Schalke started with a 532, while Dortmund in their regular 4231. This time Konoplyanka was picked to play alongside Burgstaller, probably due to his speed and dribbling against the slow Papasthatopoulos. Harit moved to central midfield, accompanied by Goretzka and Bentaleb behind them. For Dortmund Reus started behind Batshuayi, with Pulisic and Philipp on the two sides.
Dortmund’s Defensive Issues
Bentaleb in the middle was crucial as to opening passing lanes free to Burgstaller and Goretzka.
The visitors often defended in a 4231 shape, without much regard to the position of the ball. However in most cases the length and the width of the team made it impossible to prevent passes played between their lines.
Bentaleb had a crucial role in the ball circulation of Schalke. He played in front the back three. Either changing the sides by staying behind the ball in one of the half spaces, or pulling Reus to himself, and thus opening the pass to Burgstaller . When Stambouli dribbled in with the ball, Goretzka – the ball side midfielder – pushed higher, onto the outside of Toprak. Caligiuri moved back close to the ball next to the line.
With Philipp always covering the pass from Stambouli to Caligiuri, Schmelzer moved a little bit out of the back four. This was unnecessary, as in these moments Caligiuri was in a lot less dangerous position to the goal than Burgstaller, and Schmelzer was too far to press him even if he received the ball.
Meanwhile Konoplyanka stayed on the far side, next to the line. This opened slightly more space for Harit between Papasthatopoulos and Piszczek.
The staggering between the Dortmund players was awful. Often defenders and midfielders were standing on the same vertical lines. As a result Papasthatopoulos was not in the correct starting position to press the pass from Stambouli to Burgstaller.
By moving under the ball to change the sides Bentaleb often pulled Reus with him. After passing in front of Stambouli, the space was there for the French sideback to dribble in diagonally.
The lack of vertical compactness was a serious issue for Durtmund in the first half. Schmelzer would have to run too much to press Caligiuri. If Philipp pressed Caligiuri then Bentaleb could move under the ball in the half space and receive. In these moments Reus and Batshuayi were too far from the rest of the team to support Philipp in pressing.
In attack that 3133 shape sometimes became asymmetric, with Harit moving out to the left half space between the lines in case Dahoud and Sahin closed the space in front of the defence. From there they were 3 v 2 on Papa and Schmelzer.
If Dahoud and Sahin were close to each other and shielding passes to Burgstaller and Goretzka, then Harit could move freely in the left half space. Komoplyanka kept Piszczek back, and Schopf overlapped the moment Harit received the ball through the lines, creating a 3 v 2 situation against Sokratis and Piszczek.
Rest Defence and Transition Moments
Even if the pass was intercepted, in the central areas Burgsteller, Harit and Goretzka always hunted for the ball, while the two wingbacks closed back to form a 2+3 structure, with the two central defenders very close to each other. Even though Schalke managed these transition moments excellently, Dortmund didn’t really make it hard for them. The visitors didn’t attempt to pull the central defenders apart with diagonal runs from Batshuayi or Reus. Pulisic and Philip didn’t make full speed vertical runs into the space between the central defender and the wingback to gain advantage of the transition moment.
Early Schalke Counterattacks
Schalke had two early counterattacks through Schopf on the left side. While Schopf was dribbling up, Konoplyanka pulled wide. Harit made fast runs between the two central defenders, taking away Sahin. This created two choice for Schopf. Either pass to Konoplyanka for the cross. Or cut inside and shoot with his right. Meanwhile Burgstaller pulled on the blind side of Toprak to open as much space in the middle as possible. Also Scmelzer had to decide to move inside to take away the space of Burgstaller or leave Caligiuri free to arrive at the second post with a late run.
Rest defence and leaving Toprak alone with Burgstaller
At the back Dortmund would control counterattacks unbelievably poorly. The space between Toprak and Papasthatopoulos was constantly too big. Schmelzer was often too far from Toprak, leaving the former to play 1 v 1 against Burgstaller at long balls. Even so, Toprak didn’t do himself any favours with his starting positions. He allowed Burgstaller to start from his inside and run behind him diagonally and race for balls played into the corner.
If Burgstaller dropped deep, Toprak didn’t follow him, and Sahin didn’t take him over. When Burgstaller moved back, Konoplyanka immediately ran diagonally between the two central defenders. These runs very very dangerous due to the large distance between Papasthatopoulos and Toprak. At the same time Goretzka ran into the space behind Schmelzer. The whole backline of Dortmund was far too wide to effectively deal with these runs, not to mention the lack of vertical compactness. When Burgstaller dropped in front of Sahin, none of the attacking midfielders were close enough to make a sandwich. After Burgstaller passed on the ball, he also attacked the space between the central defenders, but nobody tracked his run. Actually, a whole article could be dedicated to the problems of Dortmund in rest defence.
Pressing Schmelzer and Second Balls
When the ball went to Toprak, Caligiuri stepped up enough to allow a pass to Schmelzer and press it. Meanwhile Goretzka marked Dahoud on the ball side, and tracked his run from midfield. The back three was very narrow, with Bentaleb in front of them.
Burgstaller always closed the space in front of Toprak. If Scmelzer dropped too deep, Burgstaller pressed the pass to the fullback from the side. If Schmelzer was a bit far from Toprak vertically, Burgstaller always dropped back to the line of the ball to prevent passes to Shin in the six space.
Schopf was higher than the defenders, on the same line as Bentaleb. Meanwhile the far side winger was left completely free, but on the ball side they were very compact. The back three could support behind each other at long balls, with Schopf and Bentaleb a line higher to collect second balls and start counterattacks.
