Tactical analysis Borussia Dortmund Mönchengladbach 1-0 Bundesliga

Borussia Dortmund – Borussia Mönchengladbach: Marco Reus Haunts Gladbach Again (1-0)

Once again, when Borussia Dortmund needed him, Marco Reus delivered the goods against his former employers. Dortmund showed stages of their free-flowing, clinical attacking football, but Borussia Mönchengladbach created enough opportunities to take points at Signal Iduna Park, in a match which somehow only had one goal in it. 

Tactical analysis and match report by Joel Parker.

Having dropped points in their past three Bundesliga matches, pressure is growing on Lucien Favre to bring in results before Borussia Dortmund crash out of the title race before the first lap is even complete. Dortmund’s inadequacies have been on display so far this season, vulnerable when facing any sort of press, as well as playing in a predictable pedestrian tempo in their buildup. 

Favre’s team are still scoring, but mistakes at the back have come at a cost. He made just three changes from their 2-2 draw away to SC Freiburg, Nico Schulz, Julian Weigl and Julian Brandt all returning to the starting lineup, as Favre rotated their formation from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2 shape.

Since Borussia Mönchengladbach’s 3-1 home defeat to RB Leipzig, they have gone on to win every single game in the Bundesliga. They now sit top, just a few months into Marco Rose’s reign. However, the trip to Signal Iduna Park was surely going to provide a mental block. Not only have Gladbach lost to Dortmund in their last eight matches, but they have not won a Bundesliga match while being top of the league since 1977.

Marco Rose has started to apply his fast attacking style to Mönchengladbach with great success so far. Rose’s 4-3-1-2 system builds a compact passing structure, controlling the middle third before exploiting space forward. He would also make three changes, Oscar Wendt, Nico Elvedi and Breel Embolo coming in for Gladbach.

A cagey and fast-paced start

Due to both teams adapting their usual game plans, the opening stages of the game were cagey, fast-paced and neck-and-neck between both Borussia’s. Dortmund’s 4-4-2 formation change had affected their passing structure, which gave Manuel Akanji – right-back for this fixture – and Nico Schulz limited options forward. Both Achraf Hakimi and Thorgan Hazard positioned closely to the forward line, making their formation an unbalanced 4-2-4 shape when attacking.

Dortmund's 4-4-2 shape makes it hard for them to progress the ball.

Dortmund’s 4-4-2 shape makes it hard for them to progress the ball.

Favre’s team was not just facing a full throttle pressing unit, but a Gladbach team that could successfully hold their shape when out of possession. László Bénes was a key part when Rose’s side were off the ball. Not only could he push up on the opposition center-backs but he could also remain deep and overload When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. Dortmund’s double pivot. 4-2-3-1 is one of the most frequently occurring formations in football. The two most defensive midfielders are called a ‘double pivot’.

These tactical aspects would give the league leaders the advantage throughout the first half, however, both teams had their fair share of chances to break the deadlock. Though Gladbach’s 4-2-3-1 shape was effective in defense, Dortmund were able to play between the lines in attacking phases if they had beaten Gladbach’s high block. A high block refers to a team that regularly leaves their own half out of possession, to disrupt their opponents far into the attacking half. Both Oscar Wendt and Stefan Lainer had moments where they were caught too narrow to their center-backs, which gave Hakimi and Hazard access to dangerous positions in the final third. The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal.

Both Dortmund and Gladbach also created great opportunities from set-pieces. Lainer had the first of an abundance of golden chances for Marco Rose’s team, an indirect free kick flicked on at the front post met him at the back, his shot from close range brilliantly stopped by Roman Bürki. 

Dortmund begin to take control 

Favre’s team needed to find a new way to breakdown Gladbach’s defensive shape if they were to consistently access the penalty area. Though Dortmund’s positional play meant they could not build through the middle, it did result in them having overloads in wide areas of the pitch. 

This is when the free-flowing Black and Yellow found their tempo. Reus and Brandt also played an important role when building up play, dropping deeper and making vertical runs forward when Dortmund began to build passing sequences. The hosts held the ball on the flanks, before transitioning forward towards the penalty area at pace, giving them better access between the lines and directly on Gladbach’s defensive line. 

Dortmund's versatile forwards gave them access between the lines.

Dortmund’s versatile forwards gave them access between the lines.

Momentum certainly swayed in Borussia Dortmund’s favor when producing these fast attacking moves. Both Brandt and Hakimi had opportunities at goal from these quick transitions forward, but it would be Marco Reus to give the hosts the lead. 

Moving the ball from the right channel to the center, Brandt’s pass to Thorgan Hazard was brilliantly dummied by Axel Witsel to open the opportunity. Reus positioned himself between the two center-backs, failed to be tracked by either and Hazard put the ball on a plate, from one former Gladbach attacker to the other. His ninth goal in twelve appearances against his former cub, a recurring super-villain that Gladbach just cannot defeat. 

Gladbach somehow don’t score

Rose’s team piled on the pressure following the opener, bringing on both Patrick Herrmann and Florian Neuhaus shortly after. Though Gladbach did not create many opportunities from open play, they created countless amount of chances from set-pieces and low crosses, which somehow did not end up as a goal. 

Tony Jantschke was a major threat from these situations, often aiming for goal himself or knocking the ball back into the penalty area. Rose would throw one more roll of the dice, taking of Oscar Wendt at left-back for Lars Stindl, rotating Gladbach’s formation to a 3-4-1-2 shape with Denis Zakaria moving into center-back.

The visitors’ evening would be defined by two glorious opportunities, inside the six-yard box. Patrick Herrmann’s had a virtually open goal to shoot at, however Mats Hummels’ intervention would keep the ball away from goal. Florian Neuhaus would have the final opportunity, his shot somehow saved by substitute goalkeeper Marwin Hitz. Multiple huge chances were created and went missing against Dortmund’s passive defense. 


A huge victory for Borussia Dortmund, even this early in the season. The result means they join the Bundesliga title charge, where just two points separate first and ninth in the league – as of writing. Though the result went their way, the match itself could easily have gone much differently. Lucien Favre’s team where hardly convincing, and last ditch defending and some great saves kept their clean sheet. Dortmund still have plenty of tactical issues that they need to sort out, Internazionale and the Revierderby up next.

Borussia Mönchengladbach certainly had enough opportunities to break their curse against Dortmund; somehow, they did not even score. Gladbach may have had a good defensive structure, but once their high block was played through, their backline looked vulnerable against the adaptable Dortmund offense. They still reign on top of the Bundesliga table, though a trip to AS Roma on Thursday grows in importance if they are to keep their Europa League hopes alive.

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Joel Parker (21) is an Everton fan. Whenever he’s not watching his beloved Everton, Joel spends his time analyzing all sorts of football. Chief editor and Founder of Toffee Analysis. [ View all posts ]


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