Tactical analysis Borussia Dortmund - TSG Hoffenheim 3-3 Bundesliga

Borussia Dortmund – TSG 1899 Hoffenheim: How Did Dortmund Throw Away A Three-Goal Lead? (3-3)

Dortmund gave away a three-goal lead with fifteen minutes to play, at a moment when they are leading the league and thoroughly need wins to keep it that way. Not great, Bob. Not great.

Tactical analysis and match report by Erik Elias.

Dortmund went into the match without the injured trio Marco Reus, Manuel Akanji and Dan-Axel Zagadou, while nominal holding midfielder Thomas Delaney was injured. All the injuries at the back mean Julian Weigl has filled in as central defender in the past few weeks, partnering up with Abdou Diallo.

Mahmoud Dahoud played alongside Axel Witsel in the 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’. while Max Philipp got a start as the number ten, playing just behind striker Mario Götze. Raphaël Guerreiro has been playing as the left winger for some weeks now, while on the right, young English sensation Jadon Sancho is a guaranteed starter. Not only some players were missing, manager Lucien Favre himself was ill, which meant the game was coached by his assistant Edin Terzić.

With Kasim Adams and captain Kevin Vogt still out injured, Hoffenheim also had some personnel problems at the back. Manager Julian Nagelsmann did manage to field five defenders, from right to left Pavel Kadeřábek, Ermin Bičakčić, Stefan Posch, Benjamin Hübner and Nico Schulz.

The other five outfield players were Florian Grillitsch, Leonardo Bittencourt, Kerem Demirbay, Joelinton and Andrej Kramarić. Bittencourt’s role made it hard to put a numerical stamp on Hoffenheim’s formation. It was either a 3-4-1-2 or a 5-2-3, sometimes changing within seconds.

Preview Borussia Dortmund - TSG Hoffenheim

Match prediction, standings and implications going into the weekend.

Hoffenheim did not come to Dortmund to make this a pretty match

From the get-go, one thing was made perfectly clear. Hoffenheim did not travel to Dortmund to offer up a spectacular, open match. When Dortmund had the ball – which they did for nearly 66 percent in the first half – Hoffenheim retreated in a defensive 5-3-2 organization, clogging up the middle and forcing Dortmund to circulate to the fullbacks.

The way Hoffenheim positioned themselves when Dortmund’s central defenders had the ball.

The way Hoffenheim positioned themselves when Dortmund’s central defenders had the ball. Ball displayed at the feet of Julian Weigl.

Joelinton and Kramarić were tasked with making sure both Witsel and Dahoud could not be played in. Considering it was four-versus-two, both strikers had to work really hard and constantly check their shoulder to make sure the passing lane was actually blocked. A very modern way of getting on the ball in these situations as holding midfielder is to drop yourself into either 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. Dortmund’s midfielders do not perform these movements, as the team opts to build via the fullbacks in these situations instead.

Sometimes, if the ball was passed to a fullback, either Grillitsch or Bittencourt would step out to press, on other occasions, they would sit deeper and let the fullback have the ball, opting to block out the passing lane to one of Dortmund’s four most attacking players.

Hoffenheim’s plan works for ten minutes before Dortmund take over

For the first ten minutes or so, Hoffenheim’s plan worked fine and Dortmund mostly had the ball on their own half. In the eleventh minute, a goal by Dortmund was ruled by the video assistant referee because Götze had been offside.

From then on, Dortmund played with more ease. They frequently were able to play in Witsel and Dahoud via their fullbacks, as the distances for Hoffenheim’s strikers were becoming too large to cover. Whenever on of the sixes had the ball, Hoffenheim’s midfield would not step on to apply pressure, because it would only open up the gaps for the three attacking midfielders and the dropping Götze.

This meant the match was now largely played on Hoffenheim’s half, and Dortmund were controlling the match, albeit without creating a lot of chances. Hoffenheim’s sturdy organization with five defenders and three midfielders stood tall. In the 31st minute, Jadon Sancho broke the deadlock by playing a slick one-two combination with right back Piszczek and finishing low in the corner.

Dortmund were forced to circulate passing through their full-backs, but still proved able to get Guerreiro and Sancho involved a lot.

Just before half-time a rare Hoffenheim attack was faltered. The visitors immediately tried to press, which they did with seven players. A smart ball into Hakimi meant Dortmund had a four-versus-three counterattack, which ended with Götze putting the ball in an empty net. Two goals suggests Dortmund’s attacking effort was great, but it was more very efficient finishing combined with good positional play in possession than anything else.

Hoffenheim went back to the locker room with one shot under their belt. In transitions from defense to attack, they would look to play in the imposing Joelinton, who would perform some fine link-up play and drop the ball for a midfielder. Nothing actually emerged from those situations.

