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Köln’s perfectly executed game plan highlight weaknesses in Favre’s 4-2-3-1

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BVB may have won the match, but Köln manager Beierlorzer won the battle against Favre

1. FC Koeln v Borussia Dortmund - Bundesliga Photo by TF-Images/ Getty Images

Lucien Favre made the changes necessary to win the match in the 62rd minute, arguably 18 minutes late. By bringing on Julian Brandt for Julian Weigl, the team shape changed from a possession heavy, slower passing side into a much more direct, attacking team as Witsel dropped into a single pivot with Reus and Brandt in-front of him. Brandt’s impact not only bodes well for the rest of the season, but addresses the weaknesses in BVB’s possession based approach - unfortunately it will most likely leave Weigl frozen out of Favre’s plans.

Before Brandt came on the pitch, Dortmund was losing in expected goals (Köln’s .8 xG to .33 for Dortmund), and in real goals (1:0 for Köln). This was not really a result of Dortmund players playing exceptionally poorly, but Köln’s manager Achim Beierlorzer got his tactics spot on.

Köln’s tactics against the 4-2-3-1

On the defensive, Beierlorzer used a signature 4-4-2 press, and through eliminating quality possession in the double pivot, isolated Reus and Alcacer in the midfield as Hazard and Sancho dropped deeper to help the double pivot with possession. Köln left Modeste on Hummels, preventing him from carrying the ball forward and making long incisive passes into the final third, arguably Hummels’ greatest strength and a signature style of Lucien Favre attempting to outnumber opponents in the midfield. In order to relive pressure from Köln’s press, Witsel and Weigl played balls into the fullbacks, who proceeded to get closed down by Köln’s wingers, maintaining that the ball would be cycled around the back six. While Reus may have had space in behind Köln’s double pivot, he was placed on an island with very little service, as the diagonal balls from the fullbacks were able to be cut off by intelligent positioning and pressing by Köln. Should the ball reach past Köln’s 4-4-2 midfield, then the ball was pressured, and the midfield was given enough time to form a low block outside of the 18 yard box.
Not only did placing Cordoba and Modeste up top prevent creativity from BVB’s fullbacks, but it isolated them defensively. Long balls over the top and exposing the spaces in front of BVB’s fullbacks created a formula to follow Köln, as consistent crosses into the box attempted to bring about an opportunity or two for the two poachers to latch onto. Ultimately Köln’s lone goal of the match resulted from a set piece (#sadpieces), after continued pressure from their press and their crossing play.

The change of shape and Brandt’s creativity in the midfield changed BVB’s role in the game from victims of Köln’s intelligent press.

Köln’s tactics against the 4-1-4-1

Brandt and Reus in the 8/10 roles allowed them to play between the lines, pushing each other into a more favorable position to receive diagonal balls behind Köln’s double pivot. If Köln’s double pivot drops off to behind Reus and Brandt in a deeper 4-4-2, then Witsel is allowed space and time to be a more creative midfielder. The shape opens the passing lanes into the final third of the pitch, something that was evident in the Köln match, shown by how much more effective Dortmund was. There’s also a steep contrast in personnel after Brandt is changed for Weigl. Weigl is much more of a tempo setter, a deeper playmaker - especially in build up, but Brandt’s direct style is heavily suited to break down the press, with quick movement, one touch passing, and the ability to get past his man.

Weigl shows potential in the double pivot, as he performed exceptionally against Augsburg next to Witsel. Against Köln, he certainly showed the areas he needs to work on to consistently start in the midfield. His positioning next to Witsel was much improved compared to when he last played in a double pivot under Bosz, but it is certainly not flawless. It was apparent during the last match that Weigl was thinking that he could sit in a pocket and wait for the ball to come to him, rather than work with Witsel in the double pivot and either create space for each other or for himself when attempting to receive the ball from the back line. When receiving the ball, and being positioned further up the pitch in a double pivot, he is not being given the liberty of as much time before being pressed. His decision making needs to be much quicker - which is not Witsel’s strength either. Favre is obsessed with creating this fast passing play in the final third, but that philosophy does not extend to the midfield and the back line, where the ball is slowly passed around to create passing lanes. But when the opposition presses so aggressively, time becomes limited factor. As Augsburg were much less aggressive with their pressing on the first match day, Weigl and Witsel dominated and looked flawless throughout the match with their ability to recycle play and pick out impressive passes. But Weigl certainly has many areas to work on before fully evolving into a two way, well rounded midfielder like Axel Witsel instead of remaining as a single pivot system player, and hopefully he continues to make progress throughout the season into a more dynamic midfielder.

1. FC Koeln v Borussia Dortmund - Bundesliga Photo by Jörg Schüler/Getty Images

With Witsel out injured for the next match against Union Berlin, watch out for Favre to play a 4-1-4-1 with Weigl as the single pivot. Or wait for the least entertaining midfield double pivot of Weigl and Delaney that Favre could genuinely roll out and pretend that Stöger ball is not behind looked upon fondly until Julian Brandt steps on the pitch during the last thirty minutes. Whether Union Berlin will press or sit back remains to be scene, but Favre’s 4-2-3-1 system is certainly not overly impressive to where it can be imposed to steamroll over any system that opponents place instead of it. Favre needs It would certainly be interesting to see Weigl in that single pivot 4-1-4-1 where he could certainly thrive in recycling play and finding long passing channels into the final third, but it seems like this could be an ideal match for the double pivot if Union do sit back and attempt to play on the counter. Ideally, Delaney is not the player who is recommended in a match against a lower skill side, as he severely lacks in creative play and progressive play, two aspects of play much needed against Union, so it would be a decent shout for Raschl to start his first match in the Bundesliga. But knowing what Favre likes to do, it is highly unlikely that he would give Raschl a chance of this magnitude this early in the season.

It will be interesting to see what Favre thinks before he lists the lineup against Union and how he wants to play against the first true relegation candidate of the season. How would you want to play against Union Berlin?