Tactical analysis Barcelona Borussia Dortmund 3-1 Champions League

Barcelona – Borussia Dortmund: Barça Clinch First Place With Win Over Dortmund (3-1)

In the first half both teams pressed high, but only Barcelona were able to create turnovers from these situations. Aided by a faulty Dortmund defense, Barcelona went into half-time with a comfortable two-goal lead. Dortmund saw lots of the ball after the game restarted, but only really created chances when the game was already played. 

Tactical analysis and match report by Jonas G.

Both teams had the chance to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League with a win on matchday five. However, both teams are currently not in their best shape with Dortmund drawing their latest home match against newly promoted SC Paderborn and falling back to sixth place in the Bundesliga. Barça also had their problems against last-placed Leganes, falling behind in the first half and taking long to score the decisive goal. 

Ernesto Valverde went for a slightly more conservative approach against Dortmund, benching Antoine Griezmann and giving Ivan Rakitić a spot in the starting eleven. In addition to that, Gerard Piqué missed the match and was replaced by Clément Lenglet. Sergi Roberto returned to the 4-4-2 formation as right fullback. 

Borussia Dortmund manager Lucien Favre made only slight adjustments to his 4-4-2 formation after the disappointing result against Paderborn that saw his ability to bring his side to the next level being questioned. With Nico Schulz and Achraf Hakimi, to fullbacks started in the wide midfield positions. Favre likely looked for the pace of these two players to cause Barcelona’s backline problems with runs behind their defense as well as a good defensive cover. Striker Paco Alcácer missed the game against his former club through injury and was replaced by Julian Brandt.

Dortmund’s problems against the ball

Dortmund did not sit deep in their own half, but attacked Barça’s buildup from the beginning. The strikers stayed narrow and tightened the spaces around Sergio Busquets. Julian Weigl and Axel Witsel had the tasks to pressure their opponents Frenkie de Jong and Rakitić to prevent them from turning. At first, it looked like Dortmund would be able to keep the ball away from the center and force a buildup through the wings, but Barcelona were able to expose the spaces. 

De Jong and Rakitić came deep to ask for the ball, pulling their opponents out of position. De Jong’s individual class even under pressure came to shine in these situations as he played switches to increase the distance between Weigl and Witsel or progressive passes through the lines. Messi switched between a high and wide position on the right wing and more central positions, receiving passes in the space around Witsel. Rakitić supported his teammate with clever movements to open up the space. 

Dortmund used a high block to prevent Barça’s buildup, but did not pay attention to the spaces between Weigl and Witsel.

Dortmund used a high block to prevent Barça’s buildup, but did not pay attention to the spaces between Weigl and Witsel.

After Dortmund was forced into a lower block, A low block refers to a team that retreats deep in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents around their own box. they tightened up the spaces in the center of the pitch, accepting that they gave space up on the wing instead. Thanks to this compact defense, Dortmund were able to prevent Barcelona’s combination through the center. However, there was a clear pattern that was repeated by Barça several times. With the integration of De Jong and Rakitić in the buildup phase, Weigl and Witsel had to move up. If the ball was then played on the wing, the channel for a pass between the lines opened up. This was also the case before Luis Suárez gave Barça the lead after 28 minutes. 

Barça create chances with high pressing

After recovering the ball in their own half, Dortmund failed to start their counterattacks. The strikers were to far separated, making it hard for them to combine. In addition to that, no player made runs behind Barcelona’s defense. As a result, the ball-carrier was isolated quickly and lost the ball. 

In their own high block, Barça used a similar pattern as Dortmund. In their 4-4-2 formation, de Jong and Busquets moved up to mark their opponents. The big spaces between the midfield and defense that resulted through this pressing scheme were guarded by De Jong and Busquets. They had a view on Marco Reus who tried to receive the ball in this zone. However, Dortmund made it pretty easy for their opponents to recover the ball in their own half. The positioning of Schulz and Hakimi on the wings did not have any upside and the players showed a lack of tactical awareness in many situations, reducing the space or closing passing lanes for their teammates. 