Whenever Hoffenheim had to create something from established possession, they looked very poor. A 3-4-1-2 formation was formed with Bittencourt underneath the two strikers, while both fullbacks pushed up very high along the touchline. It did not lead to any chances, as most of the times, Posch or Hübner would simply stroke the ball upfield towards a fullback or one of the strikers and the second ball was won by Dortmund.

Nagelsmann slightly alters formation, but largely alters mentality

After half-time, Nagelsmann brought on Dennis Geiger and Ishak Belfodil for Kramarić and Demirbay. He switched the pressing system to a 3-1-4-2 shape, largely mirroring Dortmund’s set-up when building up.

The way Hoffenheim tried to press Dortmund from the beginning of the second half.

The way Hoffenheim tried to press Dortmund from the beginning of the second half.

In one of the first buildups, Diallo played a wrong pass into Witsel, which meant Hoffenheim could enter the penalty area uncontested. It did not end up with a shot, but should have served as a warning. In the first fifteen minutes of the second half, Hoffenheim were winning the ball back up the field regularly, and truly tilted the match that way. Between the 55th and the 60th minute, they had three decent chances, mostly involving Joelinton.

It was Dortmund that would get the next goal however, with their first chance in the second half. In the 66th minute, Sancho performed one of the moves that has him so highly touted. As he was played into space by Götze, he performed a one-two combination with his back heel and perfectly set-up Götze inside the penalty area. Götze then played a square ball into Guerreiro, and all he had to do was finish.

Hoffenheim score three goals in twelve minutes

3-0 with twenty-five minutes left to play, the game’s done and dusted, right? Well, it seemed like the Dortmund players thought so as well, as they became increasingly nonchalant and playful. As Hoffenheim’s press was broken a couple of times, their attacks were not successfully finished, by the substitute Alcácer in particular, while Sancho hit the post in the 74th minute.

Then, the craze began. From a seemingly innocent attack where Dortmund stood in 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. a lazy cross by Kadeřábek was promoted into a goal by Belfodil. Before the goal, Hoffenheim’s press was beaten frequently by playing passes into the attackers, who would then perform a lay-off. After Belfodil’s goal, Dortmund showed less quality on the ball and opted to hoof it away more. This was beneficial for Hoffenheim, as they were gifted the ball multiple times.

In the 82nd minute, central defender Ömer Toprak was brought into the match for Götze, which meant Dortmund were now defending in a 5-4-1 formation. One minute after Toprak’s introduction, Hakimi very lazily defended another early cross, which meant Kadeřábek could head the ball in for the Anschlusstor, with some ten minutes to play.

With the benefit of hindsight, Dortmund can blame themselves for not making enough of their counterattacks in this phase, Guerreiro and Hakimi in particular not recognizing which pass needed to be played for optimum results. Alcácer will also feel bad, as he fluffed another chance in the 83rd minute.

Three minutes after that, Sancho lost the ball in a transition from defense to attack and made a foul to correct his own mistake. The free kick was expertly whipped in by Geiger and finished by Belfodil. Hoffenheim thus effectively scored three goals from crosses, two from open play and one from a dead ball, while three different individual defenders made mistakes when conceding. Is there something you can do about that from the dug-out?

Even though Dortmund seemed keen on scoring a winner in the remaining three minutes plus added time, the match stayed level. Dortmund therefore drew back-to-back games in the Bundesliga, while Hoffenheim pulled off the comeback of this season.


This is one of those matches that leaves you searching for answers you will never get. Would the result have been different if Dortmund would not have played 120 minutes in the cup on Tuesday? Why did Hoffenheim not start the match more positively, like they were forced to do in the end? Why did Dortmund give the ball away so easy in the second half? Why do football matches sometimes change so much after a scored goal? One can only rewatch the footage and wonder…

Since Bayern Munich won against Schalke, the difference between the two Bundesliga giants is now reduced to five points, as Dortmund have now drawn two games in a row. Thirteen matches left. Game on!

At Hoffenheim, it feels like Nagelsmann is squeezing out every single drop there is within his squad. In the modern era of football, when you perform well as a team – like Hoffenheim have done in the past three seasons – your best players go and play somewhere else. Replacing the likes of Süle, Gnabry, Rudy and Volland has simply been a very hard job for the club and you have to feel a bit for Nagelsmann if you consider his qualities he has to work with in his last season at the club. This draw leaves them ninth in the Bundesliga table.

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Erik Elias (29) is co-founder and chief editor of Between The Posts. Dutch, so admires Johan Cruijff and his football principles, but enjoys writing about other styles as well. Former youth coach. Videoscout at digital scouting consultancy 11tegen11 and FC Groningen. [ View all posts ]


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