Tottenham 3-1 Dortmund: Spurs Strong Defense Won 3 Points


Mauricio Pochettino fielded a 5-3-2/5-4-1 basic shape which focused on deep block managed to hold Peter Bosz’s side from creating a lot of valuable ofensive situations within the host’s early third. Supported by deadly counter attack plus a powerfull performance by Harry Kane, Spurs managed to earn an important first 3 point.

Tottenham’s press

Against Borussia Dortmund’s deep build up, as usual, Tottenham played their high block press with two forwards responsible to press both Dortmund’s central defender (CD). One of the forward from Tottenham’s first line of press tried to force as many long balls by developing the pressing access to Roman Burki’s territory. When the said forward did the press, he would have run straightly to Burki while putting his assigned CD behind his cover shadow. The far side forward would have had to get ready to keep the other CD under his watch. But, at times, when the ball far forward stayed slightly deeper – as he focused on Dortmund’s 6 – the ball near central midfielder was the one to have taken the responsibility to press the opponent’s far side side CD.

2-tottenhams-5-3-2-press.pngTottenham’s 5-3-2-ish press

When Tottenham were in their 5-3-2’ish shape, the one to go against Dortmund’s full back was the wing back. But, when they established a 5-4-1, with Son Heung Min dropped to the wide left midfield, for instance, then the task to press Lukasz Piszczek and/or Jeremy Toljan would be Son and/or Christian Eriksen. Tottenham would go for the 5-3-2 pressing shape in their high block with the transposition into a 5-4-1 one when they dropped to the middle block. In the deep block, they sometimes even went with a 5-5-0 as Kane dropped very deep to cover the vacated space at 8 or 6 because the ball near CM alomg with the near wide man moved wide to establish a touchline press.

Kane dropped very deep to cover the 6 space

Eriksen, Son, and Kane were allowed to swap position and press whoever the nearest opponent was. At one time we saw Eriksen on the left and Kane on the right midfielder with Son alone in the first line or on the other moment, we can see Kane in the first line with Son and Eriksen swapped position on each flank. The similar principle applied to the central midfield as well. Mousa Dembele and Eric Dier alternately covered the 6 space with one of the stayed higher at 8. But, initially, it seemed to be Dier was the one to cover the 6 area. Dembele often found to be higher as the Belgium stepped forward to put a press on Mahmoud Dahoud.

Dortmund’s defensive play

The similar basic principle to Spurs’ press can also be found in Dortmund’s. Pierre Emeric Aubameyang and co went for a high block one as they tried to press Spurs’ build up from the very beginning. Three forwards would go high and press three Tottenham’s defenders. Behind this first line, there were Shinji Kagawa and Dahoud who assigned to keep Dembele and Dier under control. The nearest CM to the first line had to keep the vertical distance to the 1st line of press. This can be indentified particularly when Aubameyang moved higher to press Hugo Lloris, the CM behind him – can either be Dahoud or Kagawa – would have to take slightly higher post to his assigned opponent as the CM needed to occupy the vertical space between Tottenham’s center half and defensive midfielder.

Dortmund’s press. Kagawa occupied the space between Spurs’ first line and second line

Dortmund’s full back initially tasked to press Tottenham’s wide midfielder. But, as expected, this was not a strict rule. The fix rule was: both full backs had to go against Tottenham’s most advanced wide man. So, when Serge Aurier moved far forward and occupied Dortmund’s left back sector, it would be Jeremy Toljan who kept an eye on the French while Christian Pulisic stayed with Christian Eriksen.

Progression approach by both sides

Against Dortmun’s press, Tottenham would go either to the wing back – Ben Davies or Aurier – or directly to the last line. When the circulation was played through the wing back, the ball would be diagonally played from the wing back to the forward line or sometimes Tottenham made double occupation on the flank. This double occupation had two purpose. The first one, as the vertical options – through the wing – for the deeper player and the second one, to drag the opponents wide to open a clean access to the center through the near half space.

In their progression, Dortmund players played a lot of deep passes. Right from the goalie as well as by the back line to the last line. Formation-wise, within their buildup, Dortmund often established a 2-4-4/2-3-1-4 shape.

And when they played the deep passing from the back line to the receiver in the last line, such 2-4-4-ish sometimes managed to generate slightly advantage as it dragged out Tottenham’s ball side wing back to go against Dortmund’s full back (which altered Tottenham back line shape, from 5 to a 4 at back). So, when the said deep pass managed to reach the receiver on the higher attacking third on the flank, Tottenham’s near wing back would drop deeper to press the said receiver. Another back pass from the receiver to Dortmund’s near full back sometimes opened the opportunity for a diagonal pass into the center, as shown below.

5-bvbs-2-4-4.pngBVB’s 2-4-4 wing focus

  • The 2-4-4 had initially dragged Ben Davies out as he put a press on Piszczek;
  • Consequently, the back line was adjusted as Vertonghen had to move wide to cover the vacated space on the left hand side;
  • A deep pass from Sokratis managed to reach Yarmolenko on the touchline in the higher attacking third;
  • Along with Vertonghen movement, Davies made a backward press to trap Yarmolenko on the touchline;
  • A back pass from Yarmolenko to Piszczek enabled Dortmund to exploit the space allowed by Davies’ backward press;
  • Piszczek made use of such a space by playing diagonal ball into the near half space to Aubameyang (or whoever Dortmund’s players occupying that space).

This is the first time I watched Bosz’s Dortmund. So I’m not that familiar with their approach. But, based on some scenes from this match, the deep passes played by the away side had three purposes. The first one, to directly access the last line in order to exploit the space between Hugo Lloris and Spurs’ back line. The second one was to generate access from the flank by creating a strong ball-oriented movement after the deep pass managed to reach the receiver on the flank.

