Eintracht Frankfurt – Borussia Dortmund: Marco Reus runs the show in a frenetic Bundesliga encounter shaped by Adi Hütter’s tactical setup (1-1)
This contest was shaped by the tactical show put on by Frankfurt coach Adi Hütter. We witnessed one of the most intense and exciting first halves of European football this season. The one-sided focus of Frankfurt’s defensive structure left them more than just a little exposed to Dortmund’s transition-based attacks. At the same time, their seemingly-panicked, two-dimensional attacking approach earned its rewards at a very sporadic rate.
Tactical analysis and match report by Peter M.
Niko Kovač’s successor in Frankfurt has, at the very least, met the fans’ expectations so far this season. Compared to this time last year, they were in roughly the same position, but for any qualms the fans may have, Frankfurt made up for lost ground by winning all six of their UEFA Europa League group games this season.
The Frankfurt coach named a mostly familiar eleven for this one. Pertaining to his 3-4-1-2 formation, Hütter replaced Simon Falette and David Abraham with Evan N’Dicka and Martin Hinteregger in the back three, whilst Jonathan de Guzmán made way for Gelson Fernandes in midfield.
Lucien Favre’s Dortmund are on a scintillating run of form that appears to be never-ending. In their charge to dethrone perennial winners Bayern Munich, they have refused to be knocked off top spot since matchday five and have won nine of their last ten league encounters, helping to maintain an impressive six-point gap over their title rivals. With this in mind, Favre named an almost identical lineup to the one that put five past Hannover the week before. Paco Alcácer for Mario Götze was the one tweak to his predictable 4-2-3-1 setup.
Frankfurt lose their way after early signs of positivity
The opening period initially provided the home fans with a lot of optimism. Their side managed to suffocate Dortmund into frequent turnovers. Soon, though, the negative byproduct became more apparent – and that was even before Favre’s men began to exploit the holes in Frankfurt’s press.
Committing mostly to a man-for-man setup – at least around the ball – it meant that when Frankfurt did force a turnover, they were short of options immediately after. To make matters worse was the fact that Nikola Kostić, the far, left-sided wing-back, stayed very narrow all of the time, so there was no clear out-ball.
Frankfurt went direct to Haller at times, but also used the left flank to progress the ball up the field.
The reason for Kostić’s position was Frankfurt’s initial pressing shape. The majority of Dortmund’s buildup came from – or may well have been directed by Frankfurt from – their left side. As the attacker behind the two strikers, Jović needed some support against the two Dortmund holding midfielders. So, the opposition pairing of Sebastian Rode and Gelson Fernandes shifted towards that side to create more of a 3-5-2 shape.
Fernandes was typically the player to split the midfield and push up next to Jović. With Rode being the only zonal coverer of the deeper space between the lines, it was then handed down to Kostić to move inside and fill some of that gap. Kostić might predominantly have been there to prevent inside access into Jadon Sancho, but the young English talent was far too wide for that to be the case, and proved to be a subsequent source of problems.
Frankfurt’s pressing shape versus Dortmund in the buildup.
It was not too long before the visitors had clocked onto ways of beating the press. These methods included Achraf Hakimi – a right-footed player at left-back cutting inside – easily surpassing Da Costa, Marco Reus dropping in from behind the midfield to overload that area of the pitch and Axel Witsel coming into a wider position away from his opponent to receive more freely.
What this then allowed Dortmund to do was spring quick transition attacks. Favre’s side had two routes of attack, the first of which often saw them combining with the other. Firstly, it was finding the attackers directly. Raphaël Guerreiro and Reus were the key danger men, here. With Alcácer opening the space for Reus and Hinteregger not getting close enough to Guerreiro, they became easy targets between the lines. From there, they could combine together, shift it to Piszczek or drive forward and try to exploit the space behind Kostić by feeding it into Sancho’s diagonal runs.
That shift to the far side was the second route. Sometimes it was simpler to switch it straight into the right-back. By then, forcing Kostić and N’Dicka to come across and go two-versus-two, it left a huge gap between Hasebe and N’Dicka which could be exploited by either underlapping runs or Sancho’s dribbles past his opponent.
