Dortmund v Bayern: Patterns in the home team’s attack

Borussia Dortmund hosted Bayern Munchen for the meeting that was definitely the highlight of my Saturday. Some might consider this a testament to the lack of social activities in my life. Others, who know me well are aware that I love nothing more than exciting possession game, excellent movement off the ball, and Mario Gotze  picking up the ball between the lines dribbling at horrified defenders at a mad pace. This game had all of these on display in abundance.

Entertainment aside, what did I take away from this game? I loved the way Dortmund worked in possession during the second and third phase of their buildup play. They moved the ball around well in front of the lines of Bayern with the aid of a solid base formed by Bartra, Papastathopoulos, Ginter and Weigl. Schmelzer and Piszczek gave width to their possession game, which contained a few recognisable movements that happened again and again.

This article is a highlight of these patterns.

Why was the possession game of Dortmund successful?

  • They could move around the ball quickly without Bayern ever putting real pressure on the ball.
  • There was a good balance of attacking players running into the space behind the defending team, and asking for the ball between the lines.

This is a nightmare scenario fro any team defending zonally. They are forced to run for extended periods without ever putting pressure on the ball, thus having a realistic chance at winning it.

Let’s see how this manifested on the pitch.

The Goal

The attack before the goal was a perfect example of Bayern failing to apply pressure at Dortmund during the defence phase. First Dortmund attempted to create something on the left side, but when it didn’t happen they changed the sides easily finding Ginter with no pressure on him.

The movement leading to Dortmund penetrating the lines:

352 v 4231 - 3rd phase of buildup attacking midfielder runs behind the fullback of the opponent.jpg

Piszczek moved a bit deeper to ask for the ball, and draw Alaba out of the back four, creating space for Gotze.
The starting position of Gotze is brilliant, he is just behind Ribery, who runs up to put pressure on Ginter. He starts from a central position, so he keeps the channel big, he has more space to run into. While the ball is moving to Piszcek, Gotze is first just moving sideways. He attacks the space when Alaba decides to step up to Piszczek. This way the Austrian fullback cannot change his mind to turn back and close the space in front of the German attacker.

A central defender at the sideline


Ginter moves wide. When he gets the ball Ribery has to move up and apply pressure. In the video I identify some problems with the way he does this, but after Dortmund escape from the pressure the No 6 of Bayern (Xabi Alonso) has to decide where to move. Does he drop deeper and and try to close the passing lane to the middle? Does he stay close to Wiegl?


Dortmund can escape either way. Either through the great run of Gotze, who recognises the positioning of Thiago and Alonso, or through Weigl (No 8). If Weigl gets the ball he can open up to the other side, where the No 2 (Schmelzer) is free and No 7 (Schurrle) can take on the his man 1 v 1.

A striker occupies the attention of the fullback on the side of the ball

I just love the starting position of Aubameyang (No 9). Lahm is anticipating that he might have to defend the pass to the fullback, thus he positions his body to turn easily. When Aubameyang steps back Lahm notices him and follows. In this moment the connection between him and Muller is not sufficient. Muller is not aware of the player running behind him.352-v-4231-3rd-phase-of-the-buildup-the-striker-moves-wide-to-occupy-the-fullback

There is no pressure on Bartra, if he decides that penetration is not possible on his side he can quickly change the sides to Piszczek (No 3). We can see Gotze in the same position where he was  in the first situation we looked at. The field occupation on the other side is very much the same, after a change of sides the same attempt at penetration could follow.

Finally…below you can watch a situation which has elements of multiple situations we looked at above.

  • A striker occupying the attention of the fullback. (Aubameyang and Lahm again).
  • Gotze finding space behind Ribery.

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