6-bvbs-ball-oriented-attack.pngBVB’s strong ball oriented attack after the ball reached the player on the flank

Dortmund’s 8-duo

Shinji Kagawa and Dahoud often found shifted horizontally based on the ball position. They moved from side to side to support the circulation as well as to help creating progression access into the box. For example, when Toljan stormed forward with ball and moved into the half space, Pulisic would go wider as it needed to open space for Toljan to move into the box. Here, Shinji Kagawa coordinated his movement by staying slightly deeper or in the same line with Toljan as he had to generate wall pass with Toljan himself or received the short pass from Toljan then played it diagonally into the box to Aubameyang. The similar role was also tasked to Dahoud.

Kagawa-Dahoud role

In the early minutes of the game, Dortmund seemed to little bit struggle to access the space between Tottenham’s middle line  and back line. But, as time went by, this slightly changed as Kagawa and co managed to find the right timing to occupy the said space. But, overall, this also didn’t generate many valuable advantage as they weren’t followed by valuable chances created.

Why it was hard for Dortmund to make valuable progression after a pass into the space between the lines, there were two reasons. The first one, Tottenham’s spatial compactness and the second one, the individual-dynamic itself by BVB’s players that wasn’t strong enough for  Dortmund to create more havoc within Tottenham’s early third.

At times, Dotmund managed to gain space or make progression through the ability of Pulisic. The young American was used nad allowed to make impact through his dribbling ability. But, again, this was also not too effective as Spurs defense could deal with it.

As mentioned above, after 20 minutes or so, Dortmund managed to gain space in between the lines more than they did before. It was Kagawa and Dahoud who took such a task. The 8-duo occupied the intermediate-defense of Spurs and received some vertical passes. This also the epitome of the importance of the 8 post in Bosz’s system.

But, again, there were no many positive impact for Dortmund, as the backward press from the middle line and, especially, the onward press by Tottenham’s back line arguably the reason why Tottenham did a very good job in stopping Dortmund from progressing.

Tottenham’s horizontal ball oriented shift

Strong ball-oriented spatial coverage by Pochettino’s boys was the key. With the nature of back three and the disciplined positioning of the middle line, in many occasions, the hosts managed to stop Dortmund exploiting the half space. The info graphic below can visualize what we’re talking about.

Tottenham’s ball oriented

Dembele dropped deeper to cover the 6 space. His positioning had stopped Dortmund to access their last line because Dembele managed to put it behind his cover shadow. Behind Dembele, the three chain established a very compact shape against three Dortmund’s players. On the far side, Aurier took wider position as he had to keep the far side under control. Aurier was allowed to make such a coverage since Tottenham’s fielded with back three. Aurier can freely moved wider and press Dortmund’s far side winger without having to be much worrying the central area because there would be still three players covering the center.

Also take notice on the swap position between Harry Kane, Eriksen, and Son. As mentioned earlier in this piece, Tottenham’s players allowed to swap position so they can alternately cover the needed space.

Tottenham’s attacking pattern

One method used by Tottenham was circulated the ball through the wide area, through the half back; then overloaded the ball side sector; found a free man in the near half space/center; switched play to the far side wing back.

Eriksen or the CM-duo would take the responsibility to switch to the far side. Another method, as also mentioned earlier was generated access for the diagonal balls from the wing to the center. It was Kane or Son being the passing target.

The big difference in Tottenham’s possession in this match was their progression approach compared to the ones they had done in the past. Tottenham seemed to be more direct. This was one of the match (if not the only one, for sure) where Pochettino’s boys focused more to a deep block as they tended to invite the opponent to move higher so they can hit with a fast counter attack. Not an aesthetical-pleasing one if you hope for the London side to play their usual possession style, but it was effective though.

Tobias Alderweireld said after the match, “We didn’t play like children, we played like adults,” he said. “The game didn’t always go our way but we fought, we stayed compact, we tried to be dangerous when we broke.”

There also an asymmetric assignment between both wing backs. Aurier was more to a classic one compared to Davies who was more a modern wing back. Davies got himself involved in the execution phase by getting into the center of the box. His movement had helped Tottenham’s generated couple of chances with one of them managed to reach the maximum impact as Davies positioning in the 14 zone allowed them to play an up-back-through (Jed Davies, 2016) scheme which ended up with Kane scored the final goal.

Dortmund’s narrow shape resulted positive impacts

With Tottenham sit very deep, this, on the other hand, being an advantage for the away side. Dortmund ball oriented attack means the far side full back would have to move very narrow towards the central area. Neither a new approach nor an innovative approach of attack though, but such an approach had proven to be generating more ball recoveries with one of them ended-up with only goal for Dortmund.

A float cross by Toljan was headed clear by Spurs’ back line. Dembele almost recovered it, but the gegenpress by Dahoud and Piszczek who moved very narrow from the wide area to the center managed to make a fast regain. The combination play on the wide area and the role of Dortmund’s 8 resulted the equalizer by Yarmolenko.

Final words

Good performance by Tottenham Hostpur. A well-known possession side managed to display a strong defensive play, a compact shape. MAssive congratulation.

In the second half, it was clear that Bosz tried to create more space for Pulisic as the left winger was played as the free man. This could be the signal that Bosz would be using Pulisic (or whoever with the same style and ability) as the very important part of his attacking play. As Pep said, “the guy who hangs around by your hoop waiting to take a pass.

Thanks for reading you can find me on twitter @ryantank100

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