Tactical analysis Schalke 04 Borussia Dortmund 0-0 Bundesliga

Schalke 04 – Borussia Dortmund: Wagner’s diamond unsettles Dortmund in the Revierderby (0-0)

The Revierderby rarely fails to live up to its billing, and such was the case again in this fiery affair. Schalke’s diamond press was at its sparkling best, as it had to be to stifle Dortmund. It ultimately resulted in a match consisting of minor breaks either way. 

Tactical analysis and match report by Peter M.

Heading into his first Revierderby, Schalke manager David Wagner has seen  his side improve on last season’s start by eight points. In the process, Schalke had recorded four wins by matchday six, a figure they only reached by matchday twelve in the 2018/19 season. Amidst this, and the tangle at the top of the table, their seventh-place position is positive, even without taking into consideration their one-point deficit to the league leaders.

Clearly, Wagner was more than content with the eleven he named in his side’s last outing – in a 2-0 away defeat to TSG Hoffenheim – since the only change made came in the form of Suat Serdar returning to central midfield in place of Alessandro Schöpf.

Sitting a few places above Schalke, Lucien Favre’s side might be a little disappointed not to have capitalized on the points being dropped by the reigning champions. Dortmund’s three draws in four league games have hardly strengthened their case as genuine title contenders.

The Swiss manager, who just last December oversaw Dortmund’s first derby win since November 2015, reverted to his favored 4-2-3-1 system following the back-three which lost to Inter in midweek. Favre named five changes from that eleven, including Marwin Hitz’s arrival between the sticks due to Roman Bürki’s absence through injury, as well as replacements in either fullback position, and two further adjustments in attack, as Jadon Sancho was joined by Achraf Hakimi, Mario Götze and Marco Reus – the latter two being the replacements for Julian Brandt and Thorgan Hazard.

Dortmund attempt to get to grips with Schalke’s diamond

The general plan within Schalke’s diamond was to have the players man-mark against the near-side, which included the wide central-midfielders stepping up onto the fullbacks. Meanwhile, number ten Amine Harit, first holding a central position between Dortmund’s two defensive midfielders, followed play to one side and latched onto the near-sided holding midfielder.

Schalke’s plan to defend the wide areas worked exceptionally good and, despite the moves that the visitors attempted to string together, Dortmund struggled to escape from their own half. The away side’s main plan of action consisted of using third-man-runs A passing combination between two players, while a third player simultaneously makes a run, usually in behind the opponent’s defensive line. After the initial combination, the ball is quickly played in depth for the third player to run onto. from the fullback. 

So, when either fullback would receive the ball from the center-back, they would play it into the defensive midfielder – who was sometimes free enough to receive since Harit could not attach himself to either midfielder from the off – who would then direct it towards one of the very advanced attackers, with the fullback making a darting run inside, free of his marker. However, the level of precision required against such an intense press, as well as the lack of precision in the end product when it found someone at the end of one of these moves meant all of these intricacies resulted in little going Dortmund’s way.

Schalke’s diamond press and Dortmund’s preference for the left side made for an extreme passmap.

Schalke’s impressive pressing

What was even more impressive about Schalke’s setup was how quickly they were able to push out onto far-sided receivers, so not to leave themselves helplessly exposed against potential switches of play. To do this, they had the base midfield three stay quite stretched, so that they could easily make up the ground by the time a long, floated ball had made its way out to them. 

What made this shape so invulnerable was Dortmund’s reliance on wide play, meaning that the central lanes were not always the area they looked to exploit from deep. During the one instance when the away side tried to play through a midfield gap, the distance between the ball-player and the receiver was so long that, by the time the ball reached the attacker, the center-back was on their case and had dispossessed them. 

Where the hosts had to be particularly mindful was when Dortmund managed to access the far-sided defensive-midfielder, who was obviously free in that line. While there were some excellent efforts by the strikers pressing backwards onto them to retrieve the ball, there were a few instances where it managed to open up the pitch for Dortmund somewhat. 

Even as early as the third minute, when a simple loose ball following a tackle landed at the far-sided midfielder’s feet allowed him to play it across, where the freed-up fullback could drive into the space and play it across into the center into Sancho. Meanwhile, the far-sided central midfielder had been caught higher up the pitch, and the move resulted in a semi-dangerous, and well-saved strike. 

