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In the Zone: Ole Gunnar Solskjær on Dortmund 4-2 Atlético de Madrid

UEFA's Technical Observer panel analyses Dortmund's UEFA Champions League quarter-final decider against Atlético.

Marcel Sabitzer, Ian Maatsen and Jadon Sancho celebrate a Dortmund goal
Marcel Sabitzer, Ian Maatsen and Jadon Sancho celebrate a Dortmund goal Getty Images

Borussia Dortmund advanced to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals after a quarter-final second leg against Atlético de Madrid packed with goals and shifts in momentum.

In this article brought to you by FedEx, UEFA match observer Ole Gunnar Solskjær, working with UEFA's analysis unit, picks out the key tactical themes from an exciting 4-2 victory for Edin Terzić's team as they prevailed 5-4 on aggregate.

Team formations


Atlético's initial high-press success

From a coach education perspective, an important tactical feature of this tie was the way that Dortmund built up against the Atlético press. For the 27 minutes of the first leg before coach Edin Terzić switched to a 4+1, they had tried to build up with a 3+2, featuring a narrow three of centre-backs Mats Hummels and Nico Schlotterbeck with Emre Can, and left-back Ian Maatsen joining Marcel Sabitzer ahead of them.

In the Zone: Atlético's first leg high press

With Dortmund in their initial shape, Atlético, as the video illustrates, had been able to press them high up the pitch and gained a reward with Rodrigo De Paul's goal in the Spanish side's 2-1 home victory.

Dortmund's 4+1 brings width to build-up

To continue the point about Dortmund's build-up shape, in last night's match they started as they had finished the first leg, deploying that above-mentioned 4+1 set-up with their full-backs low alongside the centre-backs and the influential Can ahead of them.

In the Zone: Dortmund's wider shape

As the second video shows, this gave them width as they built up and meant it was harder for Atlético (in a 5-3-2 shape) to press them at the top of the pitch. Clip one provides a case in point as we see César Azpilicueta, the Atlético left wing-back, consider whether to step up on Julian Ryerson, the Dortmund right-back, before dropping back towards Jadon Sancho, mindful of the presence of the winger and the possibility of Mats Hummels releasing him with a pass (as subsequently happens).

"Azpilicueta had to think, 'Do I go and become the fourth man in a 4-4-2 or do I stay back in a 5-3-2?'" said Solskjær, the match observer. "In the first game, you could see how Dortmund spread the pitch with the back four and Emre Can in the middle, and they did that well again. There was once in the build-up when Antoine Griezmann in the first half almost got it from Hummels, but otherwise they were precise. There was quality in the passes and they spread it wide."

Dortmund's runs in behind

The second theme highlighted by Solskjær was the significance of Dortmund's excellent runs in behind. Indeed, for any coaches pondering how to penetrate a low five-man defence, the constant running of Julian Brandt and Sabitzer offered a valuable lesson.

In the Zone: Dortmund's runs in behind

The home team overloaded the left side at times and looked for space between the centre-back and full-back – as seen in clip one of the video above, with Sabitzer's run in behind dragging Axel Witsel with him and thereby creating space for Maatsen to run into.

In clips two and three, we see Brandt run into that same area and, in each case, he is the beneficiary of a magnificent pass, first by Hummels and then by Emre Can. The quality of the passing is crucial, but so too the way that Dortmund pin back the opposition wing-backs, forcing them into that flat back five and then getting good movement between the centre-back and full-back.

Analysing the hosts' attacking approach, Solskjær also cited the involvement of centre-forward Niclas Füllkrug, working in tandem with the attacking midfielders. He said: "Füllkrug's presence and influence on the game were immense as Dortmund could go direct up to him and he could flick on for Brandt and Sabitzer running on, or lay the ball off to them and they could play off him. He needs players around him and Sabitzer and Brandt made a trio which caused Atlético problems, especially on the left."

On the contribution of Player of the Match Brandt, Solskjær hailed his tireless running and work rate, and added: "He was also very influential in the build-up, often finding space between the lines."

Atlético find another gear

"They put the quicker forwards on in Ángel Correa and Rodrigo Riquelme, and they helped change the game with their speed and passing and movement." This was Solskjær's explanation of the visitors' response in the second period as, from 2-0 down at the break, they fought back to 2-2 by the 64th minute.

In the Zone: Atlético's second half gear change

Those two speedy substitutes played their part, but, as Solskjær noted, this was also about a more aggressive approach. Atlético were suddenly a different animal, winning second balls and passing with pace and purpose. "They changed to 'Let's go and get the goal' and found a lot of space in between and in the pockets. They got the ball down and played quick and created chances. Correa had a great chance before he scored with that pass from Koke."

The first clip of the final video demonstrates his point, showing that aforementioned Koke pass which put Correa in the clear for his near miss in the 57th minute. Perhaps the clearest example comes in clip three as, even though Dortmund clear their lines, Diego Simeone's men regain the ball and come back at the home team and get their second goal.

The human factor

What happened next, at 2-2, was another twist on a night which underlined that, for all the carefully prepared plans of a coaching team, there are other factors at play in a football match. Atlético now had something to lose and, according to Solskjær, "they dropped back and then the momentum shifted again. It just shows what goals mean in games of football to your mentality. Football is not just a computer game – it is more than that. It's about human beings and belief and the fans.

"You can drop in and think, 'We've got something to lose now.' By contrast, Dortmund suddenly think, 'Now we need to score,' and they take more risks. That is the funny part of football so, as a coach, you just need to train for different scenarios and stay positive."

Ultimately, it was Dortmund who got over the line, boosted by the energy of the home crowd and rewarded, in Simeone's view, for their superior finishing as they hit four goals on a night when their xG of 1.48 was inferior to Atletico's 1.96.

Summing up the home side's efforts, Füllkrug said: "The energy on the pitch was crazy and every metre I ran was possible for me because there was so much energy. Also, the players next to me had so many runs." So many runs which, altogether, added up to one giant step into a first UEFA Champions League semi-final since 2012/13.

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