Problems in defense - why we concede so easily

Hummels and SchmelzerWithout a doubt, the change from Klopp to Tuchel has done something. The criticized idealessness and missing power in attacks has been transformed into a spectacular attacking football, that looks simply brilliant from time to time. The Europa League match against Krasnodar was already the 23rd match this season – and the first one were our Borussia didn’t score! A total of 39 goals in the Bundesliga after 14 matches played – if we follow simple mathematics that would equal 95 goals at the end of the season which would pulverize every record in Borussia Dortmund’s history. In this category Borussia Dortmund is at the top group of the league. Nonetheless, this cannot be said for the defense. An analysis:

Let’s have a look at some facts for the defense as well: With 19 goals conceded we’ve got the eighth best defense. There is not improvement in comparison to last season when six teams were defending better than Borussia Dortmund. In contrary: If we do the simple maths here again it would equal 46 goals conceded at the end of the season. That would be the worst during the time from 2010/2011. A step backward? Yes and no! The total figure is worse, but there are explanations that will be looked at later. It is caused by a development that is actually a step forward.

First of all, we should take a look at the quality of our back four. With Hummels and Schmelzer half of the back line is identical to the starting XI in 2011, Sokratis is playing for Dortmund since two years now. Only Ginter as a right full back can be seen as a Tuchel action, although it was Klopp transfer. Thus, it is basically the same back four that was composed by Jürgen Klopp. It can be question whether this defensive four has ever been a top notch defense qualitywise. The least goals were conceded during the won championships in 2011 (22) and 2012 (25). Less than one goal conceded per match. But those were the years where our pressing worked best. The BVB hunted their opponents down while still in build-up and the positional play was near perfection. The opposing teams were struggling to get any attacks going. Mostly, they were just happy to kick the ball forward which makes it a lot easier for the defensive four as the other parts of team already choked all opposing attacks to death.

SokratisWhen this style didn’t work anymore in the league and the defense got under more pressure, the conceded goals were quickly on the rise: 42, 38 and again 42, way worse. These figures are not really bad either, yet, the 38 goals conceded were the second best of the league, the 42 last season on the other hand just seventh best. Put under pressure the defense was still performing satisfyingly, but not brilliant anymore. This might be connected to the fact that our back line has a different task than in most other teams. The players are the first ones to build up our play and just secondly to defend. This is not meant disrespectful but with ‘old-style’ defenders who are used to just rough defending this wouldn’t have worked. It was the best players for this system. Looking purely at the defending probably not top notch of the league. This is a crucial point when judging the defense this season.

But not only the defense is built from players that have already played under Klopp. Julian Weigl is the only player in the starting XI that was brought into the team by Tuchel. The task of our coach was quite difficult; he had to work with a basically unchanged team and to implement a new style. Last season the team seemed stuck. Against teams that defended aggressively and concentrated in their own half we couldn’t really get into the dangerous areas. It shouldn’t be left out that with Gündogan an important solution of the problem had just returned after being out for a year and Lewandowski went to Bayern.

But still, not many people had doubts that Klopp’s idea of overloading the center would be successful. Tuchel pushed the center a bit backward. While in possession there is a high pass frequency around the middle line. Gündogan, Weigl and often Hummels try to drag the opponent out and force them to move permanently with long diagonal balls. This includes playing more risky passes from time to time in order to keep the passing speed high. The full backs push forward so the opposing team has to keep to players in this area to defend. That stretches the pitch and creates the space for attacks that we missed last season. Tuchel has mastered the first task and defined a new style of playing for Borussia Dortmund. Just to make it more clear: Our BVB has scored nearly as many goals so far as in the last complete season!

Weigl and GündoganThe disadvantage of putting the heart of our action into a triangle of center back and both defensive midfielders is a high risk when losing the ball. We concede rarely the ‘classical’ goals, e.g. from a cross. There are only few successful shots from outside the box. But we concede above average from counter attacks. Lost balls, mistimed passes and lost tacklings lead to extremely dangerous situations because there is basically no net to catch them. Our own half of the pitch is nearly empty – a paradise for quick attackers. There is pretty much a 1-on-1 in the blink of an eye, a situation that needs to be cleared by the defender because otherwise the way to our goals is wide open. That is the only classical defending situations in which Sokratis is the only one to really shine being a fighter without compromise.

This can be seen extremely well looking at the stats. We just give away 3.07 chances per match. Only Bayern is better in this category who dominate like no one else and Ingolstadt is better as well who are just defending and leave out their attack. We score massively and yet give away only few dangerous chances to the opposing team. The next figure is catastrophic though: The opposing team just needs 2.26 chances to score! Stuttgart being the worst team in defending terms even gets to 2.34. The two next teams with many goals conceded are statistically far better: Augsburg (3.24 chances per goal) and Hanover (3.79 chances per goal). Opposing teams seem to create only very few chances against us but these chances are basically a certain goal. This is definitely based on our style.

Nonetheless, a higher possibility to concede does not leave out players from their obligations to make less mistakes. Every player of the defense has had a massive blackout so far and many goals conceded could have been avoided. We serve the best scoring opportunities to our opponents on a silver plate. Moreover, we don’t have the optimum goalkeeper at the moment. We would need a Weidenfeller in his best days a few years ago. His strength against strikers, his one-on-one would be helpful and compensate some of our weaknesses. Roman Bürki has still to adapt to the new situation keeping the concentration up for 90 minutes while having only few shots on goal. Roman Weidenfeller has not the aura at the moment that made him so strong for some years at the BVB.

Reus and AubaDespite all this, at the end there is the realization that should not be blurred by the 19 goals conceded: We’re playing a successful tactic again. We’re second, still in the cup and Europa League. Our style is attractive and we score a lot of goals. Tuchel’s style has changed the BVB to a better situation. The players have tools to crack opposing teams that park the bus in front of their goal. Of course, this enforces the risk to concede but more was just not possible to change. With basically the same team and a preparation time of just a few weeks in the summer working on a new attacking style while keeping a defensive balance was just a mission impossible. So, the idea was to concede from time to time but work on the chance to score two, three or even more goals ourselves. It will be interesting to see which changes will be made by Tuchel in the future in order to strengthen the defense. Should he be able to get it done, he would have changed the whole BVB style in a very short time.


Original text by Sascha, written for
Translated by Seb, 04.12.2015