Preventing Dortmund’s cuts inside

What the home side were also mindful of was players being able to cut in. The midfield pressers were well-balanced in their risk-taking, as they refrained from lunging in even if they sometimes had the opportunity to do so. They rather Held onto a broad defensive shape, which made it difficult for cut-ins, especially given the fact that there was only one inverted wide man for Dortmund.

Once Schalke  won the turnover, their strikers instantly split – sometimes with the support of an additional runner from deep. The deep ball-holder would frequently target Rabbi Matondo’s far-sided channel runs just off the back of the nearby center-back. However, the weight of the passes into the attackers was always going to make it hard for them to control and adjust in time. 

What this did bring was Harit’s incisive through ball that found Serdar’s run from deep following a miscommunication between two Dortmund players when trying to play past Schalke’s press. Albeit with a slice of luck, Schalke’s best scoring chance arose as Harit’s lack of realization for the wide option ended in him attempting the right through ball which managed to ricochet into Serdar’s path. He rifled it in, but it bounced back out off the inside of the post. 

Favre’s tweak and Schalke’s possession play

Favre did make a small tweak towards the end of the first half which helped tackle the issue of not being able to get inside frequently enough, by switching Sancho and Hakimi. In doing so, Dortmund now had a player who preferred getting inside, who could then find the time and space to switch it to Hakimi, a player who wanted to get to the byline and drill in crosses.

A notable aspect of what Schalke tried to do on the ball was access the fullbacks, who were often the free men. Dortmund still opted to mold their shape when it came to pressing, by having either wide midfielder push up onto the near-sided center-back, with the two central attackers splitting to facilitate for both Mascarell dropping back and the next number six in line. 

Schalke’s buildup shape – beating the 3-3 Dortmund press.

Schalke’s buildup shape – beating the 3-3 Dortmund press.

Although it led to some relatively close encounters, Schalke were able to access the fullbacks since they were pinned open by the players ahead holding off Dortmund’s fullbacks, and the center-backs attracting Dortmund’s first pressing line of three. 

Dortmund were back in a rut once Sancho and Hakimi were restored to their positions. Eventually, Schalke so nearly struck gold again, having dispossessed Hakimi on his touch backwards, and having then bypassed Thomas Delaney – the only holding midfielder deep enough to protect the defense. Kenny, the tackler, drove into the center as the strikers split once again, but this time Matondo was much more cleanly through in the aforementioned far-sided channel. However, his finish was one to forget, as he never got fully around the ball and blazed it high.

Schalke fade

Entering the final twenty minutes, the Schalke players’ legs and minds were beginning to wane. Small but damaging pockets of space were starting to open up for the visitors. There were so many cases of central midfielders stepping out and challenging recklessly – not in a way that would foul their opponent, rather, in a way that could be so easily beaten. 

To make matters worse for Schalke, Favre pulled the same trick as in the first half, which saw Sancho, among fresh-legged attacking talent in the form of Hazard and Brandt, run the Schalke legs ragged with his cut-ins, which enabled Dortmund to stretch the play by shifting it from left-to-right quicker and more frequently than before. The concerning point was that Dortmund were not manufacturing any chances from these situations. Hakimi was not working himself open the right kinds of crossing positions and, on top of that, his deliveries were poor, with labored cutbacks and overhit aerial balls. 

The best chance the away side had towards the end did come from a cross, but not in the same sense, as Piszczek easily took the ball past Serdar’s needless jumping block attempt out wide. He then fed it down the channel to Hazard, whose ball ended up at the back-post but only for Sancho, the end recipient, to slice his effort back across goal and wide of it. With both sides struggling to take advantage of the smaller openings they created, the match finished 0-0.


Schalke have put in some quite solid defensive displays so far this season, but this surely tops the lot. It is hard to maintain the level of intensity and compactness in a diamond setup for as long as they did, which is how they contained Dortmund for so long. Even then from it they managed to create their own chances. If any side deserved the victory, it was them. 

Schalke will no doubt be happier with a point, as it means they will, at most, only be four points off first come Sunday evening. When looking ahead, Schalke’s games prior to the next international break appear to be quite kind, unlike Favre’s Dortmund, facing Inter and Bayern in back-to-back games. Yikes. 

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Peter (20), lives just outside of London. He’s been writing about tactics and such for over a year now, contributing to a couple of sites during that time. His main club is Arsenal but he’s also followed Real Betis quite heavily since Quique Setién took over last year. This form of writing has become a great passion of his and, although he’s unsure of what his end aim is, he’s enjoying being given new opportunities to continue doing so. [ View all posts ]


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