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Tactical Analysis: Borussia Dortmund vs Mainz

Dortmund peppered the visitors goal constantly, conceded a top class goal, and then seemed to run out of steam

Borussia Dortmund v 1. FSV Mainz 05 - Bundesliga Photo by Leon Kuegeler - Pool/Getty Images


On Saturday, Borussia Dortmund played host to last-placed Mainz. BVB began the match just as they had the second half of their previous league meeting with RB Leipzig, by pressing high up the pitch and trying to force turnovers close to the opposition goal.

Despite a goal ruled offside by VAR, and many close chances, BVB were unable to break through in the first half. Mainz continued to ride their luck throughout the game, and in the 57th minute they grabbed the lead through a top-class strike from Levin Oztunali, following a counter attack. Dortmund were able to draw things level in the 73rd minute, through a nice finish from just outside the box by Thomas Meunier, and they spent the rest of the game searching for the winner. Dortmund huffed and puffed, but to no avail. Marco Reus had a chance to take the lead after Thomas Meunier earned a penalty, but Reus missed the penalty, scuppering their chance at all three points.

First Half

Dortmund and Mainz tactical shape

As we see above, Mainz were playing a 5-3-2 setup with 3 center backs and 2 wing backs, with a tight midfield triangle in the middle of the park and a pair of strikers up top. Dortmund set up in their usual 4-2-3-1, with Brandt and Sancho creating width to drag the opposition away from the middle of the pitch to give Marco Reus and Jude Bellingham more room to make runs into the box. Dortmund were extremely successful overloading on the far side of the pitch with Sancho and Meunier taking advantage of Mainz’s wing back, Phillipp Mwene. Mainz kept a deep line and clogged the middle, leaving acres of space on the wings, denoted by the blue rectangles drawn in the above image.

Meunier and Sancho combine on the right

Dortmund were able to capitalize on that space, playing in behind the wingbacks, as shown in the above image. Meunier makes a great run in behind the back five, and has plenty of options with Erling Haaland, Marco Reus, and Julian Brandt all making unmarked runs into the box waiting for the cut back.

Reus lays it off for Haaland

Meunier rolled the ball to the feet of club captain Marco Reus who unselfishly laid it off for Erling Haaland.


Haaland was able to finish off the move with a powerful finish into the back of the net, but VAR overturned the decision due to Meunier being offside.

Not only were BVB pressing high, they were also pressing Mainz immediately after losing possession.

Emre Can presses the ball immediately

Early in the first half, Reus lost possession, and here we can see Dortmund applying pressure to try and win the ball back. Emre Can engaged Mainz striker Jonathan Burkardt as soon as he received the ball while other BVB players get back to cover defensively.

Robin Quaison received the pass and Dan-Axel Zagadou moved forward to apply pressure on the Swedish striker, while Jude Bellingham encircled him from the other direction cutting off Mainz’s options.

Meunier closes down on Burkardt

As a result, Quaison had to play the ball back to Burkardt only for Thomas Meunier to come in and put a tackle on the young German front man. Both teams employed these tactics for the majority of the first half, however Mainz changed up their defensive game plan later.

Dortmund continually attacked in numbers with Guerreiro and Meunier pushing high up the pitch on the wings, and Bellingham offering additional support to Reus in the middle. While BVB did well pressuring the ball after losing it, they were still vulnerable to the counter attack as the match wore on. Here we see Mainz trying to break on the counter, having forced a turnover.

Mainz counter attacking tactic

Mainz were able to shuttle the ball forward and were set up well to attack as we see here with Quaison, Burkardt, and Levin Oztunali (we see him later) who is filling the space that was left open by Guerreiro.

Mainz through on goal

Oztunali charged up the Dortmund left and has Burkardt making a great run between Guerreiro and Zagadou.

