Hertha BSC – Borussia Dortmund: Favre’s Tactical Switches Key As Dortmund Overcome Hertha With Late Drama (2-3)
Following a trying number of weeks, few Borussia Dortmund players and supporters will have relished heading to the Olympiastadion to face Hertha Berlin: a team that enjoys nothing more than taking points of the Bundesliga’s top teams. Hertha lived up to their pre-match billing and proved a tough nut to crack, but thanks to the tactical nous of Lucien Favre and some late drama, Dortmund secured a massive three points in the German capital.
Tactical analysis and match report by Carl Carpenter.
Considering the form and success that Borussia Dortmund have had this season, events over the recent weeks could be described as a mini-crisis. In the Bundesliga their significant lead on rivals Bayern Munich has evaporated, in the DFB Pokal they exited at the hands of Werder Bremen, and finally a humbling defeat to Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League helped shaped fears amongst supporters and players alike. Because of this, Saturday’s fixture away to Hertha Berlin was a crucial one for their season. Any dropped points could have a catastrophic effect on the matches remaining, and on their potential to secure a first Bundesliga title since 2012.
At Hertha Berlin expectations for the season are considerably lower, but their narrow defeat at Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena in late February would have given them confidence for this big game. Sitting in tenth place, with no real threat of relegation or potential of European continental competition next season, it may have been easy for Hertha to sleepwalk through till the end of the year. However, with players such as Vedad Ibišević, Marko Grujić, Valentino Lazaro, and Ondrej Duda at their disposal, they remain a threat for any side. Earlier in the season they drew away at Dortmund, and impressed with a 2-0 home win over Bayern Munich.
Match prediction, standings and implications going into the weekend.
The absences of Axel Witsel, Paco Alcácer and Mario Götze due to injury threw a spanner into the works for Lucien Favre and his team selection. In response to these forced changes, nominal wide forward Jacob Bruun Larsen was deployed up front as the team’s number nine in Dortmund’s typical 4-2-3-1 formation, with Marco Reus given freedom to roam across the pitch underneath. Thomas Delaney came in for Axel Witsel alongside Julian Weigl in the double pivot, forming a strong spine to give wide players Jadon Sancho and Christian Pulisic license to attack at will.
At the beginning of the campaign manager Pál Dárdai tended to chop and change systems, a strategy which led to a number of positive results. Since the turn of the year, however, the Hungarian manager has seemingly settled on a system which employs three at the back: a system which highlights the strength that the Berlin side have in attacking areas. In this 3-4-1-2 formation, David Selke and the experienced Salomon Kalou partnered each other up front, and Lazaro and Mittelstädt had tons of responsibility in both dropping deep to defend and going forward in possession.
The typical first half shape of the match whenever Dortmund had possession of the ball: Hertha man-marking in midfield and in the wide areas to force the play through Dortmund’s center-backs.
Hertha take advantage of a strong start, Dortmund struggle to settle
Before the match even had a chance to settle into a rhythm, a massive mistake from Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Bürki saw the hosts given the lead in the fourth minute: a spilled shot from the edge of the box was pounced on by Salomon Kalou. Considering the circumstances of the fixture (Dortmund trailing Bayern on goal-difference), things could barely have started poorer. Taking advantage of absences and players deployed out of position, Hertha pressed the opposition heavily and played at a tempo Dortmund were uncomfortable in dealing with.
In order to force Dortmund to either play long or into areas they were comfortable with, Hertha Berlin man-marked in the center of the park, not allowing Delaney and Weigl to come short and pick up possession. Furthermore, Abdou Diallo and Marius Wolf at fullback were covered by their opposite numbers on the home side. This tactic forced the center-backs of Dortmund to try “make the game” in possession, leading to misplaced passes to feet or long balls which Hertha comfortably dealt with. Even though Dortmund were very much the lesser of the two teams and the physical nature of the game did not suit them, they did find a first-half equalizer through a massive deflection after a Thomas Delaney effort.
Ten minutes before the half-time break, Hertha were rewarded for their bravery after Julian Weigl was determined to have handballed in the penalty area, and Salomon Kalou put away the resulting penalty. Hertha had created much of their danger thanks to their wingbacks tendency to make seam runs between Dortmund’s fullbacks and center-backs, and the penalty came after such an action.
Favre’s changes come good in a wild second half
Lucien Favre took the opportunity at the half-time interval to make a change to try and get more joy in an attacking sense. He did so by switching Jadon Sancho and Christian Pulisic – who had a quite dreadful game – onto the opposite flanks. Dortmund’s equalizing goal early in this stanza indirectly came from this astute thinking. Pulisic showed his ability to cut inside and shoot on goal, earning the corner that lead to Dan-Axel Zagadou’s towering equalizer.
While Hertha still had a considerable threat going forward and press Dortmund constantly, it was clear that the momentum of the match had swung, although the “pedal to the metal” nature remained. In what had been an already bruising affair, with around ten minutes to go the moment of the match occurred. It also spelled the end for Hertha.
Jordan Torunarigha was booked for a foul on Marius Wolf, as was Jadon Sancho in the immediate aftermath. Torunarigha was booked again with six minutes to go, and Dortmund had the bit between their teeth to find a winner.
The sending off of Hertha’s center-back was not the only reason Dortmund gained the advantage. It was also thanks to continued tinkering from Favre. With around twenty minutes to go, Favre switched the team’s shape to a 3-4-3 and removed Bruun Larsen for Raphaël Guerreiro. Marco Reus now played as the team’s center forward and in the minutes that followed, Dortmund were able to pin back Hertha and secure long spells of possession – aided by having a man advantage – for the first time in the match.
Jadon Sancho, after switching flanks with Pulisic again, beat his marker one-versus-one and found Marco Reus at the center of the box on a cutback to beat Rune Jarstein in goal. To make matters worse for Hertha Berlin, Ibišević was sent off for petulantly throwing a ball at Bürki following a freekick decision in the final minute of stoppage time. A superb performance from Hertha ended as disastrously as possible.
This game saw the best and worst of Hertha Berlin. The first half showed why they had been so successful all season in picking up points against the Bundesliga’s top three (only Freiburg and Wolfsburg have more). In possession they were brave and direct, the front three of their team having the quality to unlock many teams in the division. Without the ball, Dárdai’s scheme to prevent Dortmund from having easy possession from the back worked a treat. Unfortunately, inexperience and ill-discipline meant that this performance could not last the full ninety minutes.
Dortmund supporters will be understandably over the moon that despite the helter-skelter nature of the match and the notable absentees they had, they were able to secure a massive win in their quest for the title. Favre has shown a consistent ability to fit players into his favorite tactical schemes, and Saturday’s match was no different. Swapping systems twice in the match, not to mention where personnel plied their trade in these schemes. If Dortmund do go on to secure the Bundesliga title, this match will have been key.
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