Schopf’s slightly higher positioning left Pulisic open on the far side. In one instance Batshuayi tried to change the sides, but this instance showed excellently why this slightly higher positioning from the far side wingback was not an issue. Due to the compactness around the ball, any attempt to play diagonals was pressed by multiple players, and Schopf had time to move back and cover if needed. With the two lines close together, Schalke could collapse on any second balls won by Dortmund between the lines.
The Opening Goal
This was a perfect example of the effectiveness of Schalke’s defending… and at the same time of the open structure of Dortmund in ball possession. Players too far from each other, with no regard to balance whatsoever. After the ball was switched to the left side, Piszczek didn’t close back to the space next to Papasthatopoulos. The three midfielders were too far from each other. Sahin was still on the far side of the central space, Dahoud far too high on the pitch. Burgstaller pulled Toprak away from the ball. Papasthatopoulos stepped out too early, and Konoplyanka started his run off the back of Sahin. Apropo, Sahin. He attacked Caligiuri from the wrong angle, not closing the way to the goal. Not to mention that he didn’t attempt to make a tactical foul when he had the chance to make contact with Caligiuri and stop the counterattack.
The way Schalke’s attackers ran into the open spaces was a stark contrast to the lack of attacking runs made by Dortmund’s attackers in similar situations.
Other Pressing Triggers
Long distance passes from midfield back to the central defenders also served as pressing triggers. Schalke’s structure was so compact and they were pressing from such great angles that even if the first presser didn’t arrive to Papasthatopoulos in time, the Greek defender couldn’t pass through the press. Granted, he is not known for his excellent ability to build up the game…
While the ball is going to Papasthatopoulos, Schopf moves up from Pulisic to press Pisczek for a vertical angle, meanwhile Kehrer is sliding out but steps back a bit to give depth in case Sokratis plays the ball long behind to Pulisic. The midfield trio are slides over. Bentaleb can take over the midfielder who might attempt to run behind.
The midfield trio are very close to each other so they can take runners behind. Also the free midfielder can take Pulisic if he moves inside. The smaller the distance is between Kehrer and Harit, the less space Pulisci has to receive the ball between the lines if he moves inside.
The close distance between the defenders and the midfielders prevented the Dortmund wingers from rotating inside and receiving the ball between the lines. If the winger dropped to ask for the ball while the central defender dribbled forward, either Burgstaller or Harit took him over, while the wingback stayed in position to deal with the overlapping fullback. Anytime Schmelzer came up to cross on the overlap, Schalke had four defenders, plus Bentaleb in the box, with the Goretzka on the edge of the box ready to intercept cutbacks.
The Next Fifteen Minutes After the Goal
After the goal Schalke continued defending the same way they did so far. They continued pressing the ball in an asymmetric 4132, with the wingback on the ball side moving up to the line of Goretzka and Harit to press the fullback. The rest defence of Dortmund continued to be a problem. Too wide backline, the holding midfielders standing on the same line vertically, and too far from the central defenders.
In the 61th minute Harit beat Piszczek with his back to the goal. When he turned, Sokratis and Toprak were fifteen meters from him. The distance between Papasthatopoulos and Toprak was at least twenty meters. Konoplyanka immediately made a run wide, which pulled the two defenders even further apart. The route to the goal opened up for Harit.
Before Piszczek got beaten by Harit, he had to run up at least fifteen meters to meet with the young Schalke attacker. It is no wonder that he was late. Not to mention that due to a poor starting position he attacked Harit from an angle that let him turn towards the goal. Meanwhile neither Sahin nor Dahoud remained under the ball, to control the space in front of the central defenders.
Dortmund change to a 352
After 65 minutes Dortmund created chances from changing the sides from left to right, and playing in a 352 structure. Dahoud played higher and inside, Schurrle in the advanced left halfspace.
Sahin had space between the two Schalke strikers to change the sides and make Piszczek step into the game.
If Konoplyanka moved back with Piszczek, then Reus dropped on the outside of Harit to play a wall pass to Piszczek.
If the diagonal dribbling lane was open Pulisic could bring the ball inside, while Reus made a blind side run, and Dahoud a strong side run on either side of Kehrer. Dortmund created two chances from such diagonal dribbles of Pulisic.
Schalke Change to a 5221
With the introduction of McKennie and Pjaca Schalke changed to a 5221 which could become a 433 when the wingback ran out to press either Pulisic or Schmelzer. If either Toprak or Schmelzer had the ball Pjaca and Harit were shielding the vertical pass in the half space. The first line of Schalke didn’t press the back three of Dortmund, they were just passively shielding forward passes, and letting passes to the side.
The two holding midfielders Bentaleb and McKennie always remained very close to each other, and also to the back three. If the wingback received the ball, one of the two midfielders always closed the diagonal pass in the halfspace, creating a 2 v 1 on either Reus or Schurrle together with the sideback Kehrer or Stambouli. If Reus or Schurrle dropped out to ask for the ball in the deep half space then the ball side holding midfielder remained with him, on the other side the midfielder closed back behind him.
If the sideback stepped out to a player, then due to the close distance from the defence and from each other one of the holding midfielders could step back into the space left open in the back five.
This was again one of those games that showed how quickly fortunes change is football. Precise coaching with cohesive game plans can take a team with a not so strong squad a long way.
Watching Tedesco move constantly, applauding his players for attacking spaces behind the opponent even if the opponent ends up clearing the ball makes one feel real warmth towards him. Watching the body language of his players together with the tactical plan, one can understand their confidence. I am really curious to see if the coming years will be the time when Schalke build themselves up to Bundesliga powerhouses again.