Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Barcelona – Tactical Analysis

This is a great piece by hardtackle! A good read for football people 😀 It is really long though.

“Constantly pressuring you opponent, quick counter attacks and finding the available player on the pitch. Dortmund are closer to Barcelona than we are in those areas.”

Coming from Franz Beckenbauer, a Bayern Munich maestro, Klopp and Co. will definitely take this statement as a compliment. Apparently this comparison will be flattering enough for Dortmund fans and a perfunctory perusal of Dortmund’s style will let them believe that the Bayern legend is probably correct in his assessment.

There are similarities between Dortmund’s brand of football and Barca’s in these facets. Be it the football philosophy of playing attractive attacking football or of breaking the existing tactics into dynamic formations (Klopp’s 4-2-3-1 to 3-5-2 or Pep’s 4-3-3 to 3-4-3), there are similarities in their football religion. Even Klopp has paved the path for academy graduates to have a future with the senior team just like Pep did with the assistance of the famous La Masia.

Yes, Dortmund have employed pressure high up on the pitch.  Their pressing ploy has proved to be effective in order to retain ball possession. Their touch-and-run fast counter attacking movement has Barca written all over it. The defense maintains a high backline and they deploy closing down all over the pitch. Even their defense takes up the additional responsibility in building up attacks. The number of touches made by Subotic, Schmelzer and Piszczek in the first half of the season will testify that fact. Yes, in these areas, Dortmund is closer to Barcelona and better than Bayern.

But the similarities end only in those areas mentioned. There are differences that are crucial and work in favor of Barca’s style of play. Apart from Barcelona’s unparalleled passing there are a few more facets in Barca’s façade that Klopp’s Dortmund lack. In fact, the differences are the reason why it is safe to claim that it is Bayern Munich who are closer to Barcelona’s brand of football and not Dortmund. So where do Bayern trump Dortmund in replicating the cult of Barcelona?

Well, to start with: Dortmund have their own version of football which has nothing to do with Barcelona’s vision. There is no reason for Dortmund to follow another route when they are becoming a rage by embracing Klopp’s vision. So, even though some of their playing aspects are closer to Barcelona’s, number of contrasts is more, unlike Bayern’s case. The signing of Guardiola indicates that Bayern, who have pulled off a successful mimesis of  Barcelona’s possessional football, wish to perfect that art.

The primordial step is to keep possession of the ball. Dortmund have done well about the ball retention part, but their ball possession, at least in the first half of the season, was not as overwhelming as it should be. It’s true that ball possession gives a skewed indication as to which team should have won a game. But the more the possession, more the chances of the team to be in control of the game. If control is more, chances created will be proportionally increased. Dortmund have played with more ball possession in the first two games since the inception of the rückrunde and have played with more confidence than they did in the hinrunde.

In Dortmund’s defense it could be said that even though they did not enjoy a fair share of the ball, they seem to flourish as a team hitting on the counter. For such a team ball possession does not matter much. But the problem for them had been the lack of composure when it comes to passing the ball at high tempo to find the available player higher up on the pitch. They played well against Manchester City away from home, and led Real Madrid on both occasions in the group stage of the Champions’ League. Yet one cannot say that they controlled each of these three games.

Their guerilla warfare in terms of winning the ball back while closing down, just like that of Barca’s, did help them nullify the two sides’ attacking fangs. But on the counter they were far too irresponsible in keeping possession, something on which they need to improve heavily. In order to be more clinical, after winning the ball back instead of scurrying off all the time for a counter, Dortmund players behoove to hold the ball, organize the build-up plan and thread a few meaningful passes to keep the possession.

This would also help against burn-outs of the holding midfielders and the attacking fullbacks of Dortmund who were seen doing all the intensive runs for the first half of the season.  Now Bayern Munich are only second to Barcelona in the department of maintaining possession in Europe. They publicly acclaimed their limerence on Barcelona ‘s philosophy in terms of keeping possession and one aspect why Bayern became Guardiola’s choice.

Owing to the ball possession in the game, Barcelona has the advantage of controlling the pace of the game. They spread the ball around, slow the tempo down, and even attack on fast counters. Now, Dortmund are better off hitting on the counter. So their game will always have high intensity running. They hardly control the pace of the game.

Bayern, on the other hand, are pretty similar to Barcelona again. Owing to their superior ball possession and moderate ball retention skills, they control the game and as a result they control the pace of the game as well. Through their attacking fullbacks, holding midfielders, creative midfielders and world class wing-men, Bayern can also hit hard on counters if the need be or they can slow the game down by playing many horizontal passes and also to prohibit a counter-attack.

Barcelona’s passing is nonpareil. They pass in triangles, short and flat, mostly horizontal and depend a lot on the position taken by the potential receiver(s) of the pass. A lot depends on off the ball positioning of the players. Unless and until Barca are on counter-attacking mode, they do not play direct passing and at times the number of apparently unnecessary touches on the ball make their game look pretty bland.

Dortmund, being a primarily counter-attacking side, has to employ direct passing. As a result they play at a break neck speed. Since their passing is direct and intensive, the chances of misplacing them are more. Thus, despite winning the ball in a favorable position to launch a counter, a hurried misplaced pass kills the opportunity there and then.

On the other hand Bayern spread the ball through their holding midfielders throughout the pitch. In order to keep ball possession intact they stick to play a whole lot of horizontal and back passes. These passes slow the pace the game down but also makes sure that oppositions do not get the chance to launch a counter attack. In short, Bayern are again closer to Barcelona than Dortmund in this aspect.

However, there is one aspect in which Pep’s Barcelona is completely different from both Bayern and Dortmund. It is the use of the wings. Both Bayern and Dortmund employ taller centre forwards. Apart from spraying long balls from deep positions directing at their attackers, the German clubs often try to find their marksmen through the crosses provided by the wing-men (fullbacks and wingers). The fullbacks go on overlapping runs and the wingers cut inside or take the byline route based on the situation inside the box.

Under Pep, Barcelona’s wingers were not seen making use of the byline as often as they would have liked to. At times, the likes of a Pedro or a Cuenca or a Tello would be introduced late in a game to venture the byline track less traveled. But Barcelona wing-men had the general predilection to cut inside. This is one area where Pep will have more options in his new club. Attacking through the wings is likely to add one more weapon in his tactical armory.

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