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Tactical Analysis: Borussia Dortmund vs VFL Wolfsburg

Borussia Dortmund struggled in their build up play against the Wolfsburg high press

Borussia Dortmund v VfL Wolfsburg - Bundesliga
BVB Coach Edin Terzic
Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images


This past Sunday, Borussia Dortmund hosted VFL Wolfsburg in a crunch match just after the holiday break. Die Wolfe came into the match sitting in 4th place in the Bundesliga table having only lost one match, to FC Bayern. Wolfsburg proved to be a difficult opponent, and while Dortmund came away with the 3 points, many supporters believe we were lucky.

Below is how Edin Terzic set up his side against the visitors, the new BVB boss stayed consistent using a 4-2-3-1 formation with a very defensive double pivot.

BVB starting XI and tactical setup

Right from the beginning of the match Wolfsburg were pressing the ball high up the pitch with Striker Wout Weghorst and Midfielder Yannick Gerhardt. Borussia Dortmund maintained a rigid shape and attempted to play around the press, but Wolfsburg continually won the ball before the halfway line creating lots of low quality chances.

Wolfsburg forcing Burki to play the ball to Meunier

As you can see above, Wolfsburg overloaded one half of the pitch, forcing Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Burki to play the ball to Thomas Meunier at the right back position.

Meunier receives the ball deep in how own half

At first, Wolfsburg’s plan worked perfectly. They wanted BVB to play out from their own half and specifically targeted Dortmund’s right side. Throughout the first half of the match, Meunier struggled to link with either Axel Witsel or Jadon Sancho to progress the ball through the lines.

Akanji plays a quick long ball to Haaland

Borussia Dortmund made a slight adjustment as Manuel Akanji slid futher to the right and Meunier moved further up the pitch hugging the touch line. This slight tweak caught Wolfsburg out and Akanji played a great long ball over the top to Erling Haaland who ended up having a chance on goal. While the star striker was flagged for offside, had he scored I believe it would have been overturned by VAR and given, since the replay showed that Haaland had timed his run perfectly. We would see this long ball tactic used again later creating more scoring opportunities.

Delaney drops in to receive the ball

Only minutes later, Dortmund created a new wrinkle in the build up play, with Thomas Delaney splitting the center backs. Wolfsburg immediately swarmed Delaney who played it back to Burki, who kicked it long to Meunier who found Axel Witsel. This maneuver beat the press, but the move died out as Giovanni Reyna was bullied off the ball.

Wolfsburg still targeting Dortmund’s right side

As soon as Burki played the ball to the right, Wolfsburg applied the pressure on either Akanji or Meunier. Continuous pressure on this side of the field was Wolfsburg’s plan for the match.

Wolfsburg pressing slowing down

Shortly into the second half Wolfsburg began showing signs of fatigue which gave the Dortmund players more time to negotiate the press. Dortmund played the ball slowly here to suck in the slowing Wolfsburg press. Once Die Wolfe committed, Meunier was able to slide the ball back to Mats Hummels who found Raphael Guerreiro streaking into tons of space on the left side.

Guerrero plays a through ball for Haaland

Wolfsburg couldn’t slide over in time to cover Guerreiro who played an absolute peach of a through ball to Haaland, who was able to expose Wolfsburg’s high line; Koen Casteels made a wonderful save to keep the game scoreless.

Aklanji rises high to open the scoring with an unmarked header

The visitors eventually ran out of steam early in the second half of the match, and their pressing intensity suffered as a result. After several minutes of Dortmund frequently winning the ball in midfield and several free kicks and corners, Manuel Akanji met this Jadon Sancho corner to score the first goal of the match. Akanji and Hummels were the only 2 players near the ball, as Wolfsburg dropped their guard.

Final Thoughts

While Dortmund would go on and score a second goal and win 2-0, Wolfsburg came out the aggressor in this match and created a large volume of chances early in the match. Borussia Dortmund were determined to play out of their own half and the visitors constantly won the ball in great areas of the pitch. On another day, Wolfsburg may have been 2 goals in the first 20 minutes of the match which should be a concern for Edin Terzic’s team. Wolfsburg are a really good team, hard working, and physical but lacked the technical quality when it mattered most and Dortmund should consider themselves lucky to have gotten such a great result. It will be interesting to see what happens this next weekend against an energetic Leipzig team who sit second in the Bundesliga table, and who press better than Wolfsburg, and have more technical quality at their disposal.

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