In the Zone: Dortmund 1-0 Chelsea performance analysis
Friday, February 17, 2023
UEFA's Technical Observer panel analyse Dortmund's UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg victory over Chelsea.
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Borussia Dortmund maintained their flawless start to 2023 by beating Chelsea in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League round of 16 tie on Wednesday.
They owed their seventh straight win to Karim Adeyemi's breakaway goal in the second half of a contest where, as this article brought to you by FedEx will explore, their wide attackers impressed UEFA's Technical Observer panel with the way they dropped back into midfield to create overloads in central areas as the home side built play from deep.
1-0: Karim Adeyemi (63)
Dortmund entered the tie on a ten-game winless run against English opposition in this competition, but that ended thanks to Adeyemi's slice of high-speed brilliance. The 21-year-old's first Champions League goal for Dortmund came on a breakaway following a Chelsea corner. Indeed it was a menacing corner with João Félix free at the back post but unable, with his head, to get the right direction on a ball that flew at him from Kai Havertz's own header.
Instead a Dortmund clearance landed at the feet of Adeyemi, some 15 metres inside his half, and he did the rest. A superb first touch set the ball on the right path and he promptly sped forward, running at Enzo Fernández, then finding another gear to hare past him before rounding Kepa Arrizabalaga to score.
Dortmund's counterattacking threat and the exceptional speed of Adeyemi was no mystery though Edin Terzić, his coach, had spoken to him during the break about the right moments to exploit it. Terzić told reporters afterwards: "This is something we showed him at half-time. He had one opportunity in the first half to get into this kind of duel just to set the ball maybe 10-15 yards in front of him and this is what he did."
Player of the Match: Karim Adeyemi
It was not solely with the run for his goal that Adeyemi showcased his speed and composure. "Especially in moments of transition to attack, Dortmund used his pace very well," said the UEFA Technical Observer panel.
Indeed this week only João Félix (nine) and AC Milan's Rafael Leão (eight) produced more ball carries of ten metres or more towards the opposition goal than Adeyemi's seven (Julian Brandt and Emre Can were not far behind their team-mate with six each).
The home side's starting formation was 4-1-4-1. In possession, they built up play through the two centre-backs, Niklas Süle (25) and Nico Schlotterbeck (4), and Can (23), the midfield pivot who, out of possession, would sit in front of the defence to block passes to the two strikers or pick up Havertz or João Félix when they dropped back.
When building up, the Dortmund full-backs, Marius Wolf (17) and Raphaël Guerreiro (13), pushed up and the wide forwards, Brandt (19) and Adeyemi (27), moved inside looking to create overloads in the middle against Chelsea's two holding midfielders – as shown in the video above. Within this structure there was a free role for Jude Bellingham (22), who looked to get on the ball and dictate proceedings.
Out of possession, Dortmund either defended high in a 4-4-2 diamond shape (e.g. on Chelsea goal-kicks with Bellingham supporting Sébastien Haller (9) in leading the press) or in a mid/low block within their 4-1-4-1.
The Londoners set up in a 4-2-3-1 and the UEFA observer highlighted the position of João Félix (11), who had a free role in front of holding midfielders Fernández (5) and Ruben Loftus-Cheek (12). From it the Portuguese produced more take-ons and crosses (nine each) than any other player on the pitch and came closest to a Chelsea goal when striking the crossbar.
Graham Potter tweaked Chelsea's set-up in the 71st minute half when Mason Mount and Marc Cucurella replaced Mykhailo Mudryk (15) and Ben Chilwell (21) on the left. Unlike Mudryk, Mount worked inside, leaving Cucurella to provide the width on that side, while on the other flank Reece James (24) came increasingly inside too to give Chelsea more bodies in central areas.
As the video above shows, a key feature of Dortmund's performance was the way they opened up space centrally and then sprang forward into Chelsea territory.
In the first clip, as Dortmund build out from goalkeeper Gregor Kobel, we see both full-backs out wide and the right-sided forward Brandt dropping into midfield alongside Bellingham and Salih Özcan to give the hosts numerical superiority there. When the video stops a second time, Özcan has pulled out wide with Adeyemi, the other wide attacker, running back into that space inside his own half to maintain that central overload against Fernández and Loftus-Cheek.
Overloads followed by switches of play were a much-noted tactic in the group stage and we see the same here as Adeyemi duly sweeps the ball across to the right side where Wolf and Brandt combine to set up a shooting opportunity for the former. Brandt ended this Champions League week as the player with most passes in the attacking third (25) and a 92.3% success rate.
In the second clip, Dortmund build up again with Can dropping to support his central defenders. Once again Brandt comes deep, creating a three against two in that central space and showing courage and quality as he receives the pass and pulls away from Fernández. (This individual ability to beat a player is another aspect worth noting on an evening when Dortmund collectively managed a 58.3% success rate with take-ons.)
With Fernández drawn upfield, Bellingham and Özcan are both now in pockets of space with Loftus-Cheek caught between the two. Bellingham duly profits to spread one pass out wide and then send Sébastien Haller on a run into the penalty box with another.
The third and final clip offers a slight variation. So far so normal as three men shepherd the ball from the goalkeeper and the full-backs stand out near the touchline. Yet when Can then steps beyond the line of three Chelsea attackers, Dortmund now have a four v two centrally with Brandt having moved inside to join the two central midfielders against Fernández and Loftus-Cheek. It is Brandt who receives from Süle as Dortmund advance again.
Reflecting on Dortmund's decoy runs and movement, one of this week's UEFA match observers, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, said: "You can see the spaces they open up and it's especially difficult for the Chelsea full-backs and two central midfielders to decide who to pick up."
For all of Dortmund's success in this respect, it was still a match of fine margins. Indeed Chelsea could claim a degree of misfortune after a defeat which leaves them with just one win from their last nine fixtures in all competitions.
They had more crosses (31), shots (21) and shots on goal (eight) than any other team in Champions League action this week. Their xG was 2.20, compared with 1.49 for Dortmund. And they would have had an equaliser but for an impressive goal-line clearance in the 78th minute from Can, who stopped a half-saved shot by Kalidou Koulibaly from rolling over the line.
For Potter, this was "the strongest performance" of his Chelsea tenure but the challenge is clear: to convert promising approach play into goals for a team with only six in their last 13 games in all competitions – a sequence which includes eight blanks. Indeed with Raheem Sterling injured and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang not in their European squad, not a single Chelsea player on the pitch on Wednesday has more than one Champions League goal to his name this season.
Edin Terzić, Dortmund coach: "In the first half we've been very good on the ball and we could switch sides but in the final third, and also in the second half, we were too sloppy on the ball. We gave balls away and then we conceded counterattacks instead of finishing the action or stopping counterattacks very high and very early. We risked a lot and this is something we definitely have to improve on. But with this kind of spirit we showed, we don't only have good quality in terms of the players but we worked really hard as a team."
Graham Potter, Chelsea coach: "I thought we had good attacking movements, clarity in terms of how we wanted to attack and got into the right areas. The attitude was really positive as well. It was a very strong performance, especially the second half. We created a lot of chances and efforts on goal but I am disappointed with the goal we conceded. It is a counterattack from a corner. We were close to scoring ourselves. They broke on us. It is disappointing; we need to do better. Apart from that, we were really, really good. We just have to score."