Dortmund’s asymmetrical setup on display, with Sancho staying high and wide, and Guerreiro tucked in.
They did this all to great success, creating a multitude of chances. The 22nd minute was when it finally took its toll on Frankfurt: Guerreiro and Reus were perfectly placed to outnumber Hinteregger’s attempts at a press. As the Portuguese international received the ball back, he went on to complete a mazy run through the Frankfurt defense before cutting it back to gift Reus the simplest of tap-ins.
The chances did not stop there, though. Reus could well have had three goals in almost as many minutes. Two minutes after making it 1-0, a lucky deflection, inflicted by their fast-moving interplay, sent the German attacker through on goal but he skewed his effort wide. The third of these chances followed in line with the aforementioned attacking route. Reus picked up the ball in some space and shifted it quickly across to Sancho. In the channel behind N’Dicka, Witsel’s surging run managed to exploit said space as the Belgian managed to cut it back for Reus. His shot at goal beat everybody but the bar, that denied his side a two-goal cushion.
Some respite for the home side
Adi Hütter’s side did manage to find a temporary escape, and even a retaliation. In their attempts to quiet Dortmund’s press, Fernandes, once it had been played back to Kevin Trapp, would go searching for the ball from the goalkeeper and create a temporary back four. This helped to stretch out the positions of the opposition forwards and open access into their forwards inside. From here Fernandes would aim direct passes into Rebić and Sébastian Haller, who could then quickly play it into the wing-backs to deliver balls into the box.
Fernandes dropping into defense to collect the ball.
A similar scenario played out in the 35th minute when Rebić’s inside run opened up the flank on Kostić’s side. Fernandes responded by playing a sweeping diagonal into him. Piszczek disposed of the situation but did so by giving away a corner. Following Rode’s glancing header back off the bar, Da Costa managed to dispossess one of the counterattacking Dortmund players. There were then three instantly accessible back-post targets to find as the league’s top scorer Luka Jović had no trouble dispatching the perfectly weighted cross.
Second half disappoints as both sides lose their attacking fizz
Both sides had adjusted their shapes in minor ways that ultimately proved significant in why the game slowed down.
The most noticeable being by Hütter, who instructed Kostić to play as a more traditional wing-back by staying deeper, closer to N’Dicka, thus stopping Dortmund from isolating them on that side. The resulting negative was that, with Reus dropping into the midfield more frequently, Dortmund were overloading their midfield, particularly on the sides where Reus and Witsel remained untouched. Consequently, Dortmund established a real control of possession in Frankfurt’s third, which they had not managed to do all match. The control of the ball did not bring chances Dortmund’s way, it should be said. Frankfurt managed to hold out defensively.
It was hard to believe that, for the last half an hour, Dortmund would not have been made aware of the news that Bayern were trailing to Leverkusen. Their performance levels in attack drastically dropped.
Hütter’s side suffered similar discrepancies in attack. Especially when Jović made way for Mijat Gaćinović. His role had less to do with playing behind the strikers and more to do with plastering over the spaces Dortmund were exploiting in midfield.
The result of this change was a huge gap between the two strikers and the rest of the team. As the game wore on, the hosts became more and more reliant on long channel balls into Rebić as their one form of attack. This had got them up the pitch a couple of times but these passes were frequently unsuccessful and did not provide a sustainable source of relief or offensive openings. So, now with nobody behind them, the gap was greater and the support was slimmer. Hütter had played himself into a stalemate.
In the end, it was happy days for Dortmund, who extended their lead to seven points over Bayern Munich as they lost to Bayer 04 Leverkusen 3-1. Even though Dortmund might have been more worthy of the three points than their opponents, it was always likely to be an evenly-weighted encounter, which it mostly proved to be.
Frankfurt will not be equally delighted with the shared points, since RB Leipzig’s win over Hannover ‘96 on Friday night now leaves them five points astray of a top four place. On the other hand, to take a point from a ruthlessly strong side are Dortmund is hardly something to snuff at.
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