Tactical Analysis: How Borussia Dortmund Got Outmaneuvered By Niko Kovac’s Eintracht Frankfurt

Borussia Dortmund were high on confidence after beating Bayern and then thumping Legia 8:4 in the Champions League when they met Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday. However, the Ruhr side was completely dismantled by Niko Kovac’s excellent Frankfurt side. After a goalless first half, Frankfurt’s Szabolcs Huszti gave SGE a lead within 20 secs into the second half. Aubameyang’s header equalized for BVB but moments later, some calamitous defending from Dortmund saw conceding once again, through Haris Seferovic’s strike, which proved out to be the eventual winner.


Head coach Niko Kovac started with a 5-3-2 formation. Chelsea loanee Michael Hector made a comeback to the team, due to the absence of key midfielder Omar Mascarell. He was interchanged in defensive position with Makoto Hasebe, who consequently moved to the middle. Serbian Mijat Gacinovic and Szabolcs Huszti formed the either side of the wings with Alex Meier and Marco Fabian being vacated as the two-man forward line.

Frankfurt's Swiss forward Haris Seferovic (C) celebrates with teammates after scoring the 2-1 during the German first division Bundesliga football match between Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Dortmund in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany on November 26, 2016. / AFP / DANIEL ROLAND / RESTRICTIONS: DURING MATCH TIME: DFL RULES TO LIMIT THE ONLINE USAGE TO 15 PICTURES PER MATCH AND FORBID IMAGE SEQUENCES TO SIMULATE VIDEO. == RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE == FOR FURTHER QUERIES PLEASE CONTACT DFL DIRECTLY AT + 49 69 650050 (Photo credit should read DANIEL ROLAND/AFP/Getty Images)

Frankfurt’s Swiss forward Haris Seferovic (C) celebrates with teammates after scoring the 2-1 during the German first division Bundesliga football match between Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Dortmund in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany on November 26, 2016. / AFP / DANIEL ROLAND / RESTRICTIONS

Thomas Tuchel, on the other hand, had to make quite a lot of changes to the squad that won 8:4 against Legia. Mario Gotze came back into the side, in place of his beloved companion Marco Reus. Lukasz Piszczek and Matthias Ginter also featured in Tuchel’s 4-3-3 formation.

The game started in a rigorous manner, as Dortmund attempted to raid the Frankfurt defence in order to settle into the game quickly. While, the Eagles were quick to disrupt them with heavy pressing, very good ball recoveries. Unsurprisingly, Dortmund seen most of the possession. The 4-3-3 eventually started to take shape and look more of a 4-1-2-3 as Julian Weigl was completely isolated due to the static pressing system of Frankfurt. While the two centre backs were pressurised by either of Marco Fabian or Alex Meier. The lack of pace, however, from Alex Meier did cause the right-sided center back in Sokratis some space to play the ball out but that’s when the SGE midfield came into play.

The moment the ball came into the middle third of the pitch, Eintracht’s wide midfielders took reigns. Hungarian veteran midfielder Szabolcs Huszti and Mijat Gacinovic and even Makoto Hasebe for that matter defended the half space of Eintracht extremely well.

Dortmund's build-up phase: All three players marked by SGE.

Dortmund’s build-up phase: All three players marked by SGE.

Here is an example of Eintracht’s solidity in the midfield. Sokratis(not in the pic) recovers the ball and distributes to Matthias Ginter. While Alex Meier begins to press the young Dortmund defender, Hasebe and Huszti man mark the two Dortmund players, who dropped in from attack to pick the ball up and make the transition. Eventually, the collective pressing becomes successful to stop BVB from breaching the half space.


Another example of the solid cohesive pressing. Huszti puts pressure on Weigl and also pressurises Sokratis in order to prevent the ball being distributed to the free man on the right(Piszczek). Even if he passes it onto Piszczek, the lack of speed of the Polish fullback, wouldn’t help and eventually we’d see Timmy closing him down.


The Greek takes the conservative route and passes back to Weidenfeller. Weidy’s pass to Ginter and the former Freiburg man was quickly charged down by Marco Fabian on the left, forcing Ginter to play a long ball out, which David Abraham eventually clears. Dortmund neutralised again!


Sokratis’ passing activities clearly suggests the Greek defender had little to award his side with his buildup. Largely spending time, fluctuating possession in his own half of the pitch, along with those occasional long balls, which never really caused trouble to the SGE defence.

However, we’d only be fools not to praise the Frankfurt fullbacks for their exceptional performance. Timmy Chandler(provider of the most crosses in the league so far) and Bastian Oczipka controlled their entire respective flanks by themselves. Easy to say, the fullbacks were a crucial outlet for coach Niko Kovac both defensively and offensively. The Croatian mastermind used his fullbacks very efficiently, firstly to use them as a transition players. A player who carries the ball from defense to offense, as the pass map by the excellent @11tegen11 on twitter clearly suggests.

sge-passing-mapThat’s however not to say, Eintracht has been faultless. Borussia Dortmund actually did quiet well to churn out goal scoring opportunities against the Frankfurt pressing. On those rare occasions, in which the black and yellows gained access to the middle, they did manage to create chances. In fact, Thomas Tuchel’s team did really well to create chances as the xGplot clearly suggests.


10 of 12 BVB’s attempted shots came in from inside the box. A 1.48 xG score got looted due to the poor conversion rate. While Eintracht used their small goalscoring opportunity really well to score two goals and the fact that Die Adler had an impressive 11.5% conversion rate prior to the game, comes as a no surprise.

But it was a quite weird day at the office for Thomas Tuchel’s men, achieving the highest conversion rate in the league(15.8%) yet managing just one goal. Overall, the departure of Ilkay Gundogan is clearly evident in Dortmund’s gameplay this season. Die Schwarzgelben clearly lack a player who could resist the opposition press and counter the half space, a job which seems too much for Gonzalo Castro or Mario Gotze(even though he’s not fitted for the job).

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Anas Ali

Bundesliga connoisseur and writer at Bundesliga Fanatic and The 4th Official. My heart belongs to Borussia Dortmund or Eintracht Frankfurt (still not sure who deserves the most), but I adore the Bundesliga and Spanish footballing tactics. 16 years old, Josh rides Tyler |-/ (I already love you if you know what that means)/ Come to my house and we will watch Netflix and eat Nutella. lol just kidding.

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