Borussia Dortmund lined up with a 4-3-3 formation, whilst Stuttgart opted for a basic 4-4-1-1 shape. Thomas Tuchel’s team utilised plenty of attacking fluidity, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marcos Reus & Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang often swapping positions. Shinji Kagawa & Gonzalo Castro were also particularly vertically-oriented from central midfield.
Flexible attacking shape
A gradual and structured movement was observed in Dortmund’s deep build-up phases, with an approximate 2-3-2-3 shape. Sven Bender and Sokratis Papastathopoulos were the deepest players, with Ilkay Gundogan acting as the 6. These three were flanked by Lukas Piszczek and Marcel Schmelzer.
In Dortmund’s first phase of play, Kagawa and Castro alternately dropped deep and filled the half-space right next to Gundogan position, depending on the ball position, to help creating a soft and clean progression through numerical superiority. The movement of Kagawa and Castro in this phase was important as it allowed them to form twin or sometimes three 6 across the Stuttgart first wave of resting-press. With this, Dortmund were able to avoid Gundogan being crowded out by the Stuttgart players, and ensure a passing lane was always open.
The positional play. On certain occasions, Castro and Kagawa were even positioned higher than the forward trio.
In later build-up phases, Aubameyang occasionally dropped deep and acted as the vertical access of Dortmund progression. Swapped with Reus and Mkhitaryan, he then moved wide to the flank to allow Castro to occupy the right halfspace. Along with Reus and Kagawa, Castro acted as the 9/10 hybrid, getting ready to move vertically into the 18-yard box when the opportunity arose. With Mkhitaryan occupying the left flank, Dortmund attacked in a 2-3-5 alike shape.
As ever, the central orientation of Thomas Tuchel’s Dortmund attack is strong. There would be 3 or 4 Dortmund’s players to occupy the area between the lines within Stuttgart’s structural block. Free swapping of positions from Mkhitaryan, Reus, and Aubameyang combined with the constant, vertical movement of the 8s for effective penetration of the Stuttgart defensive block.
After about 10-15 minutes, Aubameyang started most of his movement from the wide area, particularly from the right side. This gave him huge space to run into and reach his blistering top speed, such as for the second goal.
As shown on the last graphic, there were three Dortmund’s players within the Stuttgart’s structural block. When Sven Bender pushed forward (in a Hummels-esque manner) Gundogan stayed central, covering the movement. Two other players in the center, Kagawa & Reus, dragged the attention of Gentner and Baumgartl, isolated them, and created the space for Castro (and Aubameyang) to move into. 2-0 to Dortmund.
Dortmund’s second goal
As usual, a quick progression with decisive passes from the deeper area to the more advanced areas to launch a fast penetrative was also a key ingredient of the Dortmund attack.
The first goal was a good example of this. It took only 12 seconds from Roman Burki’s initial pass to Reus’ low cross into the box. This first goal alone was also the perfect example as to why Tuchel pushed his CMs further forward. This allowed them to make late runs into the box, and finish off attacking moves, as Castro did on this occasion.
Lining-up in 4-4-1-1/4-4-2 often saw Stuttgart to defend in two banks of four + two as their initial pressing-shape. This shape would be transformed into a 4-5-1 if Dortmund progressed deep into the Dortmund half. Dortmund’s central focus meant Stuttgart’s structural block responded by shaping more narrowly themselves. This helped Dortmund to create huge space, both on the flank and in the halfspace.
Stuttgart’s wing-backs manner on attack indicated the initial approach of Jurgen Kramny, their new Head Coach. Instead of trying to stretch from wide areas, they tended to sit deep and waited for Dortmund to come close. In their counter-attack scheme, it appeared to be a common approach from Kramny to leave Timo Werner forward in case of any potential opportunities for a quick transition.
It was not a coincidence that two Stuttgart main threat on attack were Daniel Didavi and Timo Werner. They provided the mobility and pace needed in attack. Their job is not merely to score goals, but Didavi also showed how mobile he was as he shifted from one side to the other side to create attack or help stabilize the defensive phase.
Didavi slotted the single goal as Lukas Rupp saw a vulnerable space left open caused by Sokratis, as the Greek made a positioning error and opened the right side. Rupp pass the ball to Filip Kostic was later continued by an assist from Kostic to Didavi.
Half time alterations
After the break, Dortmund adjusted. Aubameyang positioned himself more centrally than he did in the first-half. Mkhitaryan and Reus started from wider positions, flanking Aubameyang in the central area.
Dortmund maintained their compact defense as they created a lot of valuable overloads over and over. Stuttgart defensive transition, especially after losing possession in attacking set-piece, was weak. In the second-half this continued to deteriorate. Just 15 minutes into the second-half, there were 3-4 dangerous situations that illustrated the pace at which Dortmund can attack, after regaining the possession from Stuttgart’s throw in and set-piece situations.
15 minutes into the second half, Tuchel brought in Julien Weigl to replace Kagawa. Weigl took the central position at 6 which was mostly occupied by Gundogan. Sometimes Weigl moved slightly wider to the half-space formed a double-pivot along with Gundogan. Here, in their build-up, Dortmund shaped in a 4-2-1-3/2-4-1-3, with Castro acting as a 10, with a focus on drifting between the Stuttgart midfield and defense.
This structure found its maximum effect in the 64th minute. Weigl moved forward through the left half-space, in the middle-third. Reus, marked by Schwaab, was on the higher left half-space, in the final-third, and Castro was engaged with Rupp. With Schmelzer unmarked on the left touchline, Dortmund gained a quick numerical superiority, a 3v2 situation. A pass from Weigl to Schmelzer was forwarded by the left back to Reus, a low cross from Reus forced an own goal by Neidermeier.
There was also issue within Stuttgart’s resting press; the space between the first line and the second line was huge. This was often triggered by overzealous pressing from their first pressing wave on Dortmund’s ball carrying central defender. This didn’t merely weaken the vertical coverage but also gave space for Dortmund’s pivot to receive the ball. The second issue was the spatial compactness ruined by bad positioning. Sometimes Stuttgart’s wide players positioned too wide and too close to Dortmund’s wide-man. This opened the channel and access for any Dortmund’s vertical play.
Issues within Stuttgart’s resting press
Thomas Tuchel played his boys with an aggressive approach of positional play. The vertical 8s and continuous interchanging between the forward trio made it extremely difficult for Stuttgart to defend.
Aubameyang added to his amazing scoring record. Aside from his goal-scoring contributions, but he also continued to carry out his duty as a false 9; a vital component of Dortmund’s build-up. He often dropped deep to the 10 and 8, moved wider, and also made late runs into the box.
Another good win for Dortmund, especially after their two consecutive losses to Hamburg and Krasnodar. This win establishes their position with 7 points clear of the Bundesliga’s third place. A serious title challenge may prove difficult, but it seems that Champions League football will return to Borussia Dortmund sooner rather than later.