Extended by a lot of unforced errors, these problems accumulated for the second goal. Reus wanted to receive a pass behind De Jong, but Weigl stayed to close. Instead of moving wide to pull De Jong away, he stayed in the center. Therefore, the Dutch midfielder was able to both mark Weigl and cover the passing lane to Hummels. Eventually he intercepted the ball and initiated the attack for the second goal. 

Barcelona prevented Dortmund’s buildup with high pressing. However, Dortmund could have done better in occupying the spaces behind the advanced De Jong and Busquets.

Barcelona prevented Dortmund’s buildup with high pressing. However, Dortmund could have done better in occupying the spaces behind the advanced De Jong and Busquets.

Dortmund with tons of possession in the second half

With a comfortable two-goal lead in hand, Barcelona dropped deep in the second half. In their own possession spells, Dortmund looked for quick combinations on the wings. Therefore, the left midfielder often looked to move inside and make a run into depth to push the opponent’s defense back and increase the space between the lines, when Raphaël Guerreiro had the ball. 

The staggering looked a bit different on the right side, where Hakimi moved inside and dropped from his position to pull Junior Firpo out of position. The left back showed poor defensive awareness by following his opponent and leaving his position too often. Dortmund looked to exploit this weakness with diagonal passes from Weigl to the overlapping Łukasz Piszczek. 

Most of Barcelona’s progressive passing originated in the center of the pitch, with short-distances moves. Dortmund were more flank-oriented than usual and depended on slightly longer passes than usual.

After Jadon Sancho’s substitution at half-time, Dortmund’s attacks improved. Especially his linkup with Julian Brandt was promising, but all in all the combinations lacked depth and were only used for preparing switches. They used a lot of opposite movements between the strikers which opened up space between the lines, the runs behind the backline were assisted rarely, though. 

Dortmund’s biggest issue, though, was not a lack of danger, but the individual errors. Against a passive defense, too many unforced errors invited Barcelona to start their counterattacks. After the ball was lost, the big distances between Weigl and Witsel were exploited easily. Messi occupied this zone and could then progress with the ball. The Catalans rarely set foot into Dortmund’s half after the game restarted, but were clinical with their chances. After 67 minutes, Antoine Griezmann scored the decisive third goal after a nice through-ball from Messi. 

Favre’s tactical adjustment gives Dortmund hope

With fifteen minutes to go, Favre took Piszczek off the pitch and brought on center-back Dan-Axel Zagadou. With this substitution, Dortmund played in a 3-4-2-1 formation with Hakimi and Guerreiro as wing-backs. Right after the adjustment, the first big chance since a long time occurred. Sancho received the ball between the lines and pulled Umtiti out of the backline. Reus moved in the opposite direction and followed a through-ball by Guerreiro in the space left by Umtiti.

Just a few minutes later, Dortmund’s goal originated from an attack through the left wing as well. This time, Reus pulled Umtiti away to open up space for Brandt. The German international passed to Sancho who scored from the edge of the box. The attacks became more dangerous in the last minute and if Sancho’s shot would not have been deflected against the crossbar by Marc-Andre ter Stegen, a late comeback would have been possible. In the end, Barça got away with all three points and is set to win the group. 


Barcelona will advance to the knockout stages of the Champions League as group winners, although they had a pretty shy game. They nicely exploited Dortmund’s weaknesses in the center of the pitch, but  – for the umpteenth time – were not able to create chances if it were not for Messi. The Argentine celebrated his 700th appearance for FC Barcelona with a goal and two assists, again being the standout performer of the game. 

Dortmund were again far from their best. The pressing was bypassed to easily with the spaces around Weigl and Witsel being a major concern. In possession, Dortmund switched between nice passages of play that, however, lacked penetration and odd unforced errors. With Inter’s win in the other match of the group, Dortmund falls back to third position. To qualify for the round of sixteen, they now have to get more points from their last match at home against Slavia Praha than Inter does at home against Barcelona. 

In the end, it was a game between two sides that stayed below their standard. The only thing that separated Barcelona from Dortmund this evening were too many unforced errors on one side and an Argentine magician on the other side. 

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