Borussia Mönchengladbach – Borussia Dortmund: Zakaria Strike Carries Gladbach After Dahoud Red Card (1-0)

Without Marco Reus and Erling Haaland, Borussia Dortmund still had enough quality to eke out a result against a struggling Borussia Mönchengladbach. However, losing Mahmoud Dahoud to go down to ten men was too much of a stumbling block, as Denis Zakaria’s strike struck a fatal blow to Dortmund and gave Adi Hütter’s team a much needed victory.

Tactical analysis and match report by Manasvin Andra.

On his first return to Borussia-Park since leaving Borussia Mönchengladbach, Marco Rose might have feared some amount of antipathy from the crowd. However, it is likelier that Rose would not have noticed the boos, being instead preoccupied by the absences of Marco Reus and Erling Haaland that kept the two out of this crunch encounter.

In their absence, Rose went with a different structure for the game, both to cover up the deficiency in offense as well as to match Gladbach’s preferred shape. This saw Rose put out a 5-3-2 formation, with Gregor Kobel shielded by a defense of Manuel Akanji, Marin Pongračić and Mats Hummels. Jude Bellingham, Axel Witsel and Mahmoud Dahoud made up the midfield three, with Thomas Meunier and Raphaël Guerreiro deployed as the wing-backs. Up front saw the selection of an interesting offensive duo, as Youssoufa Moukoko partnered Donyell Malen in a pacy forward line.

While in an inconsistent vein of form, Adi Hütter’s side is capable of producing displays of immense quality when everyone is dialed in. They came into this match having picked up points in just two of their five games, losing three matches in the process. Still, the line-up for this game looked promising, as talismanic keeper Yann Sommer had Tony Jantschke, Nico Elvedi and Matthias Ginter for protection as part of the usual 3-4-3 shape. The double pivot comprised of Kouadio Koné and Denis Zakaria, with Luca Netz and Joseph Scally in support as wing-backs. The speedy Breel Embolo led the line, supported by Lars Stindl and Jonas Hofmann.

Structured formations lead to similar results

From a tactical perspective, the benefit of watching teams play with a back three is the clear organization that follows from such a set-up. When both teams play with this approach, there are certain situations that are bound to arise as a result, such as the clashes between the wing-backs and the lack of space in the final third. These aspects also arose in this game, with both teams utilizing similar patterns and ending up with analogous results.

Dortmund’s shape when out of possession.

Dortmund used a 5-3-2 shape off the ball, with the front two instructed to cut off passing lanes through the middle. When the ball was in the Gladbach half, the central midfielders played in advanced positions with Witsel at the base, where the ball near midfielder and wingback were instructed to press the Gladbach ball carrier and cover his options. With this approach, Dortmund ensured reasonably good coverage of the defenders and wing-backs, but since the defensive line remained at a safe distance, there were situations where gaps opened up in Witsel’s back. Embolo occasionally dropped into these spaces, though he was followed by Pongračić in these phases where the center-back attempted to force the back pass.

On their part, Ginter and Koné were key to Gladbach in the first phase, where the double pivot stayed close to the defensive line. Ginter fanned out wider than Jantschke on the other side, which allowed wingback Scally to remain in advanced situations. Dahoud sprinting to close down the pass between the wide center-back and wingback was a common sight, in keeping with the role of the Dortmund central midfielders when out of possession. While this was going on, Stindl and Hofmann had license to drift, with Stindl occasionally dropping into the middle and Hofmann floating to the right halfspace to receive and dart inside. When the ball did reach the wingers, there was little space to combine and threaten, since the Dortmund midfielders would press backwards and fall into a 5-3-2 low block. This led to Gladbach recycling possession and Dortmund restarting the press, which led to a pattern developing for both teams.

Dortmund suffers key setback

While Gladbach have struggled to score this season, Haaland and Reus have ensured that Dortmund don’t suffer from the same issue. In their absence, Bellingham took on more of the creative load, trying to link up with Meunier and threading through balls for Moukoko to chase.

However, Dortmund looked slow when circulating in the Gladbach half, which was down to their lack of a link player. Usually, Reus takes it upon himself to receive between the lines and inject some danger into the play, but in his absence, Dortmund lacked a similar profile to seize the initiative. A key aspect of Gladbach’s play off the ball was Zakaria and Koné marking Bellingham and Dahoud, which made it difficult for the duo to receive and turn.

This further suppressed Dortmund in the attacking phase, with Malen and Moukoko anonymous for the majority of the first half. In the absence of a chaos agent who could speed Dortmund up either by playing (Reus) or receiving (Haaland) dangerous passes, the visitors were shut down easily, as Gladbach also pressed well to stymie the visitors’ progression.

Zakaria and Koné pressing Bellingham and Dahoud stymied Dortmund offensively.

Things went from bad to worse after Dahoud was shown a second yellow card aftera foul, which was harsh given the nature of the challenge and the ramifications of the card. Dortmund fell back to a 5-3-1 shape in the immediate aftermath as Gladbach played out the first half, but the result seemed almost certain given the events that had transpired.

Dortmund held in check in predictable second half

Given Dortmund’s title ambitions, the game state going into the second half was predictable – Dortmund would switch to a back four, bring on a needle player who could thread passes to the forwards and generally up the ante to get the equalizer. That is precisely what transpired, as Pongračić was taken off for Thorgan Hazard, as Dortmund switched to a 4-2-3 shape initially. In defense, it was a 4-4-1 structure which continued after Ansgar Knauff was brought on for Moukoko, but Dortmund looked sharper in the early moments as they chased the goal. With Bellingham combining with Hazard and Meunier on the right, an early cross for Malen portended what Dortmund could do even after going down a man.

However, while Dortmund had flashes, Gladbach also had the opportunity to threaten from a position of safety. Again, space was available behind Witsel which Stindl and Hofmann could exploit, and a couple of dangerous sequences had Dortmund teetering after good box defending by Akanji. This would be the theme of the game as Gladbach attempted to keep a struggling – but occasionally dangerous – Dortmund at bay.


This was a game which had ramifications for the title race but little to learn from for future opponents. The red card for Dahoud altered the game completely, as it is likely that Rose would have brought on Hazard at some point in the match. As it was, bringing him on in that situation did little for Dortmund, with the result all but stamped following the dismissal given the absences of Haaland and Reus.

Zakaria’s goal was well taken but told us little we didn’t already know about Gladbach. Hütter needs to get this side going quickly, and despite the way it was obtained, this result has the potential to fuel a strong run of form in the league.

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Manasvin covers the Bundesliga and Champions League for Between The Posts. He can be found on Twitter @RPftbl. [ View all posts ]


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