Wide rotations, lack of depth and transition-based goals – a recap of Spurs – Dortmund

The CL last 16 ties this week offered little in terms of actual surprising results yet we the games still presented us with enough suitable material to form a wholesome analysis on proceedings ( or meaningless waffle, depends on the point of view).

Anyways getting to the point, Wednesday presented us with first German-English encounter of the last 16 – Spurs vs Dortmund at Wembley. Mauricio Pochettino opted for a 3-5-2 formation of sorts, with some nuances that will be discussed later on, while Lucien Favre abandoned his preferred 4-2-3-1 and went with a 4-3-3, seemingly adding more energy, workrate and control in midfield.

I prefer not to speak about the squad numbers as i couldn’t be arsed to adjust them properly.

First half

Game started off in a fairly intense fashion, Spurs wanting to set the tone with an intense man-orientated high press in a 3-4-1-2, trying to force turnovers of possession in close proximity to the Dortmund goal. Son and Moura pressed the Dortmund CB’s, while Eriksen was tasked with marking Witsel out of the game.

This however this left spaces further up the pitch where Dortmund regularly managed to create 3 vs 2 central overloads, with Gotze regularly dropping deeper to aid Dahoud and Delaney in overloading Winks and Sissoko.

Gotze’s movement giving Sissoko a decision headache on whether to press or hold his position,

Gotze’s dropping movement and the midfielders positional rotations saw Dortmund regularly find ways to evade the pressure, either by playing through the press and taking advantage of the midfield spaces or by switching to the underloaded far side.

Sissoko is pinned by Delaney, while Zagadou’s run into the space allows Witsel to move into Eriksen’s blindside and receive the ball whilst facing goal.

All well and good but along with the benefits of creating overloads in midfield, Dortmund were subsequently left short of runners ahead of the ball who could stretch the depth of the pitch. In all honesty this was more of a personnel issue than anything else, seeing as neither Sancho, nor Pulisic are natural at making that sort of movement in behind. For all of Dortmund’s good build up they created very little aside from a few outstanding individual runs from Sancho as a result of a switch the underloaded right side.

Moments after receiving the ball between Spurs lines whilst running at the backline Witsel finds himself isolated, with Sancho wanting the ball to his feet as opposed to in behind.

Similar sequence later on as Delaney invades the space but is left wanting as Gotze and Sancho again fail to provide the required movement in behind.

20 minutes in the game settled with Tottenham taking control of the ball but in fact rarely troubling Dortmund neither vertically nor horizontally. Spurs were wasteful and static in possession, attempting either to find gaps between Dortmund’s midfield, play a diagonal pass to Aurier or try to find Moura and Son in behind. Sounds good in theory but Dortmund were never stretched and their good vertical and lateral compactness wasn’t tested enough.

Winks finds Eriksen between the lines but Dortmund’s backline keeps a compact shape and Hakimi is well placed to face Eriksen whilst the midfield readjusts their position.

Spurs did attempt to stretch the opposition to create spaces in behind the Dortmund FB’s but their rotations and movements were badly timed, allowing the opposition midfield to shift and close down the gaps. Aurier and Moura in particular failed to time their actions on more than 1 occasion.

Identical situations, Sissoko/Eriksen drag away the ball near CM/DM, creating space for Moura to drop in. His timing though is off, as is Aurier’s positioning, which doesn’t allow him to open his hips and play infield upon receiving the ball.

Second half

The second half starter off with a bang as Son put Tottenham ahead, but aside from the Korean’s nice little zig zag movement to create separation from Zagadou inside the box their isn’t much to analyze about the goal itself, and i might have to repeat that a few more times in this piece.

There were some other interesting bits though as most notably Tottenham switched to a much more defensively solid 5-3-2 in defensive phases with Eriksen dropping deeper, leaving either of the forwards to interchange in marking Witsel.

Better coverage of the centre from Spurs as they’re no longer outnumbered when either of Dortmund’s forwards drops deeper (mostly Gotze).

The change of defensive emphasis allowed Dortmund a longer period of possession, with their lack of depth once again being the main issue. No longer being able to constantly overload the Spurs midfield meant as well much fewer methods of progression, with Delaney and Dahoud also failing to considerably affect the game with or without the ball.

Yet another sequence where this time Zagadou is left no adequate options to progress play. Spurs distances between the lines is phenomenal but Dortmund never tested them all evening.

Spurs were in total control with and without the ball. Around the 65th minute mark, as Dortmund’s energy levels started to drop, Spurs started stretching the Dortmund left side with much better timing and added poise. Patience was key as opposed to a chaotic first half display in possession, and Spurs managed to regularly pull out Pulisic and Diallo, allowing Sissoko to run into the exposed LB space, whilst dragging the ball-near CM away from his zone and allowing Son to drop in and collect.

Aurier dropping much deeper as opposed to the first half, able to play into Son who has timed his movement and is able to play a neat ball into the channel for Sissoko who nearly provides Moura with a tap in.

Spurs kept frequently exploiting the left side of Dortmund’s defense, with Dortmund’s inability to get out becoming a recurring theme for most of the final 30 minutes, ultimately leading to Spurs finishing things off with another 2 well taken goals.


Dortmund’s game plan was ultimately the best they could put together considering their squad limitations and produced a performance not really worthy of a 3-0 defeat. The game however showcased the importance of momentum within a game of football, as Spurs rarely created chances from open play, but scored early in the second half and put in a fine and controlled display with and without the ball for pretty much the entirety of the second 45 minutes.

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