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Which Formation Works Best for Dortmund?

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How Dortmund can maximize production on both ends with just one simple tactic...

Real Madrid CF v Borussia Dortmund - UEFA Champions League Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Prior to the season, I wrote a article about possible formations Dortmund could use during the season with various moving parts and a full-depth chart. Only one formation that I mentioned still seems to be a perfect fit, and here’s why...


With the calendar about to change to March, the Bundesliga season is entering a crucial period of matches where title chances can be won and lost. During these “Dog Days” of the season, teams are looking to find not only the right personnel groupings, but also ingenious tactical solutions to better match-up against opponents.

Dortmund is in dire need of a new tactical alignment as creativity and offense have been at a premium this year. In their last game against Wolfsburg, Dortmund found the back of the net three times and looked thoroughly impressive. Though it’s only one game and it came against a team struggling to find its identity, Dortmund proved they can play a fundamental and clinical game of football.

How was Dortmund lined up against Wolfsburg? In a 4-1-4-1 formation.

This formation gave Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang some help advancing in attack while allowing the wingers and full-backs to move up in the play as well. Overall, the formation worked perfectly and allowed Dortmund to overwhelm Wolfsburg.

In the highlights, it’s obvious that Dortmund moved the ball very well and created acres of space in the midfield. Lukasz Piszczek was a crucial part of the attack and created all three Dortmund goals on the afternoon. Ousmane Dembele thrived in a central attacking midfielder role and the full-backs advancing forward allowed wingers Marco Reus and Andre Schurrle to move inside to generate scoring chances.

While it might not work that well against every opponent, a hybrid of this formation could be a possible solution for the remainder of the season. It seems as if Dortmund has finally found a formation that works with such a young, fast, and attack-minded team.

The major alteration to this formation, however, would be to move that front four in the midfield from a straight line into a diamond with Dembele slotting in right above Aubameyang and the other central midfielder, in this version Raphael Guerreiro, slotting back just ahead of Julian Weigl.

This lineup gives Dortmund a lot of possibilities in both attack and defense. The 4-1-4-1 diamond allows Dortmund to throw reinforcements into the offensive third while still being able to drop back into defense with a balanced look. The formation is a hybrid that can change from a typical 4-1-4-1 into a 4-4-2 for attack and a 4-2-3-1 for defense.

The two main changes from the starting eleven at Wolfsburg is Sokratis sliding in for Matthias Ginter and Guerreiro for Gonzalo Castro. Sokratis, when healthy, is a world-class center back while Guerreiro is a natural defensive player that can slot back into a left defensive midfield role or play as a central midfielder.

With Guerreiro acting as a pivot in midfield between defense and attack, his presence will allow Ousmane Dembele to move forward in attack. Naturally a winger, the French youngster is used to jumping up in the play and could act as a false-9 behind Aubameyang or slide in beside him as a left-striker.

With Piszczek and Marcel Schmelzer able to move forward into the play, Schurrle and Reus can move inside. With Piszcek and Schmelzer ahead, Weigl would drop back as a reinforcement on the right while Guerreiro would help with defending on his natural left side.

There would be no real dramatic movement for the center backs - Marc Bartra and Sokratis - who would need to play as stay-at-home defenders in an forward-pressing system.

As for an adequate bench, here’s which players Dortmund could use that would be conducive to this formation:

  • GK Roman Weidenfeller - backup goalkeeper.
  • DF Matthias Ginter - can play at central defense, right back, or even defensive midfield if needed.
  • DF/MF Felix Passlack - has been useful at full-back and can even be used as a winger.
  • DF/MF Mikel Merino - extremely versatile, he can play anywhere from center back to central midfield and has good speed and playmaking ability.
  • MF Gonzalo Castro - would likely see good minutes off the bench, can play central midfield in either an offensive or defensive posture. Could slot in for Reus allowing Dembele to move into left wing or be brought on for Dembele or Guerreiro as a like-for-like sub.
  • MF Christian Pulisic - also likely to see time late in games and could be used as a spark in crucial minutes. Could slot in for Schurrle or Dembele as a like-for-like sub.
  • ST Mario Gotze - his versatility allows him to be used as a winger (worst-case scenario), or attacking midfielder but would mainly see time as a striker. He would likely be the first choice off the bench.

There are also a few players outside the 18 that can prove valuable as well.

  • DF Sven Bender - can be a good depth player during double-game weeks or Champions League matches.
  • MF Nuri Sahin - a necessary addition into a defensive midfielder role and a valuable asset to the team.
  • MF Shinji Kagawa - hard to leave him out of the match-day 18 but a good, experienced player to have for UCL and cup matches.
  • FW Emre Mor - excellent playmaking winger with a large upside, also useful in weeks with two matches.

As for Park Joo-ho, Sebastian Rode, Erik Durm, Hendrik Bonmann, Dzenis Burnic, Jacob Bruun Larsen, and Alexander Isak, there just isn’t a spot for these players to slot in right now. The good news for the latter three players is that they are young enough to develop at the academy level until space becomes available. Durm, Rode, Park, and Bonmann provide extended depth and their experience makes it easy for them to be called upon at any moment if Dortmund need reinforcements.

Any objections or changes to the lineup that you would make? Let us know in the comments...


Quick Look to the Future

With Omer Toprak and Mahmoud Dahoud likely to join the team next season, the formation may remain the same with the addition of the pair. Dahoud would take Guerreiro’s place with Raph likely being used off the bench or possibly as a left back. Toprak could slide in for Bartra at the back sending the Spaniard to the bench. This means a two things: 1) a couple of BVB players could be hitting the road via loan or permanent transfer and 2) maybe a different formation would work better with the new addition. But we’ll cross both those bridges when we get to them.