Football Features

Can Dortmund’s ‘technical brilliance’ mask their defensive frailties against rock-solid Sevilla?

By CJ Smith

Published: 11:29, 17 February 2021

Borussia Dortmund travel to Sevilla on Wednesday for what promises to be a mouth-watering feast of Champions League last-16 action.

The Black and Yellows made it through a group containing Lazio, Club Brugge and Zenit to reach the knockout stages far and are looking to advance to the quarter-final stage for the first time since 2016/17.

But Dortmund have been in terrible form over recent months, seeing their Bundesliga title hopes slip away. Now, they face a real battle to get back into the top four to qualify for this competition next season. And so, a clash with Sevilla, who are fourth in La Liga and enjoying a nine-game winning streak across all competitions (during which they’ve conceded just one goal) will be anything but straightforward.

Dortmund are available at 2/1 with SkyBet for Wednesday night’s away leg, while hosts Sevilla are priced at 13/10, highlighting the close nature of this tie. They are also ninth-favourites to win the Champions League (out of 16), currently available at 28/1. (18+ only. Odds correct at time of publication. T&Cs apply. BeGambleAware.)

Dortmund domination, but will their high line be left exposed?

For all their defensive misgivings, this is still a Dortmund side that have managed to find the net in their last 28 games across all competitions, scoring two or more goals in a single game 18 times during that run. The Black and Yellows know how to find the net.

Under Lucien Favre, Dortmund liked to dominate the middle with three centre-backs and two midfielders providing the platform in possession, while an attacking quartet usually consisting of Erling Haaland, Marco Reus, Jadon Sancho and Giovanni Reyna would look to stick close to each other to facilitate quick combinations, while drawing opposition full-backs inside to avoid a numerical mismatch. This also allowed the wing-backs, Raphael Guerreiro on the left and (usually) Thomas Meunier on the right to push high up the pitch to both provide width and pin opposing wingers in their own half.

Erdin Terzic is now interim manager and, in this regard, little has changed. Yes, they now play with two centre-backs and their starting formation looks more like a 4-2-3-1, but Dortmund have actually doubled down on the principles of central dominance and full-backs providing width, with Guerreiro pushing even further forward, rather than sometimes tucking inside to provide an extra body in midfield. If anything, they now play a 2-4-4.

From front to back, Dortmund are absolutely stacked with technically brilliant footballers. Even away from home, they’re likely to dominate the ball against Sevilla. But Julen Lopetegui’s side are defensive monsters, conceding the second-lowest number of goals in La Liga so far this season (16), while in Jules Kounde, Diego Carlos and Yassine Bounou, they have one of the best centre-back/goalkeeper combinations in Europe.

Furthermore, given their defensive prowess, Sevilla are actually happy to surrender possession, instead choosing to kill their opponents on the break, unleashing precisely timed and devastatingly effective counter-attacks on unsuspecting opponents. And therein lies the biggest problem for Dortmund: for all their technical and offensive prowess, they completely lack defensive stability and concentration, especially with Thomas Delaney and Axel Witsel missing from central midfield.

Terzic’s men have made more errors leading to shots than any other team in the Bundesliga this season (8) and have a terrible habit of switching off around their own box. The more time they spend on the ball, the more chance there is of them losing that defensive concentration. What’s more, with Witsel and Delaney out, and the full-backs pushing so high up the pitch, there is little cover afforded to Mats Hummels and Manuel Akanji. Dortmund’s high defensive line leaves them wide open to Lopetegui’s counter-attacking machine. The likes of Papu Gomez and Joan Jordan can pick the lock, while Youssef En-Nesyri and Lucas Ocampos will race behind the Black and Yellow backline.

Haaland to test Sevilla’s rock-solid defence

Despite Sevilla’s incredible defensive record, they won’t have faced many forwards as fearsome as Erling Haaland. Since joining Dortmund in January 2020, the Norwegian wonderkid has managed eight Champions League goals at a rate of one every 58 minutes, while including his time at Red Bull Salzburg, nobody in competition history has reached 16 goals quicker (12 games).

Whether it’s outpacing a centre-back one-on-one, being in the right place at the right time for a simple tap-in or crashing in at the back post, you’d back Haaland (described as “extraordinary” by Lopetegui) to score in any situation. Kounde, Carlos and co. will have their credentials seriously tested here.

Marco Rose: Dortmund already planning for the future

Despite having plenty of work to do this season, Dortmund are already planning ahead with the appointment of Borussia Monchengladbach’s Marco Rose as their new head coach, joining ahead of the 2021/22 campaign.

Having led Gladbach to Champions League football and through a group containing Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Shakhtar Donetsk, playing stylish and expansive football along the way, Rose is seen as one of the most exciting young coaches in Europe right now, with some even referring to the 44-year-old as “Klopp 2.0”.

Dortmund are yet to make an official announcement, but Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl confirmed that after “weeks” of discussion, Rose had revealed his plan to leave the club for their Bundesliga rivals.