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Delaney is Redundant

Why Favre’s need to play Delaney is hurting the side

Club Atletico de Madrid v Borussia Dortmund - UEFA Champions League Group A Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Sometimes, Delaney is the defensive stalwart that Zorc brought in during the summer for €20m this past summer. Citing Delaney’s leadership, character, and effort, Zorc’s move for the defensively oriented midfielder has produced dividends, as he has become a mainstay in Favre’s side. Producing defensive and counter pressing masterclasses, like against Nurnberg, Stuttgart, Wolfsburg, and Schalke, he has added invaluable grit into the midfield, partnered by the industrious, while very technical, Axel Witsel.

That said, occasionally, Delaney is rhetorical in Favre’s system. Against certain sides where his responsibilities on the ball are forced to come to the forefront of the game, he struggles. Examples of this are in matches like Atletico and Düsseldorf, where the opposition through a combination of sitting back and attempting to play on the counter not only eliminates his ability to be a defensive asset, but brings out his weaknesses in possession: being creative, press resistant, ball-progressing ability, and buildup play.

Borussia Dortmund v Hannover 96 - Bundesliga Photo by Jörg Schüler/Getty Images

As shown by numerous examples, if the opponent either plays the ball over his head, or around the area of the pitch that he resides in, he is not going to be influential on the pitch. And if the opposition sits back and attempts to limit the influence of Witsel in the middle of the park, Delaney is a liability going forward. Attempting to play with 70% possession against a low block side and almost playing with a man down is counter intuitive.

The fact that Delaney is playing with Witsel brings out the worst all of flaws in Delaney’s game because of Witsel’s inability to be extremely offensive and carry that portion of the midfield’s responsibilities when going forward. The same can be said with Dahoud playing with Witsel, in terms of Witsel showcasing Dahoud’s defensive liabilities, because of the Belgian’s well-rounded nature. That said, Witsel has been an absolute bargain for the €20m that Dortmund paid for him this past summer. He is a midfielder of world class quality, and has torn the Bundesliga up so far this season - it just shows as much in his own play, as it also is showcased in the deficiencies in the play of the other midfielders around him.

Oddly enough, when a Dahoud and Delaney two man midfield was featured earlier in the season, it did quite well, as each player complemented each other’s abilities in the center of the park. Looking at other double pivots around Europe, the similarities in how they complemented each other reminds one of Pogba and Kante. Yes, both French midfielders are of an echelon much higher than both Delaney and Dahoud. But seeing as how Delaney handled the defensive responsibilities, allowing Dahoud to drive forward and create reminded me of the relationship that Pogba and Kante have on the pitch.

The only ways I see someone potentially complementing Witsel in a two man midfield during the aforementioned scenarios is either if they share his well rounded skillset, or if his midfield partner is much more offensive than him. The latter was an example during the last World Cup with Belgium. While Roberto Martinez utilized a different system with a back 5, the two man midfield of Witsel and Kevin de Bruyne proved exceptional as Witsel was given the space to recycle play and build from the back in a Weigl-fashion. In matches like the aforementioned Düsseldorf loss, or even the recent DFB Pokal loss to Werder Bremen, a change or readjustment of systems could potentially benefit the side in their efforts to break down the opposition. Pairing a creative midfielder like Götze or giving Dahoud free reign to move forward with Witsel could potentially provide dividends in matches against deeper sides.

Borussia Dortmund v Hannover 96 - Bundesliga Photo by Jörg Schüler/Getty Images

The other option is a much more boring answer - find someone with as balanced of a skillset as Witsel and pair that individual with him in the midfield to form a true double pivot. While 18-year-old academy product Tobias Raschl has been touted as someone who could potentially replace Witsel in the future (despite his contract situation), it could be a prime opportunity to give him a chance or two with the first team. Not really revolutionary stuff on that front. But seeing these repeated mistakes are definitely a testament to how single faceted Delaney is as a midfielder and how stubborn Favre is to make adjustments to the side that clearly has deficiencies against teams that intend to play on the counter.

There are several other solutions that could certainly attempt to fix the problems that exist with this side: a switch to a 4-1-4-1 with Witsel at the base, a switch to a 4-3-3 with Witsel at the 8, or even allowing Delaney to drop between the center backs and pushing both the wingbacks up into the final third to adjust into a 3-4-3. What is ultimately the most frustrating is Favre’s unwillingness to adapt to the personnel at hand and attempt to shoehorn players with one dimensional skillsets into a system that doesn't necessarily accommodate them. Or attempt to take players who are multifaceted, like Götze, Philipp, Pulisic, and Guerrero to name a few, and his need to label them as one specific position, which is completely needless.

Do not misinterpret my words: Favre’s reign so far has been spectacular to watch. Vastly successful, attacking, entertaining, intelligent, there are superfluous adjectives to describe his need for the balance of priorities between the attacking and defensive sides of the ball. But after results like against Bremen, the more the likable Favre is turning into a shiny version of Mourinho. Stubborn, incapable, or even worse, unwilling to make the necessary adjustments to win games where the midfield battle, or lack thereof, is being lost. Playing Delaney in a game where possession is 70% in favor of Dortmund is a prime example of that.