Borussia Dortmund – RasenBallsport Leipzig: Jadon Sancho Powers Dortmund To Victory In DFB-Pokal Dress Rehearsal (3-2)

Fluid attacking patterns and stellar defensive intensity saw Borussia Dortmund gain the early advantage, with RB Leipzig forced to account for the movement of the home side’s front four. Second half tweaks gave Julian Nagelsmann’s side a foothold in the game, but Jadon Sancho’s brace in the absence of Erling Haaland allowed Dortmund to inch closer to their goal of a top four finish. 

Tactical analysis and match report by Manasvin Andra


The last time these two teams met, Erling Haaland stole the show in a win that severely dented Leipzig’s hopes of catching Bayern Munich. Now, with Leipzig having lost the title race and consolidated second place, the pressure was on Dortmund, who remain in the hunt for Champions League football. With both teams set to meet in the final of DfB-Pokal, the game also served as a rehearsal of sorts, though Julian Nagelsmann at least would be wary of showing his cards.

Crucially, Dortmund were missing the talismanic Haaland, forcing Edin Terzić to pack his side full of playmakers. Thorgan Hazard nominally led the line, with Marco Reus as the attacking midfielder and Gio Reyna and Jadon Sancho as the wingers. Behind them stood the double pivot Two central midfielders next to each other. of Mahmoud Dahoud and Emre Can, who shielded the defense consisting of Raphael Guerreiro, Mats Hummels, Manuel Akanji and Łukasz Piszczek. Marwin Hitz was picked as the goalkeeper.

Leipzig used their staple 3-1-4-2 shape, with Willi Orban, Dayot Upamecano and Lukas Klostermann making up the defense. Kevin Kampl played as the single pivot, Teams vary in the number of midfielders they place in defensive positions during buildup. In systems like a 4-3-3 or 4-3-1-2, usually a single midfielder plays closer to the defense, for protection, but also for buildup play in the center of the pitch. The player is called the ‘single pivot’, to contrast with the ‘double pivot’ in systems like a 4-2-3-1. with Marcel Sabitzer and Dani Olmo fielded as the attacking midfielders. They were flanked on either side by wing-backs Angeliño and Benjamin Henrichs, who supported the striker duo of Emil Forsberg and Hwang Hee-chan.


Dortmund get the upper hand in strong first half

Haaland’s absence was always going to be difficult to overcome, but Reus’ form over the past few weeks gave the home side a lift going into this game. Crucially, the first half was marked by Leipzig’s awareness of Dortmund’s fluidity, and the visitors reacted accordingly.


Dortmund versus the Leipzig low 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 defended out of a 5-3-2 shape, with the wing-backs held in deeper areas to counter the threat of Sancho and Reyna. With the wingers swapping flanks and Reus and Hazard swapping positions, the front four attracted the attention of the midfield, which allowed Akanji to pressure Leipzig by simply carrying the ball past the first line. The narrowness of the block meant that the fullbacks could take up advanced positions and progress, with Dahoud and Reyna consistently offering behind the midfield if they stepped out to press. The consistent movement – in addition to Leipzig’s proclivity for man marking – made it difficult for the visitors to defend compactly, and they conceded the first goal after a hesitation and run by Reus allowed Hazard to flick the pass into his path. It was a lovely piece of skill from the captain, who left Orban in the dust without even touching the ball.

Another situation where Dortmund took advantage of Leipzig was in the buildup stage, where Can dropped almost to the box in a bid to attract a marker and drag Leipzig higher up the field. Dahoud took up a position in the vertical lane ahead of Can, forcing Leipzig to commit another man to him. With these small movements, Dortmund made the pitch more expansive, which was exactly what their front four wanted. The home side could play into them via goal kicks or passes through the middle, and one instance in the first half saw Reus drop and release Sancho into space with a superb move out of pressure. Unfortunately, the winger was unable to take advantage, with hesitant decision-making allowing Upamecano to catch up in the box.

A key part of Dortmund’s first half display was their effectiveness in pressing and midfield duels, as they were able to close Leipzig down fairly quickly. From buildup, Leipzig used Klostermann and Orban with Upamecano moving into midfield; Dortmund largely found it easy to snuff progression from this base.  In scenes where a back pass was made, the home side looked to press quickly if players were in proximity, otherwise they dropped into a 4-2-3-1 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. and moved quickly to close down gaps that might open up. With Henrichs largely in a defensive role owing to the dual threat of Guerreiro and Sancho, the creative burden fell on Angeliño, who was crowded on the touchline every time he received the pass. This allowed Dortmund to see out the half on their terms, with nearly every player performing at a high level.


Nagelsmann’s second half tweaks

A lot of Leipzig’s problems came from Dortmund denying the combinations that allow easy progression, as well as the home side’s focus on certain key players. Henrichs and Olmo – essentially the entirety of Leipzig’s right side – barely featured in the first half, and there was no space available to Hwang to actually make his runs in behind. In view of these problems, Nagelsmann adjusted the positioning of Klostermann – while he stayed in defense when Dortmund had the ball, in possession he would invert and join Kampl in a double pivot. At times, Sabitzer would also fall into the same line, with Hwang, Forsberg and Olmo then playing as the narrow front three (Sabitzer could also operate as the attacking midfielder on the side). Angeliño and Henrichs then operated as the wingers, in a structure that actually allowed them to touch the ball in important areas.


Leipzig post Nagelsmann’s changes.


In some scenes, the tweak gave Leipzig an extra body in the middle, which made simple passes possible and increased the pressure on the defense. It forced Dortmund to account for the extra player and thereby lessened the pressure on Angeliño, who looked for the incoming Henrichs in the box. There was also an uptick in the pressing intensity, with Leipzig looking to push up on Dortmund and regain possession. Despite these changes, Sancho doubled the home side’s lead following a Dortmund move down the left after Guerreiro’s pass put him in a one-versus-one situation against Henrichs. Further, Reus continued to provide an outlet presence, and would have tripled the lead were it not for a slip when reaching for the ball.


Klostermann goal sets up frantic finish

Despite the tweaks, Leipzig still found it difficult to put the ball in the back of the net, though Klostermann’s header in the 63rd minute suddenly boosted the visitors’ momentum. While Dortmund still had the lead, the game state clearly favoured Leipzig, and Nagelsmann capitalised by quickly sending on Amadou Haidara, Justin Kluivert and Nordi Mukiele for Angeliño, Forsberg and Henrichs.

Sure enough, Haidara made an instant impact, sending Hwang into the box with a good pass. However, it was the latter’s work in shedding the defender and cutting the ball back that was remarkable, allowing Olmo to score a simple goal. 2-2, and Leipzig would continue to push, but Dortmund always had the space in behind to attack. It is precisely the latter that became important, as Sancho received the ball facing minimal opposition, combined with the overlapping Guerreiro and put the nail in Leipzig’s coffin.



 

Takeaways

For Leipzig, the game does not mean anything more than a case study in how to approach Dortmund in the final, and even then, Haaland might be back to haunt them. Still, Nagelsmann can scheme against the kind of medium block that Dortmund displayed, which should be crucial for the final. As far as the home side is concerned, this was a necessary victory and leaves Frankfurt looking over its shoulder in the top four battle. Where they finish is a crucial issue, and one that Dortmund are one step closer to resolving.



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