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BVB Can’t Beat the Minnows... And it’s Killing Their Title Hopes

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Dortmund’s struggles against lower-level clubs are proving very harmful.

Borussia Dortmund v Bayer 04 Leverkusen - Bundesliga
BVB have had no trouble against the Bundesliga’s upper class like Leverkusen. The relegation-fighters have been a problem.
Photo by Jörg Schüler/Getty Images

I believe it was renowned philosopher Richard Flair who said, “To be the man, you have to beat the man.” Well, as it turns out, to be the man, or in this case the meister, beating the man isn’t enough. You have to beat the minnows...

... and Borussia Dortmund are not beating the minnows.

Last weekend’s defeat at the hands of FC Augsburg, who are currently fighting relegation, is just another example of a very frustrating trend that has occurred this season. Borussia Dortmund have actually performed quite well against the clubs near the top of the table, much better than title challengers Bayern Munich have. Where Dortmund have struggled is against teams near the bottom. I’ve prepared this easy-to-understand graph to demonstrate this:

The clubs along the X-axis are arranged according to their league position. As you can see, Borussia Dortmund have faired quite well against the other top clubs, only dropping two points to clubs within the top six. However, BVB has struggled against its lesser opponents. The club that has damaged Dortmund the most has been Hoffenheim, in 9th place. Furthermore, Dortmund have dropped seven points to clubs in the bottom-four, compared to two points from their top four.

Compare this to Bayern Munich’s oddly satisfying graph:

As you can see, Bayern has struggled much more against its competitors near the top, dropping nine points to its top-six opponents, compared to only two from Borussia Dortmund. Fortunately for the Bavarians, they have consistently beaten the clubs near the bottom. While Dortmund dropped seven points to the bottom-four, Bayern have only dropped two, and zero to the teams in the relegation zone, compared to Dortmund’s four. These two opposing trends have completely cancelled out, and Dortmund and Bayern sit level at the top of the Bundesliga on points.

Why is this happening?

During the first half of the season, Borussia Dortmund’s offensive success came from breathtaking, incisive counterattacks. Clubs like Bayern Munich, which try to maintain possession of the ball, played directly into Lucien Favre’s hands, by playing a high line and committing large numbers forward, creating space for Dortmund’s own forwards to run into. When playing lower-level opponents, who tend to play a low-block, Dortmund have repeatedly struggled to break down their opponents. We saw Augsburg do this to perfection on Friday.

What needs to change?

Lucien Favre needs to make tactical adjustments. As Gregory wrote recently, Favre’s overuse of Thomas Delaney has meant that Dortmund have struggled when maintaining uncontested possession of the ball. While Mahmoud Dahoud has certainly struggled at different points of the season, he could potentially provide a breath of fresh air when Dortmund hold possession. Mario Götze has been a revelation during the second half of the season, and has been one of the best players at breaking down compact defensive systems, so perhaps Favre could play him in his old role as an attacking midfielder, and shift Marco to a winger/secondary striker position.

Your Thoughts

What do you think has caused Dortmund’s struggles against lower-tier opponents? Leave your thoughts below.