Revierderby tactics

Schalke 04 – Borussia Dortmund: Schalke’s Midfield Diamond Unable To Stop Dortmund (1-2)

The clash between rivals Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund contained interesting tactical setups and a derby mentality of either side. Dortmund managed to win due to their well-organized play in possession and Schalke’s reactive match-plan.

Schalke is experiencing a disastrous season so far and was in dire need of points going into this match, to be able to keep up with other mid-table teams in the Bundesliga. Borussia Dortmund on the other hand were league leaders and thus clear favourites to win this match.

Typically for Schalke’s manager Domenico Tedesco, is that he adjusts his team’s formation to the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition. As Dortmund recently struggled to create goal-scoring opportunities against sides with central compactness, Tedesco opted to play in a formation with a back-four, a diamond in midfield and two strikers up front. Due to the injury of three strikers, Tedesco lined up midfielder McKennie in the attack. Moreover, Amine Harit replaced Suat Serdar in central midfield compared to their recent draw against Hoffenheim.

Lucien Favre had to replace the injured central defender Dan-Axel Zagadou and brought in Manuel Akanji as a replacement. The Swiss coach undertook a surprising change in the attack by lining up Paco Alcácer as the only striker instead of Mario Götze. This did not have an impact on the tactical formation, as Favre sticked to his usual 4-2-3-1 formation.

Schalke’s suicidal diamond press and Dortmund sustaining possession

The match got off to an energetic start due to an early goal. Whereas Schalke impressed with their force in attacking and defending set-pieces last season, they have been strugglin a bit more this term. It cost them in the opening stages of this derby too, as Danish midfielder Thomas Delaney scored the opening goal for Dortmund with a header after Marco Reus served a perfect cross into Schalke’s penalty-box from a free-kick. The early goal – scored after seven minutes – put Dortmund into a perfect initial position to win the game.

Since the 4-4-2 diamond system deployed by Schalke offers a lot of space on the wings, fullbacks Łukasz Piszczek and Achraf Hakimi were the spare men in Dortmund’s build-up. The pass to either of the defenders was the pressing trigger  A pressing trigger is a specific pass or movement by the opponent that draws out a coordinated team press. for Schalke to shift over all of their players. This means that Schalke started to press the ball-carrier and aimed at winning the ball in this area. As Schalke deployed a formation without wide forwards, the central midfielder that was nearest to the ball moved out of the center to press the opposition fullback.

Dortmund tacticsSchalke’s midfield diamond against Dortmund’s 4-2-3-1 shape in possession.

The away side relied on different movements to create numerical advantages near the ball. Dortmund took advantage of their double pivot  4-2-3-1 is one of the most frequently occurring formations in football. The two most defensive midfielders are called a ‘double pivot’. comprising Thomas Delaney and Axel Witsel to retain possession. Firstly, one of both central midfielders incidentally dropped between central defenders Manuel Akanji and Abdou Diallo, in order to outnumber the two Schalke strikers. Secondly, Witsel regularly dropped into a wider area to support the fullback when Schalke were pressing. This way Dortmund was able to avoid any dangerous losses of the ball throughout most parts of the match. The press of Schalke admittedly prevented Dortmund from progressing up the pitch but Tedesco’s side was rarely able to win the ball. Therefore Schalke’s plan to create chances – which presumably consisted out of counterattacking – failed most of the times.

Dortmund misses penetrating power up front

During the first half of the match Dortmund used a lot of horizontal passes to tear the opposition apart. Schalke had to waste a lot of energy with their intense runs to follow Dortmund’s horizontal play. Whereas Schalke started with a very compact and narrow shape, their defensive structure became wider as the match went on.

As Dortmund did not make use of the widening gaps the opposite happened: Schalke’s midfielders could press the opposition fullbacks earlier and thereby could hinder them to play into midfield. As a consequence, the only passing options up front were winger Bruun Larsen and Jadon Sancho. Especially on the left side, Schalke’s fullback Oczipka did well to defend Sancho and won most of the duels. Since no more than three to four players moved up the pitch to support the attack, the outcome of Dortmund’s offensive efforts highly depended on their individual quality.

