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In the Zone: How Dortmund pipped Paris in their Champions League semi-final opener

UEFA's Technical Observer panel analyse the semi-final first leg in Dortmund.

Borussia Dortmund earned a narrow advantage from their UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg against Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday night, following a contest featuring some intriguing talking points.

In this analysis brought to you by FedEx, UEFA match observer Aitor Karanka, working together with the UEFA performance analysis unit, reflects on how Dortmund built their attacks and Paris's defensive efforts in response – as well as the visitors' gear shift at the start of the second half.

Team formations


Dortmund building down the right

As in their quarter-final win over Atlético de Madrid, Dortmund had a 4+1 shape when building play. This comprised the back four together with Emre Can, with the full-backs going out to the wings to exploit the full width of the pitch – in particular Julian Ryerson, who had a key role as the spare man on the right, where so much of Dortmund's attacking efforts were directed.

In the Zone: Dortmund build with spare man

In the early stages of the match, Ryerson found plenty of space. As we see in clip one of the video above, he is more than 20 metres from Nuno Mendes, the visiting left-back, giving him room to advance into opposition territory. From there, as happened often, he was able to connect with Marcel Sabitzer and Jadon Sancho.

Clip 2 illustrates how Dortmund were able to profit when Paris pressed in a narrow 4-3-3 shape, with clear space once more for Ryerson down their right flank. It also presents an example of Hummels' composure as he constructs play.

The 35-year-old, who featured in the Dortmund side that reached the 2013 final, was integral to their build-up play, according to match observer and former centre-back Karanka: "If you look at them building on the right, you have to look at Hummels with his composure and quality, and the experience he has got which helps in a game like this. He's a centre-back who plays with so much calm."

The sequence ends with a cross from Sancho, who enjoyed a notably productive night on that right side. "He feels important again," said Karanka of the winger who returned to Dortmund on loan from Manchester United in January and who, according to Opta, completed the most dribbles by an Englishman in a Champions League match (12) since it began counting such numbers.

The video concludes with another example of Dortmund progressing down the right – and highlights the gestures of the two coaches. While home coach Edin Terzić is seen pointing to the space that Ryerson can exploit, we also see Luis Enrique, his Paris counterpart, hold out his arms in frustration. Yet Paris did find a response, as the second video below explains.

Paris seek to shut off the spare man

In the Zone: Paris aware of Ryerson threat

The focus of this video is Paris's efforts to cut the supply line to Ryerson. In the first clip, we see Luis Enrique signalling once more from the sidelines. This time his players are in the right positions to frustrate Dortmund, with Kylian Mbappé assigned to Nico Schlotterbeck, Ousmane Dembélé tracking Emre Can and, crucially, Bradley Barcola closing down Hummels with Fabián Ruiz on his toes further back, ready to step across towards Ryerson.

From a coach-education perspective, the curved run by Barcola is worth close attention as it forces the right-footed Hummels to play the ball out with his left foot. According to the UEFA technical group, this is an excellent example of how to limit your opponent's options: "You don't run straight at a player but angle your run to force them onto their weaker foot."

Luis Enrique made clear in his post-match press conference that his players had been made aware of the need to support Barcola on that side, and in the second clip we see Fabián Ruiz scanning the space Ryerson is occupying and adjusting his position to ensure he is ready to step across if the goal kick goes in that direction.

Nuno Mendes is similarly aware of Ryerson before dropping back to deal with the high ball. "We tried to protect ourselves on that side," said Luis Enrique, "with our full-back or midfielder available to help."

Visitors' balance behind the ball

Rest defence, or balance behind the ball, is a significant tactical feature in elite football today, and this third video looks at how Paris, when attacking, were set up to regain the ball should it be lost.

In the Zone: Paris 'rest defence'

In the first clip, Lucas Hernández is seen adjusting his position to get close to Niclas Füllkrug, the Dortmund centre-forward, as a move breaks down on the edge of the hosts' penalty box. Although the ball is actually won back by Vitinha further ahead, the awareness and anticipation showed by Hernández are fundamental to achieving the right balance behind the ball.

There is another example of this awareness in clip two as the Ligue 1 side again regain the ball in Dortmund territory. Indeed, of all the players on the pitch, the three who produced the most recoveries were all in Paris shirts – Nuno Mendes (12), Vitinha (nine) and Fabián Ruiz (eight).

Reflecting on the defensive balance they displayed, Karanka said: "That is the key for a powerful team like Paris: that when you attack a lot, your defence have the capacity to be in those positions. It happens a lot, so they are ready when they lose the ball to recover it as quickly as possible."

Luis Enrique's men step up a gear

This was the first time this season that Paris lost without scoring at least once, and for the first 45 minutes their attacking menace was minimal – as illustrated by a first-half Expected Goals (xG) tally of 0.1. Yet, on the restart, they came alive. Between the whistle sounding to start the second half and the 56th minute, they had six attempts, two of which struck Gregor Kobel's goalframe.

In the Zone: Paris move up a gear

According to Luis Enrique, this was not about tactics but rather a change of attitude, and the final video above shows how the visitors were now much quicker and crisper in their passing.

Speaking afterwards, Luis Enrique explained: "We changed nothing tactical. The players are not machines or robots with whom you can touch a button and everything functions as normal. In the first half, we lacked a bit of drive to take on their defenders, and to go out with full intensity away from home in an atmosphere like this, you need to be more incisive in attack.

"The intensity, the spirit of the players in attack, was better. We had chances to equalise, undoubtedly," added Luis Enrique, whose team ended with an xG of 1.70, compared to their hosts' 1.78.

His Dortmund counterpart, Terzić, admitted his side had had to dig deep during that period of Paris pressure, and did so with the help of their noisy supporters – no small factor with over 80,000 fans inside a stadium where Dortmund are unbeaten in 11 Champions League matches. "They gave us the kind of resilience that you need in this period from the 45th until the 60th minute," he said.

Karanka, the UEFA observer, experienced the formidable challenge of a night in Dortmund when he was assistant coach of the Real Madrid side beaten there at this stage in 2013, and he attested: "It's not just about tactics. Everyone knows how difficult it is to play in that stadium. With Real Madrid, I lost 4-1 there in the semi-finals and the intensity Dortmund play with at home, together with the quality of their players, means their opponents are going to have problems."