Ways of penetrating Leverkusen’s asymmetric middle third press

Leverkusen’s asymmetric pressing shape

Leverkusen started defending in  a 4222 – esque shape around 35 meters from the Dortmund goal.


The aim of this asymmetric pressing shape could easily have been to let the ball go to Guerreiro on the left side, and overwhelm the wingback and win back the ball next to the sideline. Similarly if  Bartra or Piszczek took too much time on the ball without playing it on, they could be sandwiched by one of the strikers and the inside ten – Havertz and Mehmedi or Volland and Kampl respectively -as it happened to Piszczek just after one minute.

These were the two situations Dortmund looked to prevent. They had two ways of making it happen:

  1. Give Guerreiro more time on the ball.
  2. Leave the sidebacks and the wingback out of the ball circulation.

First option for Leverkusen to win the ball: Let Guerreiro get the ball, and overload him

volland-and-havertzEither if Bartra attempted to dribble in from a  deeper position, or if Papastathopoulos passed him the ball, Mehmedi moved up to press him. In these cases Weigl tried to move as far from the ball in the six space as possible. When Havertz moved sideways, either Volland also moved to closer to the ball, in which case Papastathopoulos got more space. Or Volland stayed closer to Papastathopoulos, and a possible passing lane opened to Weigl. Albeit this pass would have been risky and technically difficult to execute, this option to play through the press wasn’t used by the home team.

When the ball was on its way to Bartra, Henrichs was often surprisingly far from Guerreiro. Leverkusen was setting a pressing trap, by leaving the wingback seemingly open, and pouncing on the ball once he got it. By the time Guerreiro got the ball and turned forward with it, Henrichs and Mehmedi have put him in a sandwich,  with Aranguiz covering the passing options inside.

 The home team could create more space for Guerreiro with the movement of Reus. Either the German attacker was hugging the touchline, or in the half space between the lines when the Portuguese wingback got the ball. In the first case Henrichs stayed with Reus, taking him away as a passing option. The second case created more interesting options for Dortmund.

 When the ball got to Guerreiro, Aubameyang started drawing infield, Reus makes  the run behind Henrichs after the fullback moves up to close down Guerreiro on the ball. It is also crucial that as the ball is going to Bartra, Castro moves to the ball, pulling Aranguiz with him. This way the passing lane from Guerreiro to the halfspace is open longer.

Lack of pressure on Papastathopoulos

When Papastathopoulos had the ball, Volland  was focused on covering the passing lane to Weigl. He didn’t move up to press the Greek defender. Weigh took advantage of this dynamic by pulling further away from the ball, creating more space and time for Papastathopoulos without pressure.

This time with no pressure on the ball gave Dortmund the chance to get into an organisation where Aubameyang, Reus, Dembele and Durm could run behind the Leverkusen defence, with Papastathopoulos picking out the perfect moment to play the ball long, thus leaving the sidebacks and the wingbacks out of the ball circulation.

With the recent issues Dortmund had with counterpressing,  It was a ball oriented counterpress, Guerreiro and Reus both moved closer to the ball side. One player maintained pressure on the Ball carrier of Leverkusen. At the back the back three was horizontally compact, Castro and Weigl pressed forward, to put pressure on Bender or Aranguiz in case one of them received a pass in transition. Reus also moved inside, leaving Henrichs, the wing-back on the ball-far side open, Guerreiro moving inside, very close to Mehmedi.

Accessing the six space through Piszczek

To make more space for Weigl both Dembele and Durm played high in their respective spaces to give more time for Piszczek on the ball, and give him access to the six space. The advanced position of Durm kept Kampl from moving up to Piszczek. Dembele also stayed away from the ball, keeping Bender away from the sideback.

If Piszczek couldn’t play the ball forward from this process, Kampl could move close enough with Volland to press and win the ball. It was crucial that the right supporting structure was in place to play the ball forward the moment the sidebacks got the ball. Even taking an extra touch, and attempting to pass with the third touch could give enough time for the Leverkusen players to close all options.


Just these few situations presented interesting ideas, processes on how to go through a team who uses this particular type of middle third press.

The functional technique of Bartra, and the quality of passes he got from Papastathopoulos were magnificent. I love games where the team defending is forcing the play in certain directions, and wants to be in control of where the attacking team plays the ball. This forces the attacking team to play with precision, and the details in individual functional technique come to the surface. These are the types of games one can learn the most from.






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