Burkardt prepares to fire a shot at Burki

Burkardt breaks through on goal with a nice pass from Oztunali but the young German fires into the side net. This should have served as a warning to BVB that Mainz were prepared to hit fast on the counter.

Second Half

The game started in a similar fashion in the second half, with both teams setting up in a similar shape as the first half. However, Mainz increased the pressure they were applying, forcing Die Schwarzgelben to work much harder in their build up play.

Mainz now pressing high

Mainz’s markers were always close to their man, and clearly they did not want Dortmund to continue to pepper their goal for another half.

Reus looks to play Meunier behind the defense

Unsurprisingly, Mainz’s opening goal came on the counter. My heart sank when I watched this over as it was Reus’s poor pass for Meunier that led to the turnover. BVB continued to look to play behind Mainz’s wingbacks but Reus’s pass was easily intercepted.

Mainz win the ball and break

Reus attempted to close the ball down but he never had a shot of winning it. Dortmund had five players fully committed on the wrong side of the ball, and Reus made it six.

BVB work hard and get back in numbers

Surprisingly, Dortmund did well to get back in numbers with each of Mainz’s attackers marked by either one or two BVB players.

Oztunali checks back onto his left foot

Many of us are still arguing over whether or not Roman Burki should have saved the shot and I honestly do not know what my own opinion of it is, but it was a great strike and deserves credit. Oztunali checked back his run to get space from Mats Hummels and fired a beautiful left-footed strike into Burki’s top corner, and Oztunali is right-footed.

Immediately following the goal, Edin Terzic replaced Jude Bellingham with Youssoufa Moukoko to bring another out and out attacker on. Moukoko played mostly centrally and below we see Reus play the ball into space as the other Mainz defenders are sticking close to Erling Haaland.

Reus plays Moukoko into space

Moukoko struggled with the physicality of the game, but he did work extremely hard and as he was closed down by two defenders managed to put the ball into a dangerous area. (note: this image was taken from the replay which is why the score is already shown as 1-1)

Moukoko keeps the ball alive

Moukoko’s ball only found a Mainz defender, but the clearance was scuffed and the ball sat up perfectly for Thomas Meunier who strokes it past the keeper as BVB were given a lifeline.

Meunier slots the ball home to equalize

Following this, Dortmund won the ball back so quickly from the restart that the cameras didn’t even pick up what happened until we saw Jadon Sancho working on the right side with Meunier. Once again, we can see BVB working the area behind the wingback.

Sancho looking to play Meunier again in behind

Sancho played a really nice ball into a threatening area for Meunier.

Meunier gets the ball in the box from Sancho

Mainz completely lost their composure and Meunier is taken down in the penalty area while the network is still showing stats about the previous goal. Unfortunately Reus would miss the penalty and the game ended in a draw. Dortmund continued to struggle to break down this intelligently organized Mainz side and the last few minutes saw Sancho trying to play hero ball and take on the entire opposing team, but he lost the ball quite a bit. BVB were really forcing the issue trying to dig out a win that they failed to really connect on the pitch at the end and it would be Mainz who would have the better chances late on.

Final Thoughts

This is exactly the result all supporters were afraid of after Dortmund’s crunch win at Leipzig last week. Many will claim that it’s a mentality thing but I think that teams sitting deep continue to give Dortmund trouble. Dortmund were all over the Mainz goal in the first half and if they had converted one of those chances it would have changed the entire complexion of the match. Mainz would have opened up, giving Dortmund more space to operate, possibly killing the game early. The goal never came and Mainz were able to sit deep and hit on the counter attack, which they did effectively.

BVB love to play free-flowing football with intricate passing, where players like Reus and Sancho shine, and Erling Haaland loves to have space to run into, but Mainz did not afford him any in this outing. It will be critical that Edin Terzic motivate this squad to dust themselves off and go again against Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Borussia Monchengladbach next wee. The good news for Borussia Dortmund is that both of these clubs like to open up and play football, which may give BVB the chance to play their best football.

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