Dortmund wins the Battle of the Borussias
Jadon Sancho and Giovanni Reyna inspire Borussia Dortmund to a victory over Borussia Monchengladbach
Bundesliga raised the curtains for another exciting season on Friday. Bayern Munich put up a show after an eight-nil mauling of Schalke. However, the battle of the Borussias is where we turn our attention to for the first episode of FootTheBall’s UNPLUGGED series.
Borussia Dortmund hosted Borussia Monchengladbach in matchday one of the Bundesliga 2020/21. While it may take some more time before we see a fully charged Yellow Wall, Signal Iduna Park accommodated 10,000 fans amid the first step of Bundesliga relaxing the lockdown restrictions.
Lucien Favre named a relatively young starting eleven. Jude Bellingham and Thomas Meunier made their Bundesliga debut appearance for Dortmund. Favre picked a 3-4-1-2 formation.
Marco Rose started without his lethal strike pair of Marcus Thuram and Alassane Plea as they warmed the bench for the first half. 3-4-3 structure was the choice of weapon for Rose.
Borussia Dortmund earned a well-deserved three-nil victory over the Foals in their opening Bundesliga clash of the 2020/21 season.
Did Favre have a secret recipe or was Rose’s system a complete disaster? FootTheBall breaks down the key moments of the match to answer the underlying question.
Dortmund’s Midfield Trap
Jadon Sancho and Giovanni Reyna ran the show behind Erling Haaland to inspire Dortmund to their first league victory of the campaign. As Favre deployed a three-man defensive theme for building out from the back, Sancho completed the circuit for Dortmund’s ball progression from the mid-thirds.
The Foals used their default 3-4-3 to defend from an advanced position. Hannes Wolf, Lars Stindl, and Jonas Hofmann pressed upfront, forming the first wave of pressure. With Florian Neuhaus and Christoph Kramer continuing the man-to-man pressing pattern on Axel Witsel and Jude Bellingham, Dortmund needed something extra to surpass the pressure.
Sancho dropped a few yards deep from us usual attacking stance, towards the central space alongside Reyna. This was a masterpiece move from Favre which effectively trapped Monchengladbach’s midfield, leaving oceans of space on the flanks for Der BVB.
Sancho creates space on the flanks
The 20-year old English winger provided a teaser at around the sixth minute when he battled out a long-ball, in possession with Neuhaus to get control of the ball which put Dortmund in a 4v3 advantage from an open-play attack. Sancho was clever to sneak in from behind and regain possession from Neuhaus, aware of the fact that the Foals were pressing in a high line which exposed them at the back.
Dortmund’s midfield overload lighted up the Signal Iduna Park around the 20th-minute mark. It set a series of attacks on course for Favre’s men. Reyna was fouled by Ramy Bensebaini which led to Haaland launching a header in Yann Sommer’s hands following the free-kick. The Norwegian striker got another chance a few seconds later. Axel Witsel and Reyna played quickfire return passes to beat Gladbach’s pressing and switch play on the left flank, in free space for Felix Passlack. Passlack sighted Haaland making a run and aimed for exploiting his speed. Passlack’s intuition seemed correct as Haaland could easily outpace and outmuscle Nico Elvedi only to find his deflected shot hit the side of the net.
Ten minutes later, we saw Dortmund pull a similar maneuver using their heavy midfield presence. This time the 17-year old Bellingham got involved in a series of passes with Witsel and Sancho. Consequently, Dortmund absorbed pressure in the central zone and switched play on the right-hand side of the pitch for Meunier. The Belgian wing-back played a one-two with Sancho to deliver a low cross. Unfortunately, Haaland could not consummate the cross. The hosts had essentially started to knock on Gladbach’s door. Two minutes later, around the 35th-minute mark, a similar tactic opened space for Emre Can to surge forward and collect the ball in the right flank in the open space. Can delivered a diagonal long cross to Reyna at the edge of the box. In the next turn of events, the ball ended at Bellingham’s feet who laid off Reyna making a run to the right side of the box. The USMNT attacker finished from an acute angle in the bottom left corner of the goal.
⚽ 17-year-old Gio Reyna
🅰️ 17-year-old Jude Bellingham
— Bundesliga English (@Bundesliga_EN) September 19, 2020
It is safe to say that Favre used Sancho and Reyna to Dortmund’s advantage. On the flip side, one can spot Rose’s poor choice of shape for his side. The visitors took more touches and pressed relentlessly in Dortmund’s half. Yet, they fell prey to Dortmund’s midfield quartet and blistering speed.
Aggressive pressing by the Foals
The only hope of light for the Foals flickered when they camped deep inside Dortmund’s half, out of possession. As a matter of stats, Borussia Monchengladbach kept 52% possession of the ball and also pressed a whopping 67 times in the attacking third.
The Foals went for a man-to-man pressing scheme. The front three pressed Dortmund’s defensive line. Oscar Wendt and Stefan Lainer were responsible for keeping Meunier and Passlack (earlier Hazard) in check. Neuhaus and Kramer decided to close down Dortmund’s centre-midfielders.
On occasions when Dortmund failed to play through Gladbach’s pressing, the ball usually ended in the visitor’s control in a threatening position. The first instance arrived in the 14th minute. Jonas Hofmann cleverly read Manuel Akanji’s pass which was intended for Witsel. The ensuing seconds saw Kramer wasting no time to feed Neuhaus outside the box. The Foals could have produced something out from this but the referee had to stop the play for checking Hazard’s injury.
Another big chance for Gladbach arrived with 15 minutes left for the end of the first half. Neuhaus intercepted Passlack’s pass intended for Reyna on the left flank. Consequently, the visitors gained momentum which allowed them to keep possession of the ball in Dortmund’s half. Die Schwarzgelben were forced to fall back and defend their goal. Hofmann came close to giving Monchengladbach the lead in the aftermath of this move.
The introduction of Plea and Thuram facilitated enhanced pressing by the Foals. They were, nonetheless, already a victim of two goals from Dortmund. Around the hour mark, Gladbach’s pressing led to Akanji delivering a poor horizontal pass. As a result, Thuram gained possession and fired in a cross. Plea got his foot to it but the ball ended in Roman Burki’s hands.
A key takeaway for Marco Rose was to deploy Bensebaini in his own element as a full-back. Borussia Monchengladbach operated in a 4-4-2 after Thuram and Plea joined the action. Five of Monchengladbach’s nine open play crosses were attempted late in the second half. They were the better side in the closing stages but unfortunately a bit late for revival.
FootTheBall’s Man of the Match: Jadon Sancho (1 assist; 86.5% pass completion; 204 yards progressive distance carry; 6 dribbles attempted with 4 successful dribbles)
(Featured Image: Twitter/@BlackYellow)