Tighe's Tactics Board: Dortmund's Weakness, Gibbs' Mistake and Negredo X-Factor

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterOctober 24, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22:  Robert Lewandowski of Borussia Dortmund and Bacary Sagna of Arsenal fight for the ball during the UEFA Champions League Group F match between Arsenal and  Borussia Dortmund at Emirates Stadium on October 22, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Welcome to this week's edition of Tighe's Tactics Board, where we discuss and dissect pertinent tactical issues from the recent European footballing action.

On the agenda: Borussia Dortmund's strengths and weaknesses, Kieran Gibbs' error and Alvaro Negredo as Manchester City's X-factor.

Olivier Giroud finds full-back weakness

After falling behind to a Henrikh Mkhitaryan opener, Arsenal found their feet and positively dominated their UEFA Champions League encounter with Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday evening.

They settled into a groove, monopolised the ball and began to create quality chances from open play. After Giroud equalised, it felt like a matter of time before the Gunners scored the winner, but BVB dealt them a sucker-punch blow late on the counter.

The pattern of the game was curious. Despite romping to victory in the large majority of their matches recently, Arsenal started slowly and struggled to string things together.

Dortmund's high pressing and harassing are always issues, and the fitness levels of Juergen Klopp's men are on another level, but it was odd to see the Gunners fumble around in the opening exchanges.

The reason became clear as the first half wore on: They hadn't figured out how to get at BVB just yet, nor had they sussed out a weak point in the lineup to target and overload.

In truth, that should have been apparent when glancing at the team sheets. While Kevin Grosskreutz is an admirable stand-in at right-back, he is simply not at home there.

As a Dortmund native, the converted left-winger would do anything for his club. That includes filling in for Lukasz Piszczek as the Pole recovers from a long-term hip injury, and while he's a serviceable outlet, he can be shown up in the "big" games.

Marcel Schmelzer, at left-back, is also a weak presence despite improving, which makes both of Klopp's flanks considerable weak points in an otherwise world-class XI.

The decision to push Giroud wide and take on Grosskreutz and Schmelzer directly correlated to Arsenal finding a foothold in the game, as the Frenchman punished his markers with pace, power and guile.

The scene above led directly to Mats Hummels chopping the Frenchman down after besting Schmelzer with ease. This happened on the other side of the pitch too, with Hummels again being bested on the right.

When Giroud then moved back central, he saw increased attention from defenders—a natural reflex. With Arsenal playing narrow midfielders in Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla, it opened space for Bacary Sagna to go one-on-one with Schmelzer.

The result was a rare good cross and an easy finish for Giroud, who became the latest in a number of strikers to prey upon Dortmund's inability to defend aerial balls.

The pattern was set: Work the wide areas through Giroud, torment the full-backs and make ground. Cazorla struck the bar after the ball was worked inside to him from the flanks in the second half, and on a different day, that's 2-1.

Errors all-round gift BVB winner

It's ironic that Dortmund's biggest weakness—Grosskreutz—steamed forward 50 yards and looped in a back-post cross for Robert Lewandowski's winner 10 minutes from time.

No matter how stunted your game can be in an unfamiliar or unnatural position, Gibbs' positioning and reactions here would allow anyone off the street to breeze by him and put a ball in the box.

It's a common error in full-backs who are attack first in their mindset, and it's a coaching point that doesn't seem to be addressed until much later in players' careers.

The situation is far more difficult to gauge in real time given the speed Grosskreutz is already moving, but if there is one thing you must not do if you are the full-back here, it's setting the point of engagement too high.

Setting that point is essentially making a move, so when you step in to make a challenge, you're forcing the opponent to act. Gibbs sold himself out extremely high up the pitch here and put himself into a position whereby it was impossible to catch Grosskreutz despite his incredible pace.

That in turn had a knock-on effect for everyone else. The defence was dragged wider. Laurent Koscielny side-stepped five yards to cover the hole, and as you can see from the image, was dropping into the space to cover a byline cross.

As everyone dropped in five yards, Lewandowski held his ground. Gibbs' slip-up and Koscielny's reactive transition wide bought him five yards of space.

Lewandowski has pulled off his marker so well he's out of shot on the left
Lewandowski has pulled off his marker so well he's out of shot on the left

An easy cross to the far post picked him out in acres of space, and there was even a second option inside from the midfield runner.

There were other things wrong with this from Arsenal's perspective too—Wojciech Szczesny should have told his defenders about the onrushing striker, and the advanced midfielders did a horrible job of tracking back—but Gibbs' positional error was the most criminal of all.

Alvaro Negredo—City's X-factor

Manuel Pellegrini made several expensive signings over the summer, with high-profile names such as Jesus Navas, Stevan Jovetic and Fernandinho joining for a combined £65 million.

Negredo arrived to very little fanfare despite costing as much as Jovetic, and he was overshadowed by both his new colleague and Tottenham Hotspur's capture of Roberto Soldado.

Navas was a lock to provide width and balance, Fernandinho would surely shore up the midfield, and Jovetic was dynamite—capable of unlocking games in the same fashion David Silva does.

But what of Negredo? The former Sevilla man went stale in Spain, and while some aficionados feared he might become a victim of his own price tag, he has set about proving everyone wrong from the word go.

He's quickly emerging as Pellegrini's best signing, and every passing match showcases a little more of his complete game.

One moment against CSKA Moscow needs highlighting, as it represents a glimpse of his skill set we hadn't seen much of before now.

In the image, Negredo is circled.

It's a common position for City to be in; they routinely dominate lesser opposition and pile numbers onto the edge of the box. It's also commonly known that, if the man circled isn't named David Silva, City probably won't score from this opportunity.

The wing wizard has been the only one capable of unlocking the door in such tight spaces, and without him, City teams have suffocated themselves from these positions.

But Negredo has the same X-factor Silva possesses, just not in an obvious way. He combines incredible awareness and good technique with steely strength and poise.

You can't lift a ball into Edin Dzeko and expect him to pick out Sergio Aguero from here, but that's exactly what Negredo did, and it created the second goal.

Very few strikers could pick their colleague out from this position—especially in his build and somatotype—and with nine CSKA shirts around the box, it was the very definition of congestion.

City have made some big strides this summer in terms of tactical balancing, but perhaps no move will pay dividends more than this one. Not only is Negredo a more reliable scoring option than Dzeko, but he has the poise to "break" games when they really matter, too.


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