European weeknights have finally returned! Borussia Dortmund will start their Champions League campaign at one of football’s great stadiums, facing a formidable opponent. There’s no way of avoiding it: Tottenham Hotspur are one of the best sides in England, and will pose a tremendous challenge to this injury-riddled Borussia Dortmund side.
What to Watch For: Possession Through the Center
Nearly all of Tottenham’s attack involves gradual buildup through the center of the pitch. The formation is a 3-4-3, one that manager Mauricio Pochettino based off of Antonio Conte’s Chelsea formation.
Striker Harry Kane tries to play between the lines and get the ball to his feet, where he is very effective with his back to goal: he can either pass to an open man, or take a turn and whip in a shot from distance.
Christian Eriksen and Heung-Min Son (Dele Alli is suspended) play very narrow, almost as CAMs rather than wingers. Much of the buildup of play starts from the back line and runs through Moussa Dembélé, with Eriksen often tracking into midfield to help advance the ball through the center. This means that width on attack nearly always comes from the full backs Ben Davies and Kieran Trippier (Serge Aurier may also start tomorrow), who stay close to the touchline and make overlapping runs while the forwards cut inside. This means that defenders often have to make a choice: step into a challenge and attempt to block a shot, thereby giving the fullback an open run, or cover the full back and leave room for a shot attempt.
The fullbacks are allowed to move forward because their defensive duties are covered mainly by one of the best back-lines in the world: Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, and Peter Bosz’s former star defender Davinson Sanchez. Eric Dier, who used to be the holding center back before Spurs acquired Sanchez, now plays in the defensive midfield. Here, he can act as another layer of defense or fill in for a defender that’s gone forward, particularly Vertonghen.
Keys to the Game: Use Pace to Run at the Back Line
But, you ask: don’t Spurs press as well? I should specify: BVB shouldn’t just press Spurs like they press any other club. Many of Tottenham’s players have the ability to play out of a dangerous area. Instead, Dortmund should use their pressing against them. When an opponent has the ball in front of the center backs, they tend to be very aggressive, especially if their opponents’ backs are turned. I believe that Dortmund should be able to use this to great effect. To see what I mean, here’s a goal that I believe encapsulates what I’m talking about.
This is the first goal from a match back in February, when Klopp’s Liverpool beat Spurs 2-0 at Anfield.
The play starts with a simple loose ball in midfield, with Adam Lallana beating Victor Wanyama to the ball, and passing it to Gini Wijnaldum. Wijnaldum knocks the ball towards the back line.
Because Tottenham are Zonal Marking, Alderweireld, the closest defender to the ball, steps up to try and knock it away. Instead, Roberto Firmino beats him to it, and just pokes it into the empty space. The space is empty because Wanyama followed Lallana into midfield, and Dier is on the line, marking Coutinho. Wijnaldum picks up the ball and fires a pass into the vacated spot where Alderweireld used to be.
From there, Sadio Mané beats Ben Davies to the ball, and is in on Lloris one-on-one. He scores, and puts Liverpool up 1-0.
I chose this goal because it’s a good example of how a team with pace and the right tactics can beat Spurs, and because it’s pretty easy to imagine Dortmund’s players doing something similar. One can imagine this exact goal taking place, just with Götze knocking the ball free to Sahin, instead of Firmino to Wijnaldum. Then, Nuri Sahin would lay a perfect pass to Aubameyang or Pulisic, who would beat Ben Davies, Tottenham’s most significant defensive liability, to the ball. If I were a manager (and I certainly am not), this is how I would play against Spurs.
Player to Watch: Christian Eriksen
Wait a minute, it’s not Harry Kane? One of the best strikers in England, the golden boy of English football?
First of all, he is the best striker in England. Second, yes, I truly believe that Christian Eriksen is the most dangerous player on this Tottenham side. Just watch him play: he’s absolutely dynamic going forward, his work rate is fantastic, he can smash in a free kick from thirty yards, and he can assist any goal from anywhere. I might be biased as a Spurs fan (take it easy, I’m rooting for BVB through and through), but he’s easily in the top five attacking midfielders in the world.
Prediction: 2-2 Draw
It will be hard fought, and it could realistically go either way. BVB’s injuries could be especially be cause for concern. At the same time, Tottenham have struggled at Wembley, and I expect Christian Pulisic to pick on Ben Davies all night long.
One things for certain: this is gonna be good.