Tactical analysis Borussia Dortmund Barcelona 0-0 Champions League

Borussia Dortmund – FC Barcelona: Dortmund Fails To Reward Good Performance With Win (0-0)

The first half of this match between two teams from Europe’s elite was pretty even. Both teams played well, without creating obvious scoring chances. In the second half, Dortmund were the dominant team and focused on flank play. They failed to convert the biggest chance there is in football – a penalty kick – and as a result, the game ended goalless. 

Tactical analysis and match report by Jonas G.

Borussia Dortmund faced FC Barcelona on the first matchday of the Champions League. Barcelona are favorites to win this group, and it is expected that Dortmund and Internazionale will battle it out for the second place. Given Inter’s draw at home against Slavia Praha, this game was a good chance to immediately take the initiative in the battle for second place.

Lucien Favre barely changed his team, after the convincing victory over Bayer Leverkusen on the weekend. The defensively more reliable Belgian international Thorgan Hazard started on the right, instead of Julian Brandt. Barcelona also only had one change in store: Luis Suárez replaced Carles Pérez and played as the central striker in the customary 4-3-3 formation. Antoine Griezmann moved to the left and Ansu Fati started on the right, setting a new record for the youngest player in the Champions League in the club’s history. 

Barcelona cannot find a way through Dortmund’s compact defense

Like the hosts did against Leverkusen, they started this game with a high press as well, forcing Barcelona into playing long balls. They defended in a 4-4-2 shape, which turned into 4-4-1-1 after the guests played the ball to the wing. As number ten and nine, Marco Reus and Paco Alcácer were meant to close the passing lanes back into the center and pressure the center-back with the ball. Jadon Sancho and Hazard closed down the fullback and the number six on the side of the ball – either Axel Witsel or Thomas Delaney – marked the respective central midfielder closely. Barcelona could not play the ball out from the back, and were forced to play long balls, but struggled to hold on to them. 

After about ten minutes, Dortmund switched to a medium block A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. 4-4-2 shape. The two strikers closed the passing lanes to Sergio Busquets, and the rest of the team stayed compact behind them. If Arthur or Frenkie de Jong received the ball, Witsel or Delaney closed them down and denied them to turn. Against this compact block, Barcelona had a hard time to advance the ball, and had to play to the wings very often.

Dortmund defended in a 4-4-2 medium block. The compact shape denied Barcelona to advance through the center.

In possession, Griezmann and Fati did not stay on the wings, but moved into central areas, lookingfor spaces between the lines. While Fati – understandably – struggled against the physically strong defensive players like Witsel, Delaney and Mats Hummels, Griezmann was the most active player of the offensive trio. 

Barcelona’s most promising route into the final third The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. to right back Nélson Semedo. Because Dortmund’s left midfielder – either Sancho or Hazard – positioned himself too deep to cover left back Raphaël Guerreiro, the lane to the middle opened up and was exploited with a dribble. Semedo then looked to find Griezmann, who tried to start combinations through the center. Suárez played as a target man against the center-backs, looking to lay the ball off to Griezmann. 

Barcelona had five shots in the first half, with four of them being blocked. This underlines Dortmund’s good defensive performance, keeping Barcelona from good scoring chances and always pressuring the opposition’s players between the lines. 

Dortmund exploits Barcelona’s defensive problems

Against the ball, Barcelona defended in a 4-1-4-1 shape. The three central midfielders played with clear man-orientations against their opponents. Dortmund had a numerical superiority in the buildup, with Manuel Akanji often being the free man, because Suárez stayed close to Hummels. 

The ball was played from one wing to the other, where Dortmund looked to break through with combinations. If Barcelona denied the way forward, Dortmund could secure their possession and evade pressure by playing the ball back to the center-backs. If Valverde’s team tried to pressure Akanji or Hummels, often through Arthur or de Jong stepping up, the hosts were able to use their numerical superiority to advance the ball and switch the play to the other side. 

