Borussia Dortmund – Hertha BSC: Dortmund swing again, but drop two points to impressive Hertha (2-2)

Dortmund and Hertha showcased the best aspects of Bundesliga football today. This game was played at a breakneck pace, included very smart tactical decisions and had some of the best young talents in European football on display. How the visitors were able to nick a point thanks to Pál Dárdai’s brave tactics, despite an extremely impressive opening half hour by the home team.

It did not take new manager Lucien Favre long to turn Borussia Dortmund into one of the hottest teams in European football in these early stages of the season. In his first twelve official games in charge, Dortmund won ten and drew two. The defense has been much more solid – as we might have suspected with the arrival of Favre, a specialist in creating tight 4-4-2-mid block A mid 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. defensive formations – keeping a clean sheet in six of these games.

But it is on the offensive side of the ball where Dortmund has exploded recently. 37 goals scored in the first twelve games of the season is impressive. The 26 goals Dortmund put up in the last six outings heading into this game even more so.

A lot of praise has gone out to the recently acquired Spanish striker Paco Alcácer. With eight goals in his first 216 minutes of play at Dortmund (a goal every 27 minutes), he has officially been off to an alien-like start. Alcácer was not able to play today due to injury, just like in Dortmund’s Champions League match against Atlético Madrid last Wednesday.

Even without Alcácer, Favre has an almost embarrassing amount of plus-plus attacking options to play in the front four of his 4-2-3-1 formation. A finally healthy Marco Reus has been the best player of this team at the ‘ten’ position. Jadon Sancho, Christian Pulisic and Jacob Bruun Larsen can all be counted among the world’s best wingers under 21 years old. And then there are Mario Götze and Raphael Guerreiro, who both excelled today.

In comparison to Wednesday’s bout against Atlético, Favre made three changes. Playmaker Mo Dahoud came in for the injured Thomas Delaney in central midfield, whilst Sancho and Guerreiro – who both played excellent as subs in midweek – were rotated in for Pulisic and Bruun Larsen.

For the second consecutive game, Götze replaced Alcácer up front, playing as a true Falscher Neun. A striker that constantly drops deep and plays like a number ten.

 

BVB Dortmund's 4-2-3-1 formation in possession against Hertha BSC's 5-3-1-1 defensive systemGeneral movements and positioning when Dortmund was in possession.


Hertha coach Pál Dárdai made a few defensively-minded adjustments to his starting eleven to combat Dortmund’s firepower. Hertha has had an excellent start to the season in a 4-4-1-1-in-defense, 3-2-4-1-in-possession formation, with right-back Valentino Lazaro playing as a winger whenever Hertha has the ball.

Today, Dárdai brought in true center-back Karim Rekik for nominal left-back Marvin Plattenhardt, and wing-back Maximilian Mittelstädt for winger Javaîro Dilrosun on the left wing. Hertha would play in a 3-1-4-2 in possession today, with playmaker Ondrej Duda playing as more of a central midfielder than usual. When Dortmund had possession in Hertha’s half, the visitors from Berlin would drop in a 5-3-1-1 shape, with the three midfielders playing as narrow as possible, trying to help stop the creative decision-making of Götze and Reus in this area.


True football show in black-and-yellow in opening half hour
Dortmund were absolutely dominating in the first half. In the first 25 minutes alone, Dortmund had five fully-formed attacks from open play that created danger – not even counting a truly exquisite backheeled-finished goal from Sancho after a fine passing combination, that was canceled by the VAR. Dortmund were consistently able to get players on the ball between or behind the midfield and defensive lines of Hertha.

A couple of patterns in Dortmund’s play in possession quickly emerged. On the left flank, fullback Achraf Hakimi continued his excellent play – he had three (!) assists on Wednesday against Atlético – and caused Hertha all sorts of trouble with his deep runs, on-ball skills and cutting movements towards the center.

Hakimi’s strengths combine really well with Guerreiro’s. The Portuguese has experience at left-back and central midfield, and showed that today. He often dropped back or cut inside at just the right time to create one-on-one opportunities for Hakimi on the wing. Having to stop Hakimi on the one flank, and Sancho on the other, is not a real fair proposition for opposing defenses, especially when it is one-versus-one on the flank.

