Leipzig - Dortmund part one

pre-match thoughts and stylistic comparisons of Terzicball vs Favreball and Nagelsmann's approach

The stakes of RBL\BVB and their seasons so far

Coming into MD 15’s Topspiel between Leipzig and BVB there was a lot to be excited about. Even in the years prior to Julian Nagelsmann, RBL have more than threatened to break up the Bayern-Dortmund hegemony at the top of the Bundesliga. With Bayern “expectedly” (it’s happened 4 times in the last 6 Hinrunden) losing to Gladbach 3-2 to open up the round, the stakes were magnified. The fall season has once again been similarly troublesome for BVB, but the outcome was different, ultimately resulting in Lucien Favre’s dismissal. Whether firing Favre was the “right” move is very much up for debate, but the fact the Black and Yellow were sitting 8 points behind Bayern isn’t. However, with Hansi Flick’s side prone to going behind and needing to expend a lot of energy to notch presumably routine wins, a potential w in Leipzig could mean Borussia clawing itself back into some sort of title contention. Or at the very least improving their minimum goal of reaching the UCL having had the their odds of making it reach 63% over at FiveThirtyEight upon Lucien Favre’s firing and Edin Terzic’s promotion to head coach. In addition, the draws by Leverkusen and Union vs Wolfsburg ending 2-2 were all very much favorable, putting the winner of the Saturday night fixture in great position going forward!


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Nagelsmann plans and the bulletin board material for BVB

Of course, Julian Nagelsmann’s Leipzig could go top with a win, a remarkable achievement and testament that the 33-year-old coach is pulling off a minor miracle: despite losing Timo Werner to Chelsea, getting zeroes in minutes from last season’s Ironman Konrad Laimer, and goals from both summer signings Hee-chan Hwang and Alexander Sorloth. The impact of Covid (Hwang’s bout with it was at one point extremely serious) and injuries to Swiss army knife Benni Henrichs, the reliable defender Lukas Klostermann or the minimal contributions of Justin Kluivert are also notable, and neither Sabitzer nor Kampl are operating at the peak of their powers. In addition, they went into this match without Kampl, Konate, Laimer and Henrichs and 20 million winter signing Dominik Szoboszlai (out until at least February if not March due to an injury he “carried” with him from Salzburg) plus Klostermann and Hwang only fit enough to make the bench. That was not gonna stop Nagelsmann from declaring that “he’s counting on securing 3 points” - at once a reasonable ask given their and Dortmund’s season so far, but also an obvious bulletin board material for Reus and co.

Pre-match expectations and what is Terzicball?

A quick look at the formation and my pre-match tweet revealed the rather usual 4231 for BVB with the usual suspects in the backline and the front four. Let’s look at that in detail: Axel Witsel has been the staple in one half of the double pivot (against Braunschweig Delaney + Bellingham made up the Doppelsechs) but Terzic has tried Jude Bellingham (more as an 8 with Reus occupying the same role on the left vs Bremen), Thomas Delaney and Emre Can, with the German international losing out to the Dane perhaps for his worrisome performance vs Union Berlin. Adventurous “Hollywood” passer Mahmoud Dahoud, who’s been undergoing a mini-renaissance until December, has for some mysterious reason been frozen out under Terzic, despite the team being undefeated (5W 1D) with him as a starter…

One potential explanation - and it is a slim one, given Dortmund’s struggles in the buildup and accessing their vaunted front 4 - could be that BVB don’t really need their double pivot to be playmakers. This is supported by some data: Dortmund’s fullbacks are among the top 5 in progressive carries, while their CBs Hummels and Akanji have the most touches in the Bundesliga via FBref:

So he could just be a style omission and to be fair to Dahoud, he’s gotten a decent amount of chances over the years and has not delivered.

What is Terzicball?

But what kind of football does Edin Terzic want Borussia to play?

In terms of style, although he was Favre’s assistant Terzic prefers more counterpressing and less possession. In terms of numbers this means about 175 less passes per 90 and about 100 in the opposition half and percentage wise Terzic’s Dortmund is down to 45% vs the 58% of Favre’s last season and third. In truth Favre himself has long been on the record of saying “a team that can’t counter can’t be a great team”. The careful tactician he sees the merits of defensive possession, but in fairness there were a lot instances of this lapsing into cumbersome buildup against deep-sitting low blocks (Augsburg, etc). Additionally, allowing opponents to have a 13% conversion rate is anything but sound defense, thus somewhat defeating the point of defensive possession. So me long arguing that the best iteration of BVB is one that’s closer to having the ball 50% than 70% is besides the point and now moot.

Where “Terzicball” differs from “Favreball” is particular long spells of possession, (45 seconds or more) they happen just 7.4 times per match vs the 10.5 under Favre. In terms of output they sacrifice about 2 key passes and 2 shots per match vs Favre, but still get close to the 2.2-2.4 goals per match with 2. The two interesting data points are shots against and possession regain: as under Terzic Borussia concede 10.2 shots against, compared to 8.8 in the Favre era. The 7.8% opponent conversion rate and some great Bürki saves plus opponents like Wolfsburg unable to finish is probably helping here a bit. For someone who is more of a proponent of high pressing, Terzic’s teams actually regain the ball less frequently overall (54 times per match) and in the opposition half (11 times) than Favre’s last season and change - 62 and 14.5 respectively. Ironically, Terzic’s teams are sort of closer in those numbers to the 18\19 Favre team, which as we all know “verspielt” (wasted/gambled/gave away) the title from a 9 point lead per Lucien Favre.

Now, let’s take a final look at the starting XIs and they represented in terms of match plans.

The expectations of Terzic and Nagelsmann

In general with this Borussia lineup one would expect a more vertical/counter-heavy BVB match where the two holding mids shut down the center, while the front 4 plus Guerreiro create on the break. Dortmund fans were hoping that Marco Reus and Jadon Sancho would continue to look better under Terzic than under Favre. Another point would be to see if Haaland’s finishing funk - yeah, he had 3 shots on target vs Wolfsburg in a return from a 4 match injury and by his standards it’s a funk :)))) - would FINALLY end.

For Nagelsmann, formations are less important - he’s a man of principles, quite literally, as he has 31 of them regarding his footballing philosophy, though most are secret. Rather it’s about implementing his style, often using different looks in and out of possession depending on game state, flow or opponent. If we want to assign numbers to it, I’d call it an asymmetric 4123 in build up, a left-side tilted 3151/3133 in the middle and final thirds and a 4312\4diamond2 out of possession. In terms of what he and Leipzig would want from the game, the pre-match words of 3 points already suggested that they would seek to establish their superiority in possession. It’s also not exactly a novelty that Angelino would be used as a “joker” - Nagelsmann’s term for the free attacker, generally on the left side, a’la Nico Schulz, last seen on BVB’s bench. It was also a safe bet that with Poulsen in the lineup, Forsberg would not be a false 9, but probably one of the 10s or at least a second striker with Olmo as the right sided halfspace player The question of which of Haidara\Sabitzer would play the 6 spot vs the left sided halfspace player needed to be decided as well as whether that would push Tyler Adams into a RB or a RB\DM hybrid role - something we saw from Laimer vs PSG in the UCL semis.

So, with all the said, let’s jump into the action and look the first half which ultimately produced 0 goals and just 3 shots on 0.06 xG, yet I will argue, it brought a really interesting tactical battle between Leipzig and Dortmund. In part two we will take a look at approaches in possession, pressing and transition of both teams, focusing on some key concepts and players thanks to the help of some scouting feed footage. Do come along!