Rose’s time has come to an end, it’s difficult to identify much cause for celebration. Dortmund crashed out of every cup and European cup competition earlier than expected, and slipped up at every key moment they could have challenged Bayern in the Bundesliga. In the past, managers like Lucien Favre and Thomas Tuchel were able to achieve more with the sum of their parts, and rejig the team to identify unique solutions to problems. Rose on the other hand could not be described in the same vein, only making minor improvements on an individual scale rather than a grander teamwide dimension. He made miniscule improvements to the team’s counter-press and pressing success, and gifted a greater license for the team to attack with freedom and intent than the already high bar of seasons past. But in both instances, many of the aspects to the ideologies felt individualistic rather than holistic, and that freedom often came at a cost.

Nevertheless, a sense of optimism still existed around fanbase heading into 2022-23. Prior to Rose’s sacking, the club had made strides forward in the transfer market with crucial signings of Niklas Sule, Nico Schlotterbeck and Karim Adeyemi. Each fit the mold of what Rose seemingly wanted to accomplish at Dortmund and the stylistic choices he endeavored to implement.

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But Dortmund still decided to part ways with the German coach, and seek pastures new. The man to now enter the fold happens to be the man that in many ways, Dortmund were too quick to release from the managerial position in the first place. The optimism and excitement over Rose’s appointment in mid-February of 2021 may have spurred the Black & Yellows on toward the end of the last campaign, but Edin Terzic deserves far more credit for their impressive run-in than he will likely ever be remembered for.

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Unlike Rose, Terzic implemented clear tactical ideologies that worked in application on the pitch, and developed team chemistry within his ranks – such as a formidable midfield trio of Dahoud, Can and Bellingham. Can as the hard-man, Dahoud as the tempo-setter and Bellingham as a box-to-box magician, Terzic achieved magnificent balance in his midfield, and allowed the front-line to go on and achieve wonders under his influence. Through prioritizing defensive solidity and increasing the team’s defensive mindsets, he even pulled off impressive results despite accumulating less possession – which is very much not the “Dortmund way”. While his short-lived tenure provides a small-sample-size for his tactical and managerial expertise, it paints a nice picture of the 39-year-old as someone who is incredibly adaptable, understands the club and his players, and will be able to inspire Dortmund to greater stability in 2022-23.

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In hindsight, this is what Dortmund could have easily done had they waited longer to announce their next manager back in 2021. Terzic not only took the team on a stunning run toward third place in the table, but he won the DFB-Pokal – their first trophy since the days of Thomas Tuchel. An impressive achievement on both accounts, Terzic showcased every degree of ability to kick on with the Black & Yellows and showcase what he could truly accomplish when given a full season to work his magic. Rose was given that honour instead, and the gamble didn’t pay off. Now it’s Terzic’s turn, and Dortmund fans will be hoping that 2022-23 will be a different story.

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Encouragingly, the club have already signed Salih Özcan of FC Cologne since the announcement of their new manager. Özcan doesn’t necessarily fulfill the game destroying, tough tackling need within the team, but he does provide a useful replacement for Axel Witsel and a very similar tempo-setting mentality to Mahmoud Dahoud. Terzic will be hoping Mateu Morey comes back stronger than ever in 2022-23 after excelling under his influence before an ACL-tear in the cup-run in 2020-21. But even then, a right-back needs to be the next priority. We suggested the likes of Jeremie Frimpong, Matty Cash and Noussair Mazraoui back in March, the last of which has recently signed for arch-rivals Bayern Munich. If Dortmund can fulfill this hole, ward off unwanted bids for Manuel Akanji, AND restore a sense of tactical identity, this could genuinely be a year in which Dortmund authentically make a challenge for the title. Terzic has all the tools in his possession to make it happen, and now tremendously greater squad depth to pull off the impossible. So despite the somewhat strange timing of Marco Rose’s sacking, Dortmund fans have much to be excited for heading into 2022-23.

For Marco Rose, his time at Dortmund will remain a season to forget in an impressive career. Nevertheless, we may come to look back on Rose’s time at Dortmund and remember his ability to bring out the best in the likes of Julian Brandt, Manuel Akanji and Marco Reus on an individual scale.


So there it is! Analyzing Marco Rose’s time at Borussia Dortmund, a brief foreword on Edin Terzic’s re-emergence as BVB manager. Be sure to check out more of our Bundesliga analyses, and follow on social media @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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2 thoughts on “Analyzing Marco Rose’s time at Borussia Dortmund

    1. Hello and thanks for asking! TBD if there will be a 2022 edition or something different this year, but not for 2021-22. Marco Reus makes my personal top fifty any day of the week.

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