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Sprung a leak: Favre can’t fix Dortmund’s problems

The 343 fixed things, but there remain structural problems that plague BVB’s performances

Bayer 04 Leverkusen v Borussia Dortmund - Bundesliga Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

4231 to the 343

I’m gonna keep this section short as possible because there is so much detail that goes into this general idea. But Favre did something not wrong (surprise, right?) by switching to the 343 from the 4231. The biggest problem was buildup play, as well as the attacking nature that 3 of his 4 fullbacks have, while the remaining fullback (Piszczek) does not have the legs anymore to be a consistent attacking presence and be able to track back defensively in time.

Here’s why the 343 is great:

It’s perfect for ball progression into the midfield third. The biggest problem in the first half of the season was progressing the ball into the midfield third as a product of either a relentless high press or midfield press from opposition. As shown in the diagram, there are the same amount of players in the midfield third in both formations, but it spreads them out in a much more accessible manner to receive the ball and break the opposition’s press. As an attempt to break the opposition press, hopefully and risky passes would be played to the far side of the midfield third, to the second striker/ central attacking midfielder or the two wide players. Those passes occasionally worked, mostly led to the opponent recovering the ball, and sometimes backfired to getting a decent chance on goal for the opponent. Last season, Favre attempted to solve that problem by dropping one wide player much deeper to be entirely focused on ball progression throughout the match. Sometimes it worked. When it did not work, Reus dropped deeper from frustration and the formation turned into a 433.

The 343 also brings out the best of the wingbacks and the wingers. The wingers are allowed to operate in the half spaces between opposition’s fullback and center midfielder. If the back line is being pressed, the wingers have the option to drop deeper into the midfield and receive a pass, for potentially the fullback to make an overlapping run into the final third. The fullbacks are given the space behind opposition wingers to progress the ball further up the pitch and attempt to break down the opposition’s defensive block (usually unsuccessfully). That’s the general idea, and it worked (for 4 weeks).

Why Peter Bosz mauled Favre’s 433:

The red areas are the spaces in the midfield and the defensive third where the 343 is vulnerable. Bosz exposed those areas and won the tactical battle. Bosz played with Bayer’s shape to match the 343 in the defensive and then quickly used his versatile midfielders to expose the area behind Emre Can and Axel Witsel. Axel Witsel stepped to press Bellarabi and Emre Can stood to his right instead of operating as a double pivot.

What do I mean by double pivot? It’s the generic idea that any two players operating in tandem (two forwards, two midfielders, two defenders) should operate off of each other. As one player steps, the other player drops in into the whole left by the other player to potentially recover if a mistake is made in 1 vs 1 while also cover the player he should be marking. In a midfield three, this same premise is exhibited, while made more complicated by the simple fact that there are three people. One person steps, the player drops enough to still cover the lateral pass but to also form a double pivot if necessary, and the last player slides over to potentially cover the mistake of the player who’s pressing the opponent with the ball. It’s exhausting. It’s hard. But you should know this if you chase a ball around a field for 90 minutes every week and get paid to do it.

Emre Can didn't drop to cover the space behind Axel Witsel. And I know that 3 other things go wrong in this play and Akanji and Hummels can both be blamed. So the ball was played to Amiri in acres of space - where he played the ball into Kevin Volland and the rest is history. But this is only one event in this game where not many tactical steps were made to nullify the opposition’s strengths and bring out the best in this squad.

That said, Favre tried to solve a problem this game too:

Sliding Akanji into the RB slot and giving Guerrero the digression to move forward or to slide into the LB slot was smart. I liked the idea, even if the lackluster Akanji was too slow to deal with Diaby and Leon Bailey over the course of the game. It makes up for Hakimi’s defensive liabilities. But the idea didn't work. I can only give Favre props for trying something new to fix a problem, something that he doesn't do too often (the attempted solution for the tactical problem took 3 months to figure out).

But it’s clear the writing is on the wall for Favre. He got out-coached. It happens. But you shouldn't get out coached by the predecessor of your coaching position at BVB. And even if the Bosz move didn't work out because he wasn't the right fit for the club, it still begs to question Favre’s validity as the manager of BVB. Favre has no way of fixing one problem without another problem rearing its head. That systematic problem will probably result in the separation of Favre from the club come summer.