In this article, I examine the tactical situation that unfolded during Borussia Dortmund’s 1-0 win against Mainz 05 on Wednesday. We’ll examine what went wrong for BVB, what went right, and how Dortmund could have taken a different approach to break down Mainz’s stubborn defense.
Let’s start with Mainz’s setup. Despite starting with a 3-4-2-1 on paper, Mainz (white) pressed using a 4-1-3-2 as such.
This allowed Mainz to overload and match up to BVB’s (black) midfield, forcing play to be built from wide.
To counter this, BVB tried creating the following wide overload, facilitating ball progression as such.
To counter this, Mainz would man-mark BVB’s players who entered their half.
This made ball progression via short passes difficult, accounting for the number of fouls we saw during the game. In response, BVB resorted to vertical, medium passes to their striker, at which they implemented a counter-press to win 2nd balls as such.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for Mainz to realize this threat, cutting such passing lanes and making interceptions that led to dangerous turnovers.
How did BVB respond?
Within BVB’s wide overload, their deep lying players were not man-marked.
Here, BVB capitalized on Mainz’ narrow press by switching play into massive space as such.
This was done by chains of short-medium passes toward their opposite fullback, providing another option of attacking Mainz’ half.
Thus far, we have described two ways Dortmund threatened Mainz’ middle-low block. While these methods seem tactically feasible, it did not turn out as impactful as it should’ve been. What were the reasons for this?
Ways Dortmund could have improved their attack.
Throughout the game, BVB asked two questions of Mainz’ 4-3-1-2 set up: ball progression through their wide overload, and ball progression through the switch of play. For these tactics to work, speed of play is of paramount importance. This is as, such spaces only present themselves for a limited period of time. Unfortunately, Dortmund were not able to capitalize on this. Many times, their passes/movement were lethargic, ultimately leading to a high predictability in play. This made ball progression very difficult and also led to many turnovers of play.
For the entirety of the game, Mainz kept their 4-1-3-2 defensive set up, yet BVB only managed to ask 2 questions. I believe, that there were more opportunities to ask questions of Mainz’ defense, particularly through playing it long. As mentioned, BVB’s deep lying players were completely unmarked, here, these players could’ve acted as launching points for long balls.
Within their wide overload, long balls could’ve been launched to their forward who was 1v1 against Mainz’ CB.
Here, there were enough BVB players in close proximity to apply a counter press and win 2nd balls if needed.
For the switch of play, BVB only initiated such using short-medium passes to their fullback. That being said, there were many opportunities to launch balls up top to their winger.
Here, BVB’s winger was in massive space, also having their fullback and CM in close proximity to counter press. These are just two ways BVB could’ve asked more questions of Mainz, along with increasing their speed of play. Not only would it have created more chances for BVB, it would’ve made Mainz uneasy, leading to a change in shape which often signifies teams at their most vulnerable.
How Dortmund set up defensively against Mainz
To combat Mainz’ 3-4-2-1, BVB set up with a 4-1-4-1 in defense as such. Here, Dortmund were able to completely outnumber Mainz’ midfield, forcing play to be built from wide as a result.
In response, Mainz created a wide overload, one that was denser compared to BVB’s in attack.
Here, despite having their players man-marked in midfield, they were able to have numerical superiority over BVB’s fullback, as well as a plethora of space between the lines as such.
Here, Mainz consistently played lofted/ground passes to such areas, winning the 2nd balls and gaining direct access to BVB’s last line of defense.
Furthermore, due to how dense Mainz’ overload was, their opposite wingback was left in huge amounts of space, more so than BVB’s when they switched. Here, once again, Mainz were able to have direct in roads to BVB’s back line.
For these reasons, we saw Mainz have the better of chances for most of the game. That is until BVB up their intensity, grinding out a hard-earned win against a Mainz team who were tactically on point.