Borussia Dortmund – Schalke 04: Effective Schalke Let Dortmund Boil Over In Revierderby (2-4)

Schalke produced a shock result away at Borussia Dortmund, heavily altering the title chances of their rivals. Although Dortmund were able to dominate most parts of the game in possession, Schalke’s 5-3-2 shape prevented them from creating many chances. On the opposite side, Schalke showed high efficiency with their offenisve moves. After two players of the home team were sent off in the second half of the game, Schalke could secure their win without much trouble.

Tactical analysis and match report by Max Bergmann.

When Borussia Dortmund meets Schalke 04 it is derby time in the Bundesliga. The so called “Revierderby” is one of the most popular derbies with already over 150 editions played. And although the sides follow completely different goals and compete at different ends of the table at the moment – Dortmund battling against Bayern Munich for the championship and Schalke stuck in the relegation battle – the “Revierderby” has its own rules.

As expected, Lucien Favre’s team started the game with a 4-2-3-1 setup. Versatile defender Abdou Diallo was lined up as a left back, while Marius Wolf defended on the other wing. In central defense, midfielder Julian Weigl has earned himself a permanent place in the second half of the campaign. Favre also did not change any position up front, compared to their recent 4-0 win over Freiburg. That meant that Marco Reus played behind striker Mario Götze.

Schalke sticked to their typical system as well, as Huub Stevens made no changes to his preferred 3-5-2 shape. Up front, Stevens lined up the robust Guido Burgstaller alongside the pacy Breel Embolo. Since Schalke played without wide forwards, wing-backs Daniel Caligiuri and Bastian Oczipka were tasked to patrol the wide areas. The central area was covered by a midfield three in which Omar Mascarell played as a single pivot behind the two advanced midfielders Weston McKennie and Suat Serdar. Benjamin Stambouli acted as the central defender next to Salif Sané and Matija Nastasić within Schalke’s back line.

Schalke’s initial press

In the beginning of the game, Schalke pressed aggressively, stepping out from 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. Both strikers marked one player of 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’. and stopped Dortmund to play passes into central areas. However, this offered Dortmund’s center-backs much time on the ball and allowed the home side to sustain possession. In the first half, Dortmund therefore had a possession rate of more than 81%.

Once Dortmund played the ball to one of their fullbacks, Schalke’s ball-near central midfielders moved out to press. Meanwhile, their wing-backs completed the back five. Omar Mascarell as the defensive midfielder stayed with Reus and thereby prevented Dortmund’s playmaker from pulling the strings in higher areas.

With this concept, Schalke were capable of preventing Dortmund from progressing up the pitch. However, they rarely won the ball, as they were mostly cutting off passes and forcing Dortmund back, without making actual challenges for the ball.

And even when regaining possession, Schalke’s counterattacks often missed support in wide areas. Since their wing-backs defended in low positions, they were incapable of moving up the field fast enough to support their attackers. Therefore, the opening stages did not offer much scoring opportunities on either side.

Dortmund’s left-focused attacks and Schalke’s strong set pieces

In possession, Borussia Dortmund had a heavy focus on attacking down the left side. While left back Diallo moved up the line and provided width, left winger Raphaël Guerreiro took part in rotational movements with Reus and Götze in the left 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 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. As the ball was on the left flank, right winger Jadon Sancho tucked inside. In addition to that, either of Dortmund’s defensive midfielders joined the attack while the other one covered in the center of the field.

Dortmund’s attacking had a focus on the left side against Schalke’s 5-3-2

It was this positioning which enabled Dortmund to score the leading goal after Axel Witsel picked up a second ball at the edge of the penalty area and laid it off to Sancho. The English youngster played a chipped ball behind Schalke’s back line which was converted by striker Götze after a diagonal run which started in the left halfspace.

In the rare moments of possession, Schalke’s wing-backs quickly pushed high up the line, while the striking duo stayed in central areas. This enabled attackers Embolo and Burgstaller to receive crosses put in by either Caligiuri or Oczipka. Deep crosses from wing-backs to striker is an ineffective offensive strategy, and combined with Schalke’s low amount of possession and Dortmund’s early opening goal, Schalke looked doomed in this edition of the Revierderby. The game was brought back to life when Schalke got a penalty after one of their crosses. Right wing-back Caligiuri whipped it in, towards striker Embolo. As his shot was blocked by Weigl’s arm, the referee awarded Schalke a penalty, resulting in the equalizer after twenty minutes.

In the following parts of the match, Dortmund could not get behind Schalke’s last line of defense. Contrary to the opening phase, the side of Stevens was even capable of pressing Dortmund earlier than they had done, thereby causing mistakes in the buildup phase. That led to a Schalke throw in first, and to a corner kick in the following. Tall central defender Sané, then, used his gigantic aerial strength and headed the ball into the net, meaning Schalke had the lead after 28 minutes.

Dortmund’s issues against Schalke’s low block

Now leading, Schalke changed their press slightly. Firstly, they formed a 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. instead of attempting a mid-press. Secondly, their wing-backs from then on pressed Dortmund’s fullbacks, while the midfield three opted to close down central passing lanes. Since Dortmund only rarely switched play, Schalke gained a compact shape once having shifted towards one side.

The side of Favre struggled to get between the lines. Due to Schalke’s vertical compactness, it was difficult to find space between the lines. Moreover, Schalke could always press any player who received the ball within their block with a central defender of their back five stepping out. Dortmund therefore could not make use of their usual strength to play through passes within the halfspaces, and had a lot of possession outside of Dortmund’s defense.

Lots of passing outside of Schalke’s defensive organization for Dortmund.

Second half full of chaos

Missing penetrating power up front as well as presence between the lines, Favre changed Dortmund’s formation to a 4-3-3 system after ten minutes in the second half. Striker Paco Alcácer was substituted for midfielder Delaney while Witsel stayed on the field as a single pivot. However, this system did not last long because playmaker Reus was sent off with a red card due to a severe foul. The resulting free kick was converted by wing-back Caligiuri, as he scored Schalke’s third goal. A few minutes after this, a second dismissal – this time for Wolf, the fullback – seemed to end all of Dortmund’s hopes to get three points.

Because Schalke still allowed Dortmund to sustain possession, the home side even used one of their positional attacks to score their second goal after a cross. Making the entire stadium hope for a mad nine-against-eleven comeback. Schalke’s own possessions were quite bad, even with two spare players, which added to the suspense and feeling Dortmund could get a point out of this match. Nevertheless, Schalke’s quick response with a goal scored by striker Embolo was the last goal of the game, meaning Schalke took back the three points to Gelsenkirchen.


Thanks to an in-form Daniel Caligiuri, Schalke were able to beat their biggest rival and thereby freed themselves from the relegation battle of the Bundesliga. Dortmund on the other hand lacked presence between the lines and were unable to break Schalke’s low 5-3-2 block.

All in all, neither side would have deserved to win this game, which disappointed the viewer from a tactical perspective. Nevertheless, the two red cards and six goals made up for the lack of tactical guile, even though the title race in Germany now seems to be over, as Bayern are visiting Nürnberg Sunday evening.

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Max Bergmann (21) likes to watch football from every possible angle as an ambitious coach, player, (former) referee and analyst. Holding the UEFA B-Level license, he is coaching youth teams and making video analysis. In order to extend his knowledge about tactics, physiology and psychology in sports, he is studying sports science. Whenever Max is not on the pitch or at the university, he analyses football with a focus on the Bundesliga and the other European top leagues for TotalFootballAnalysis and Between the Posts. [ View all posts ]


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