In the central zones, Dortmund were truly impressive at times today. Götze displayed amazing positional ‘feel’ from the striker position, constantly freeing himself to receive deep passes by timely drifting wide or dropping back. This effect was amplified by another excellent game from Marco Reus. The captain is in top form, and provides Dortmund with a ‘ten’ that can dribble opponents, create for others with sharp-cutting box-passes and be a scoring threat himself.

Mo Dahoud formed the hub between Dortmund’s build-up and Götze and Reus up front. The skilful midfielder has lately gotten more license to roam forward to connect play than earlier this season. The opening goal was a result of Dahoud’s forward movement. Zagadou found the midfielder with a line-breaking pass; Dahoud quickly shifted the ball forwards to Götze, who, alongside Reus and Sancho, was in a three-versus-one break after Hertha’s offside trap was ill-timed, because Rekik stayed back. Götze found Sancho for the easy finish to open the score after 27 minutes.


Hertha’s brave press keeps them in the game
That Salomon Kalou was able to equalize, after Hertha was thoroughly outplayed in the 41 minutes leading up to this goal, was the result of a brave decision by Dárdai. Whenever Dortmund goalie Roman Bürki set up for a goal kick, Hertha pressed Dortmund’s build-up man-for-man. As you can see in the image below, a 3-1-4-2 forms a natural formation to do so against a build-up from a 4-2-3-1.

Hertha's brave man-for-man pressing against BVB Dortmund

Hertha’s man-oriented pressing setup whenever Dortmund had a goal kick


Dortmund seemed to play out from under this pressure on the goal-kick preceding Kalou’s goal, but a risky pass from Dahoud in Hertha’s half towards Lukasz Piszczek was intercepted by Mittelstädt, who was still man-marking the Polish right-back. Mittelstädt capped off an excellent dribble by finding Kalou behind the Dortmund defense with a lobbed pass.


Dortmund finally show some of their inexperience

This Hertha press kept working well in the early stages of the second half. Twice, a similar pressing trap led to counter-attacking chances for the visitors.

But Hertha’s more daring play eventually, inevitably led to Dortmund’s creative players getting more space to do damage, whenever the home team had advanced the ball through the initial press. In the 61st minute, Dortmund finally capitalized on one of many chances they were able to create.

The Guerreiro-Hakimi connection was at display once more, with the right-footed Moroccan cutting inside on a Guerreiro layoff, and sending a sharp-cutting pass inside the Hertha box. Reus either whiffed on this pass or subtly advanced it, but the ball passed keeper Rune Jarstein, with Sancho patiently waiting to score his second uncontested goal of the afternoon to make it 2-1.

That this game did not end up in an easy Dortmund win, can be chalked up to three things: (1) Dortmund’s uncharacteristically sloppy finishing, (2) the fact that Hertha kept playing very methodical in attack. Especially when one-on-one-problem Lazaro on the right was provided a tall target for his crosses after Davie Selke was subbed in with a half hour to play. And, (3) more specifically, a very inexperienced reaction to a late Piszczek injury.

In the 90th minute, the Polish right-back was in clear pain, waiting until he got subbed out. But his teammates failed to recognize this situation. After Bürki goal-kicked the ball long, none of Dortmund’s attackers made a tactical foul to provide the necessary whistle for Favre to make the sub.

Instead, Mittelstädt won the ball and played deep to Selke, in behind the limping Piszczek. Center-back Abdou Diallo stepped out, while Dan-Axel Zagadou stayed back deep. Selke won his personal duel with Zagadou, who fouled the physically strong Hertha striker. Kalou calmly converted the penalty to put the surprising 2-2 final score on the board.

 


Takeaways
If you ‘trust the process’ – lend more predictive value to the fact that Dortmund created enough chances today to get an easy win, than to the fact that they dropped two points- this was actually an excellent performance by Dortmund. Their play in possession has been spectacular lately, and Hertha really should receive some credit for hanging in this game after Dortmund’s whirlwind start in the first half.

Considering how small the gap in quality and points is between, say, the Bundesliga’s ‘third team’ and one that is living life in mid-table, Hertha fans aren’t crazy to dream about a potential top four finish. This team has some great individual talent – Lazaro, Duda and Kalou, for instance – and are well-drilled in their tactical execution.




Match plots will be added later.

Sam Planting (27) writes for various Dutch media about football (VI Pro, Het Parool, Hard Gras) and does some stats stuff for television. Records ‘De Voetbalpodcast’ with his two best buds. Born and raised in Amsterdam. Former basketball player. Current aficionado of stand-up comedy and rap music. [ View all posts ]

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