Football Features

How Borussia Dortmund would line up under Jose Mourinho

By Ben Green

Published: 8:31, 24 October 2019

It has been nearly a year since Jose Mourinho last set foot in a managerial dugout, but that could be about to change very soon.

The Portuguese coach has been out of work since Manchester United decided to twist last December after a turbulent start to the campaign.

Since then, the 56-year-old has impressed with his punditry work, but his name has continuously been associated with some of Europe’s biggest clubs, including the likes of Inter Milan and Real Madrid.

However, recent speculation has linked Mourinho with Borussia Dortmund. According to German publication Bild, the ex-United manager has been in regular contact with Dortmund chief executive, Hans-Joachim Watzke.

The report suggests Mourinho is Dortmund’s primary candidate to succeed Lucien Favre, who has endured an inconsistent start to the season, with former RB Leipzig boss Ralf Rangnick also in the running.

This should come as no surprise, as Mourinho has previously hinted at a move to Dortmund, explaining last April: “I admire the work of BVB. Mr Watzke trusted me enough to ask for my opinion about a player and a coach I know well, I was honest, gave him my best possible rating.

“[Since then Watzke and I have] maintained respect for each other.”

Mourinho is also believed to be learning German, while previous comments about wanting to work in the Bundesliga will only fan the flames further.

So, indications appear strong that Mourinho could actually head to the Westfalenstadion, but how would Dortmund line up under him?

Mourinho & Dortmund: The philosophies

The links between Mourinho and Dortmund appear slightly baffling on the surface. On the one side, we have this illustrious footballing institution, renowned for bedding in young players, scouting shrewdly in the market and playing a more aesthetically pleasing brand of football.

Dortmund, in short, are a club who actively look at the bigger picture; their philosophy is one of patient development, gradual success and fan satisfaction. They tend to look within rather than finding solutions elsewhere.

Mourinho, on the other hand, is an elite-level manager who prides himself on winning at all costs. The Portuguese has forged a formidable reputation for simply getting results, whether that’s via splashing the cash, setting up to frustrate the opposition or just engaging in psychological warfare off the field, he is, simply put: a results-merchant.

He is also a master in the dark arts and one of the best tacticians in the business, making any side excruciatingly difficult to beat.

These two footballing ideologies, therefore, appear almost diametrically at odds, but then again, the old adage goes that opposites attract, so there could well be method behind the madness here.


The classic Jose: 4-2-3-1

Across his career, Mourinho has tended to use either a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, but the latter has proven far more successful for the Portuguese coach.

Dortmund, at present, predominately utilise a 4-2-3-1 under Favre as well, so formation wise, Mourinho’s system would fit like a glove to this current crop of Ruhr district stars.

The Portuguese’s greatest success came during Inter Milan’s famous treble-winning campaign in 2009/10, where the 4-2-3-1 was his go-to formation. He has also enjoyed success with that system at other stages during his managerial career, notably United’s Europa League final win over Ajax in 2017.

As such, Mourinho will likely stick rather than shuffle the pack here, though there may be some alterations with the Dortmund personnel.

This season, the German club have proven far too susceptible at the back, while Favre doesn’t appear to fully understand his best XI. This would certainly not be the case with Mourinho.

His tactical set-up would see Roman Burki operate between the sticks, while Mats Hummels will form an experienced-versatile centre-back partnership with Manuel Akanji. On the defensive flanks, Achraf Hakimi and Nico Schulz will offer explosions of pace, energy and tenacity – similar to that of Maicon and Javier Zanetti at the Nerazzurri.

His double pivot in central midfield would consist of Axel Witsel and Thomas Delaney, two industrious, physically imposing players who can dictate the tempo, while Marco Reus would be his Wesley Sneijder, playing between the lines as an imposing No. 10.

Out wide would, of course, be Jadon Sancho and Raphael Guerreiro; the former may have to adapt his defensive game, while the latter – a left-back by trade – would have no such issues.

Finally, up-top, Mourinho would have little choice but to deploy Paco Alcacer, a proven goalscorer who will be assigned the role of battling persistently, ruffling a few feathers and defending from the front.

Early Jose: 4-3-3

A key reason behind the ‘Special One’s’ early success at Chelsea was, in part, down to Premier League managers not adapting their own games, with many still obsessed with the more traditional 4-4-2 formation.

Mourinho came in and tore up the blueprint, playing a 4-3-3 in west London, which not only perfectly accentuated the assets of his players, but also created an almost faultless balance between defence, midfield and attack.

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He later used this formation at Real Madrid, which worked a treat as Los Blancos beat Barcelona in the final of the 2011 Copa del Rey, with Pepe famously situated at the base of a midfield three.

This type of move would likely be frowned upon at Dortmund, but a 4-3-3 could work exceptionally well none-the-less. The goalkeeper and back four would remain unchanged from the previous formation, but in central midfield, Julian Weigl would come in at the base, playing a Claude Makelele-esque role, breaking up play, procuring the ball and astutely holding the fort.

This would allow Witsel to play with more freedom just in front of Weigl, while Reus would drop slightly deeper to make up the triumvirate, though he would press forward with the more frequency and be tasked with instigating attacking moves, while also having a hand in scoring goals.

Out wide, Sancho would again keep his place, though with Weigl now in the side to sweep up play and sit deep when Dortmund surge up the pitch, Mourinho may be tempted to ditch Guerreiro and play Julian Brandt. As Weigl offers protection further back, there will be room for greater risk in the final third.

Porto 4-3-1-2 (diamond)

Over the weekend, Favre decided to tinker with his tactics and went with an unrecognisable two-man strike force, which ultimately paid dividends as Dortmund ended a barren run of three Bundesliga games without a win and clinched three points – and a clean sheet – in the Borussen derby.

Mourinho may very well have kept one eye on this fixture and could consider returning to his formative years when his mechanical system was very much in its infancy but still flourishing with Porto, as the Dragoes won the Champions League in 2003/04.

Here, the defensive personnel may experience a change, Hakimi could come in at left-back and be given license to push forward, operating more offensively, while the more experienced Lukasz Piszczek would play a similar role to that of Paulo Ferreira, sitting further back and offering a more competent defensive resilience. His presence would give Dortmund the option to tuck into a back three when Hakimi goes surging forward.

In the centre of the park, the midfield three would consist of Weigl, Witsel and Delaney, who would be tasked with protecting the back four and creating a compact wall, making it exceptionally difficult for teams to pass through them.

Delaney and Witsel would play either side of Weigl and will be instructed to push forward in attack, while the latter sits. In the playmaker/Deco role, Thorgan Hazard or Brandt would thrive here. Collectively, they registered 21 Bundesliga assists last season so they both possess the requisite passing range and awareness to create further up the field and replicate the genius of the Portuguese magician.

Mourinho’s two-man strike force would consist of Reus and Alcacer, two players who have excellent positional sense and can make direct, threatening runs.

This would leave no room for Sancho but, then again, Mourinho has never been one to shy away from making a big or controversial decision; he may even reinvent him as a false nine, shadow striker or tweak the system altogether to make room for Dortmund’s fledgeling fulcrum.