Another method Dortmund used in buildup was to open the passing lanes from the center-backs to the strikers. Because Arthur and de Jong marked Delaney and Witsel closely, they could be dragged out of their positions. This opened up the passing lanes for Hummels and Akanji to find either Alcácer or Reus. Dortmund’s best chance in the first half followed a pass from Hummels to Reus. The striker could advance the ball to the Hazard on the left and made one of his typical runs behind the defense. After a through ball from Hazard, Marc-André ter Stegen denied Reus the first of many times this game. 

Dortmund opened the passing lanes from the center-back to the striker to advance the ball through the center.

Dortmund creates chances through the wings, but fails to score

With the beginning of the second half, Dortmund started to press higher again and were able to create turnovers, as well as keeping hold of the ball to have longer possession spells again. They mainly attacked Barcelona through the wings. Therefore, fullbacks Achraf Hakimi and Guerreiro were very offensive and supported the wingers. Guerreiro’s ability to escape tight situations on the left wing through dribbles was important to stay in possession, however, the left side was not as dangerous as the right side with Hakimi. 

This was also down to the defensively struggling Nélson Semedo, who conceded a penalty to Jadon Sancho ten minutes into the second half. Reus missed the penalty, in no small part thanks to a fantastic piece of goalkeeping by Marc-André ter Stegen, meaning that game was still level after an hour.

After the penalty, Ernesto Valverde made two changes. The struggling Sergio Busquets was replaced by Ivan Rakitić and Lionel Messi came on for Fati. Barcelona now switched to a 4-4-2 shape, with Rakitić playing on the right and Griezmann on the left. 

After this change, Barcelona looked even more vulnerable against the ball. The pressing looked uncoordinated, with de Jong and Arthur stepping out like they had another midfielder to cover them. However, Busquets was subbed off and Rakitić did not play behind them, but on the right side. Therefore, the spaces between the lines got bigger and Dortmund were often able to exploit that. 

Around the seventy-fifth minute, Dortmund started to really take the momentum, and created a lot of chances, but failed to score the goal. Two of these chances were created from the right side, where Dortmund exploited the defensively poor Semedo. After the ball was played to right back Hakimi, Semedo moved to the wing, leaving his opponents in his back completely unmarked. For the first chance, Hazard played a low cross to Alcácer and just a few minutes later, Sancho found Reus with a clever cut-back. Both times, the players were not able to hit the target from promising positions. 

After Delaney exploited the poor compactness with a pass between the lines to Brandt who eventually hit the crossbar, it was again a combination on the right side with Reus, Sancho and Brandt that led to a big chance for Reus. But the striker was denied by his German compatriot ter Stegen for the third and last time this evening. 

Barcelona’s possession spells in the second half: not so special

Although Barcelona still had around 60% possession in the second half, they were not able to advance the ball into the box. After Messi was subbed on, the most used attacking combination was to give him the ball in the right halfspace, If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have the freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. make subsequent moves around him to create space, and see what would happen.. The Argentinian then would look for lofted passes behind the defense for Griezmann. These passes were harmless, though. Barcelona were not able to create any meaningful chances in the second half, as they only produced had two shots. However, they used their possession spells in the last ten minutes to control the game, after Dortmund were close to scoring the first goal of the game. 

Not a pretty sight if you are a Barcelona fan.


Dortmund should be happy with their performance, but the result cannot be satisfying at all. Not only did they miss a penalty, but they also let a few big chances go to waste. However, their good defensive form is something that stands out in their early season. After keeping a clean sheet against Leverkusen, they barely allowed Barcelona a chance to score. Considering the result of the other game in the group, a win would have put the hosts in a more comfortable situation before the second round.

For Barcelona, this game should be alarming. They are yet to win an away game this season, struggled to create any chances and gave away a lot of big chances on the other end. If they do not improve in the coming months, and Messi will surely be a big factor in that, the fight for second place in this group will not only be between Dortmund and Inter. 

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