Outmuscled Borussia Dortmund Need to Find a Plan B Against Pressing Teams

Lars Pollmann@@LarsPollmannFeatured ColumnistFebruary 7, 2016

Dortmund's Henrikh Mkhitaryan, right, and Berlin's Salomon Kalou, left, challenge for the ball during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Hertha BSC Berlin and Borussia Dortmund in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
Michael Sohn/Associated Press

Borussia Dortmund were involved in their first goalless draw of the 2015/16 Bundesliga season on Saturday at Hertha BSC.

There's certainly no shame in drawing an away game against the third-placed team in the league—runaway table toppers Bayern Munich shared BVB's fate at fifth-placed Bayer Leverkusen later in the day—but the Black and Yellows' performance revealed a fundamental problem.

Much like in their previous match against promoted side FC Ingolstadt, Dortmund struggled to cope with an aggressive opponent engaging them in a midfield battle. Despite the return of Ilkay Gundogan, who was sorely missed the week before, the visitors never got into an attacking flow.

As the graphics from football analytics Twitter account 11tegen11 below shows, the Ruhr side didn't really trouble Hertha's goalkeeper Rune Jarstein once.

Against Ingolstadt, Dortmund were creating a bit more, but they still needed a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang goal from a clear offside position to break the deadlock. The Gabonese was utterly invisible against the club from the capital on Saturday, failing to take a single shot while only making 11 touches of the ball in 71 minutes on the pitch, per WhoScored.com.

While one shouldn't take anything away from the hosts, who gave an inspired defensive performance against Germany's most prolific attack, more has to be expected from Dortmund.

Despite their impressive season, it's too easy to stifle them at times. 

Teams that gave them problems all had a similar plan: Man-mark Dortmund's creative midfielders and Mats Hummels, let Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Julian Weigl build up the play and scoop up rebounds from inevitable long balls.

Hertha did all those things almost to perfection. Sokratis had 124 touches, per WhoScored, compared to 73 for Mats Hummels. The Greece international attempted 10 long balls, only one of which found its target.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos is a solid defender but a big part of Dortmund's problems against pressing teams.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos is a solid defender but a big part of Dortmund's problems against pressing teams.Martin Meissner/Associated Press/Associated Press

Sokratis played well defensively, mind you, and he probably saved his side the draw with a perfectly timed challenge on Alexander Baumjohann when Hertha's substitute had an open run on goal in the dying moments of the game.

Whenever teams manage to isolate the 27-year-old early in possession, however, it's apparent that Dortmund could use a second centre-back with better buildup play. Sven Bender's return from a knee injury in the coming weeks will help in that regard.

Still, it doesn't feel like one player's return—and it's far from set in stone that Bender will take Sokratis' spot in the starting XI anyway—will do all the difference for the Black and Yellows.

No, against opponents taking the game to them like Hertha and Ingolstadt did in the last two matches, Dortmund will need to find a plan B of sorts. They relied on individual brilliance a number of times, and their star players delivered more often than not, but that will only take them so far. 

Head coach Thomas Tuchel said after the game in the capital, per the club's website, that his side "weren’t well organised and didn’t handle the ball quickly enough in the first half," while left-back Marcel Schmelzer, who made his first start in 2016 after overcoming muscle problems, admitted that BVB "made it too easy for them [Hertha] because we weren’t as good physically.”

Dortmund's lack of physicality has showed up a number of times this season and, whenever they were outmuscled, they struggled to win games.

SV Darmstadt fought their way to a 2-2 draw in Signal Iduna Park, the only home match BVB failed to win this season, while Hamburg and Cologne beat Dortmund and now Hertha have held them to a draw.

The Black and Yellows' next few opponents will surely have taken notice, and Dortmund will need to find a way to cope with that. It'll be interesting to see whether Tuchel makes any tweaks to his setup that has largely remained the same over the course of the season so far.

Thomas Tuchel was lost in thought after the game in the capital.
Thomas Tuchel was lost in thought after the game in the capital.Michael Sohn/Associated Press

The games get more important in the coming weeks, starting with a DFB-Pokal encounter with in-form Stuttgart in midweek, while the UEFA Europa League round of 32 starts the week thereafter. BVB will need to improve their performances to keep the dream of silverware alive.


Lars Pollmann is a Featured Columnist writing on Borussia Dortmund. He also writes for YellowWallPod.com. You can follow him on Twitter.


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