Analyzing Jurgen Klopp’s Tactics At Borussia Dortmund


With Arsene Wenger’s inability to return Arsenal to the glory days of ‘The Invincibles’, and Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers failing, it was inevitable, that both clubs would show interest in the hottest (probably available) coaching property in world football, Jurgen Klopp.

Klopp has risen to become one of the best managers in football by leading an unheralded Borussia Dortmund side to the 2010-2011 Bundesliga title, the 2011-2012 German Domestic Double, and the 2012-2013 Champions League Final.

Klopp was tasked with rebuilding a club that had barely survived financial ruin, and did not have the money or will to compete for players in the transfer market. Thus, he was instructed to build a system around Dortmund’s youth academy graduates and cheaper experienced players.

He imported his preferred style of play which he used to bring FSV Mainz into the German first division for the first time in their history, and to the 2005/2006 UEFA Cup.

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  • Klopp instructed his team to play a style of play known as gegenpressing. This was the perfect style of play for a club with limited financial resources, as its structure is built around the qualities of players that would not cause a player’s transfer value to escalate. Klopp demanded his players to play with maximum intensity and passion, always aggressively pressing their opposition, and always attempting to run their opposition off of the field.

    Klopp favors a narrow and compact 4-2-3-1 formation which prefers to attack with a technical counter when the opposition is open and exposed. In defense, Dortmund attempts to limit the playing area that their opposition has to play through by playing a high defensive line, and compressing their wingers and fullbacks into central areas.

    He prefers to press his opposition in their half to minimize the distance his team has to travel to get into scoring positions. When he is forced to press deeper from central midfield, Dortmund’s center forward drops deeper creating a defensive 4-4-2 formation with their opposition’s center backs unmarked.

    When they regain possession of the ball, they look to push the ball forward as quickly as possible. This requires Dortmund’s center backs to have the technical ability to initiate attacks. Klopp’s most revered defender, Mats Hummels, started his career as a holding midfielder and was dropped deeper to to begin attacks.

    With central midfield purposefully congested, Klopp’s fullbacks must attack aggressively as they are responsible for the transition from defense to attack.

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    He prefers fullbacks who are comfortable playing in advanced positions and relies on players such as Kevin Grosskreutz — who is primarily a winger — or Lukasz Piszczek and Erik Durm, who began their youth career as strikers. It is common for Klopp’s fullbacks to be Dortmund’s most advanced attackers and they are expected to act as scoring threats from deep.

    To provide protection for the advanced runs of his fullbacks and to act as the axis of his press, Klopp has resisted the recent trend, started by Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, to fill his central midfield with ball players. Klopp prefers to play at least one midfield destroyer, Sven Bender or Sebastian Kehl, and is comfortable playing two in his double pivot.

    He plays direct and athletic wingers, while allowing one the freedom to cut centrally and build play. Before Marco Reus was signed, Mario Gotze and Shinji Kagawa, rotated into this free wide position. The opposite winger has more rigid positioning, and looks to bring balance and stability to Dortmund’s midfield.

    This position was played primarily by “Kuba” Blaszczykowski but due to his injury problems, it has been filled by Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Klopp is also comfortable playing two functional wingers together as he did during both of Dortmund’s Bundesliga championship seasons, when he was forced to adjust his starting lineups because of injuries to Gotze and Kagawa.

    Dortmund’s front two partner each other either as one center forward and a central attacking midfielder who plays as a support striker, or two forwards who press and link play together in an attempt to create scoring opportunities.

    Mario Gotze — Dortmund’s former central attacking midfielder — and Marco Reus played together during the 2012-2013 season and were given the freedom to interchange, linking play, with Gotze drifting wide to the left and Reus cutting centrally from the left wing.

    “Klopp could potentially become available after a disastrous 2014-2015 Bundesliga season that has seen his blind spots and Dortmund’s flaws finally catch up…

    Klopp could potentially become available after a disastrous 2014-2015 Bundesliga season that has seen his blind spots and Dortmund’s flaws finally catch up. Over the last two and a half seasons, Dortmund’s opposition has learned how to effectively counter the gegenpressing tactics by ceding possession and not opening themselves up to counter attacks.

    Under Klopp, Dortmund has always struggled to play consistent possession football but was able to survive through the individual technical ability of their more creative players. Robert Lewandowski and Mario Gotze are no longer at the club, and Marco Reus has spent large periods of the first half of the season injured.

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    These players were replaced by more athletic players who fit into Klopp’s style of play but lacked the high-end technical ability of their predecessors. Right now, Dortmund — a club that had finished the last four seasons no worse than second place — now sit in 18th place at the bottom of the Bundesliga table.

    Their inability to play possession football has led to a dearth of goals and their failure to defend while open, and not maintain their organized press, has led to countless defensive errors.

    Arsenal and Liverpool, two clubs that have ambitions of competing at the highest levels of the Premier League and European football, do not have the financial resources to compete with Chelsea and Manchester City, or with the financial superpowers of the continent.

    Klopp’s success at Dortmund, and his crafting of an entertaining side that won regularly while being constrained by meager resources and the selling of his best players, has attracted both these clubs, as they are affected by these market constraints; both see Klopp as a manager who can bring them the success they crave.