Favre out-coached Simeone in the Champions League showdown at the top of the group table.
From the moment that the lineups were announced, Favre showed his intent to Simeone; BVB were going to park the bus and attempt to beat them on the counter.
For the first 30 minutes, the match was very cagey. BVB put numbers behind the ball, and with two false nine forwards, intended to press Madrid every time the ball entered the midfield, and occasionally apply the same pressure to the entire back line. With two defensive midfielders, Favre looked to shrink the space in which Griezmann could operate, while putting numbers onto Costa limited his influence in the match.
Atletico did much of the same. Simeone had a similar approach to the match, and in a sly attempt to get BVB to overexpose themselves offensively, played Thomas and Saul as defensive midfielders. He dropped them deep, right in-front of the center back pairing, in order to limit Reus’s influence on the match from a central position.
Together, it kind of looked like this:
Because of how defensive both teams played, it seemed that each team was okay getting only mediocre, contested or difficult shots off, but in return, forcing the opponent to deal with those same obstacles. The entire game was forced through the wings because of how constrained each teams center midfielders were. Lemar looked dangerous by isolating Piszczek one on one, and Pulisic tried his luck against Filipe Luis multiple times. Bruun Larsen struggled with having to be creative against such an organized low block side, and the combination of Götze and Reus was not built for testing Atletico’s back line.
Ironically, it was the injury of a BVB player that helped die Schwarz Gelben make a breakthrough. Delaney picked up a knock on his foot, and was replaced by Dahoud in the 35th minute. What this did was open the game up for BVB in the middle of the park, shown below.
Because Dahoud and Witsel were able to control and advance the ball in the middle of the pitch, Atletico’s defensive unit was pushed back into and around their own 18 yard box, in an attempt to contain the runs from Dortmund’s front four. That gave Dortmund the ability to move the ball around Madrid’s half, and that eventually led to Witsel’s goal off of a fortunate deflection.
To start the second half, Simeone made an offensive substitution in order to chase a goal: Rodri for Thomas. This gave Atletico the ability to possess the ball, and pin Dortmund back into their own half. Favre’s unconventional 4-2-4/ 4-2-3-1 hybrid turned into a flat 4-4-2, as Reus and Götze dropped deep and pressed Atletico’s midfield and back line. That pressure continued until Favre substituted Guerrero on for Jacob Bruun Larsen, who played solid defensively, but his lack of creativity going forward limited Dortmund on the counter.
What Guerrero did so well was recover the ball, play it to the open man, and then pinch into the midfield, and help overload Rodri and Saul. After Simeone’s attempt to get more firepower by substituting Saul for Correa, Atletico switched to a 4-2-4, with Koke and Rodri in the holding positions. That exposed Atletico’s midfield and allowed Dortmund to dominate possession moving forward. By having possession, Guerrero’s movement inwards allowed for Hakimi the space to progress forward, and make runs into Atletico’s half. A direct example of that would be Dortmund’s second goal of the game, as Hakimi make his second assist by cutting the ball back into the 18 yard box, as Guerrero latched onto the ball with a late run into the box.
Simeone’s changes were almost not in vain, as Correa managed to hit the post after a nice reactionary save by Bürki. But mere minutes later, after continuing an incredible press on Atletico’s midfield and back line, Götze was able to play an amazing ball to Hakimi, who made a bursting run past Madrid’s back line, and unselfishly played a goal guaranteeing pass to Sancho (who was centimeters offside).
Following the third goal, Atletico capitulated, and a flustered Filipe Luis’s gifted Guerrero his second goal of the night.
Ironically, Favre forced Simeone’s hand. One could see that Favre was willing to take a draw from the start, and match or beat Atletico with every ounce of passion, pressing, and defensive solidity. While fortunate, Witsel’s goal was the decider of the match, as it forced Simeone into chasing a goal - a position that does not favor his squad, nor his team’s historic defensive identity. And by sitting back, Favre forced Atletico forwards and beat them on the counter, by using quick and lethal players against an almost ancient back line.
And while this phrase may be overused, football is chess, not checkers. For every single move Favre made, he forced Simeone’s team into an uncomfortable position on the pitch. And while some things might have been fortunate, like Witsel’s goal and Dahoud’s play after Delaney’s untimely injury, Favre showed everyone why he should bee considered the best coach in the Bundesliga, and maybe even one of the best in Europe.
Any thoughts on Favre so far? His pragmatic approach may have been frustrating in the beginning, but damn is it effective.