Schalke lacking creativity in the attacking phase

Due to both team’s offensive woes, the match did not feature many scoring opportunities. Schalke 04 struggled to threaten the opposition goal from open play mainly due to missing creativity in possession. They mostly tried to construct attacks by chipping balls in the direction of targetman Guido Burgstaller. Neither the balls behind the last line of defense nor onto his body brought any reward. Burgstaller had to be replaced due to an injury later on. Hamza Mendyl – nominally a wing-back or winger – was brought into play for the injured Austrian striker. Therefore Schalke deployed two midfielders in the attack, which pretty much sums up their offensive power.

Central midfielder Amine Harit was Schalke’s bright spot. The Moroccan regularly received the ball in midfield and accelerated play with dribbles into advanced areas. As central offensive midfielder Marco Reus often supported striker Alcácer to press Schalke’s center-backs, Schalke had a numerical advantage with their midfield diamond against two central midfielders of Dortmund.

Schalke’s slightly adjusted play in possession.

Before half-time, Schalke were more often able to make use of this numerical advantage. However, when Schalke progressed up the pitch, they lacked width in the opposition half. As the flanks were not occupied, Dortmund could defend Schalke’s two striker with their whole back-four. Since central offensive midfielder Nabil Bentaleb often dropped to receive the ball in front of the opposition midfield line, Schalke struggled to find any options for breaking the last two lines.

Schalke deploy wider attacking, but miss compactness

In the second half, Dortmund started with their preferred mid-press. In a more passive way, Favre’s team aimed at cutting off passing options into the center. Because Schalke provided more width during the second half they were able to make the breakthrough on the right wing. As an adjustment, center-back Salif Sané dribbled outside to build-up from wider areas. Furthermore, central midfielder Alessandro Schöpf supported right back Caligiuri on the flank more often.

One of these attacks resulted in Schalke’s only goal of the match, as Caligiuri’s cross was initially dealt with by Dortmund’s defense. The ensuing second ball fell into the feet of Harit, who made the most of the situation by going down after feeling contact from Reus. Penalty given, converted by that very same Caligiuri, and a tie game.

After the equalizer, Schalke were not able to maintain the intensity of the press and therefore often arrived to late. As the gaps widened further, Dortmund made use of the space between the lines. Holding midfielder Sebastian Rudy could not defend the whole area in front of the back-four, and the other central midfielders failed to support. As a consequence, Dortmund’s winger Sancho was able to play a simple one-two combination, utilizing his pace to get past the Schalke defense and scored what turned out to be the match-winning goal, with little over fifteen minutes to play.

The match had some parallels to the top match between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich. A game where Dortmund struggled to create chances during the first half due to an aggressive pressing of the opponent. In the end, Dortmund decided the match in the final stage when Bayern could not maintain their pressing intensity.


Schalke 04 could have been more successful if they would have been able to provoke more mistakes in Dortmund’s build-up. Therefore, the expected counterattacking opportunities did not occur. Combined with a lack of creativity during the possession phase, Schalke 04 struggled to threaten Dortmund’s goal from open play. The crisis of Tedesco’s side goes on and Schalke need huge improvements to regain their old form.

The early leading goal for Dortmund absolutely played into their hands as it allowed the side of Lucien Favre to keep possession without the need to create chances. Since Dortmund also created way more goal scoring opportunities they clearly deserved to win the “Revierderby”. Therewith Borussia Dortmund remains on the top of the table thanks to Favre’s control-focused style of play.

Match plots will be added to this article later. 

Max Bergmann (21) likes to watch football from every possible angle as an ambitious coach, player, (former) referee and analyst. Holding the UEFA B-Level license, he is coaching youth teams and making video analysis. In order to extend his knowledge about tactics, physiology and psychology in sports, he is studying sports science. Whenever Max is not on the pitch or at the university, he analyses football with a focus on the Bundesliga and the other European top leagues for TotalFootballAnalysis and Between the Posts. [ View all posts ]


Be the first to comment on this article

Leave a Reply

Go to TOP