Borussia Mönchengladbach – Borussia Dortmund: Disastrous Defending Costs Dortmund Dearly (4-2)
The final round of Bundesliga fixtures before the winter break kicked off with a battle of the Borussias, as Dortmund visited Gladbach. Neither of them were not where they would have liked to have been at this stage of the season, and midweek defeats certainly did not help their respective causes. Both teams’ inconsistency meant that only one thing was a surety in this fixture – unpredictability – and we got just that in an enthralling match.
Tactical analysis and match report by Neel Shelat.
After reaching the high of Champions League qualification in 2020, Borussia Mönchengladbach have been one of the Bundesliga’s biggest underachievers in the last two seasons, when they failed to qualify for European football altogether. Hopes were high at the start of the new campaign when Daniel Farke took charge, and a quarter of the way in, they were up in sixth and just a point away from the Champions League spots. A poor recent run of form that has seen them win just one of their last six matches now has them in danger of dropping into the bottom half of the table, so they will need a bit of a reset in the winter break.
Much like their opponents, Dortmund too have been disappointing of late, although they let down not only themselves but almost the entirety of the league. They are widely seen as the side with the best chance of ending Bayern’s domination, but they have always fallen short when it mattered. As Julian Nagelmsann’s side got off to a stuttering start to the season, Dortmund managed to keep step with them and remained level on points after a dramatic Klassiker, but as ever, dropped off since and were six points behind their rivals going into this fixture.
Gladbach lined up in Farke’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, where their long injury list made most of the selection decisions itself. Yann Sommer and Tobias Sippel’s absences meant that young Jan Olschowsky was in goal again, with Joseph Scally, Marvin Friedrich, Nico Elvedi and Ramy Bensebaini in the back four as Ko Itakura was sidelined. Manu Koné and Julian Weigl were in defensive midfield with Christoph Kramer ahead of them since Florian Neuhaus was also injured. Jonas Hofmann and Lars Stindl flanked Marcus Thuram up front as Alassane Pléa missed out.
Dortmund also lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, and they too had a sizeable injury list. Gregor Kobel was between the sticks with a back line of Niklas Süle at right back (because Thomas Meunier and Hannes Wolf were out), Mats Hummels, Nico Schlotterbeck and Raphaël Guerreiro ahead of him. Mahmoud Dahoud and Marco Reus’ absences meant that Emre Can joined Jude Bellingham in midfield with Julian Brandt ahead of them, whilst the trio of Gio Reyna, Donyell Malen and Youssoufa Moukoko led the attack.
Dortmund get off to a terrible start
To be fair, Dortmund did start the game fairly well as they kept more of the ball in the opening exchanges and caused problems for their opponents with their high press, turning the ball over after the first two short goal kicks. Gladbach did not relent, though, and their third time proved to be a charm.
This time, they were able to break through the first line of pressure thanks to some slick passing, after which they found themselves in a brilliant position. There was a massive corridor of space between Dortmund’s defensive and midfield lines, enough for a Karneval parade to pass through, so Gladbach had no trouble exploiting it.
4th minute: Weigl finds Stindl between the lines in the buildup to Gladbach’s opening goal. Since all of Dortmund’s defenders are pinned, they are forced to drop back and allow Stindl to carry the ball forward, after which he assists Hofmann.
These are issues you would not expect to see in any top flight side, let alone one that regularly competes in the Champions League, but it is not entirely surprising to see Dortmund having them. With the presence of such basic flaws, it is easy to see why they can be so inconsistent and disappointing, even in matches they might be expected to win.
Dortmund use the wings to break past Gladbach’s block
Much like Dortmund, the home side also defended in a 4-4-2 shape, but the difference was that they were actually able to achieve central compactness. They kept the spaces between their lines and indeed between two players in the same line minimal, whilst also using man-marking in midfield to limit their opponents’ central progression as Kramer followed Can around whenever he was in front of the ball.
Therefore, Edin Terzić’s side had to find other ways to break past Gladbach’s defense, and they did so down the wings. Since Can was being man-marked, Bellingham and his movements proved key in helping Dortmund progress the ball.
9th minute: Bellingham drops into the back line on the right and plays an incisive through ball for Reyna to run onto.
Indeed it was Bellingham who played a crucial role in the equalizer. This time, he drifted out to the left and picked the ball up with all the Gladbach players in front of him, but that did not matter as he played a pinpoint chipped ball into the path of Brandt, who applied a clever finish.
"Pure 𝓒𝓛𝓐𝓢𝓢!"— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) November 11, 2022
THAT Jude Bellingham assist though! 😍 pic.twitter.com/Y9kxnRmK77
Just as Dortmund thought they had found a way back into the match, though, it all unraveled, largely through the faults of one man.
Hummels’ horror show compounds Dortmund’s problems
It has not been the best of weeks for Mats Hummels. He did not have a particularly great day when his side lost to Wolfsburg in midweek, he then learnt that he was omitted from the German squad for the World Cup, and on Friday, he had one of his worst outings on a football pitch in his entire senior career.
He was indirectly at fault for Gladbach’s second goal in the 26th minute when he gave away a free-kick in a dangerous area that the hosts profitted from, but he was much more clearly culpable for their third a few minutes later.
It is hard to tell what his thought process behind this decision was, but the 33-year-old decided to push into midfield to try and win the ball back even though there were a number of opposition players around the ball. Unsurprisingly, he did not get anywhere near it, and his movement vacated space for Thuram to run into, which is exactly what he did before coolly beating Kobel and rolling the ball into an empty net.
Even then, Dortmund were not fully done and dusted as they pulled one back from a set-piece a few minutes before half-time, but just seconds into the second period, they conceded again. That was a real sucker punch, and even Terzić himself admitted that the game was as good as done then.
In fairness to them, Dortmund did create enough chances to win the game, but their inability to take them combined with some individual defensive mistakes cost them the game.
This performance was a perfect display of Dortmund’s issues over the last few years. Not too long ago, they had gone toe to toe with one of the best teams in Europe and kept a clean sheet, but on this occasion, they looked amateurish at times against one of the more inconsistent sides in the league. This sort of Jekyll and Hyde syndrome has plagued them for a number of years now, and it will continue to undermine their title chances until resolved.
Whilst the players’ performance was poor, their head coach must also shoulder the blame for this result. After the match, Terzić did speak of the issues that we highlighted such as their disjointed pressing and individual defensive mistakes, but these are nothing new for Dortmund this season, so his job has to be to fix them and not just identify them.
Gladbach will be quite pleased with this performance and result, but they too are no strangers to the issues that Dortmund are facing, so there is work to be done for them in the winter break as well.
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