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Fan Engagement, Media & Tech, Team Performance

An Evolution in Black and Yellow: How Borussia Dortmund’s Playing Style Has Changed

 

How Jürgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel and Lucien Favre each left their mark on Borussia Dortmund and how the Black and Yellow became the greatest expected goal overperformers in Europe.

By: Gast Faber
A Pressing Machine Is Born

To this day, Jürgen Klopp is without a doubt the most distinctive and popular manager in the history of Borussia Dortmund. He resurrected a club that had suffered under extreme financial difficulties and nurtured a young and hungry team, which delighted the entire Bundesliga and won back to back league titles in 2011 and 2012 with a fresh and engaging style of play.

Klopp became a missionary of pressing in Germany with his so called “full throttle football”. The game of Borussia Dortmund was shaped by its high intensity (130 duels per game) and directness. A way to proxy team style is by looking at the directness of their sequences, a Stats Perform metric that measures the percentage of distanced covered per sequence that is directly upfield.

During his seven years in charge at Dortmund, Klopp’s team averaged a directness of 34% which reflects their very direct progression towards the oppositions goal in possession.

Other ways of measuring the pressing style of Klopp include “pressed sequences”, which are defined as the number of sequences where the opposition has three or fewer passes in a sequence, and where the sequence ends within 40 metres of their own goal.

PPDA – opposition passes per defensive action in the attacking two-thirds of the pitch – can also be used to measure pressing

Dortmund recorded 14 pressed sequences per game on average under Klopp, who set a benchmark that hasn’t been reached by his successors Thomas Tuchel and Lucien Favre. Also, Klopp’s side achieved a PPDA value of only 8.3 per game in the 2013/14 season, a figure that has yet to be beaten by the subsequent BVB managers.

 

Keeping the ball under Tuchel

Thomas Tuchel took over in 2015 and changed the style of Dortmund’s play. He tamed the furious football seen under Klopp and led Borussia to their last trophy, winning the DFB-Pokal in 2017. Tuchel used the quality of new players attracted by the success of recent years to make the next step, developing a team that was more focused on possession of the ball and controlling the game.

As a result, BVB anatomised football, created nearly four clear cut chances per game (the best performance of all Bundesliga teams in this category between 2015 and 2017) while managing to restrict opposing shots. By winning 53% of their duels, they also put high pressure on the opponent and even undercut the already low PPDA value Klopp’s team had averaged in the seven years before.

Pure efficiency under Favre

After a difficult year under Peter Bosz and Peter Stöger, it was Lucien Favre who brought back some stability to the west of Germany in 2018. The Swiss found a way to combine the spectacular football under Klopp with the control under Tuchel and added to it a very efficient conversion.

The speed of the direct game under Klopp often led to a certain wastefulness from a young team in terms of chance conversion. In the last two Bundesliga seasons under him, Borussia Dortmund scored five goals fewer than Stats Perform’s expected goals model predicted.

This was a problem that Thomas Tuchel knew how to stem. In his two years in Dortmund the club fulfilled the expectations with 154 goals from an xG value of 154.3.

Since Favre took over, Dortmund have practised a more patient style of play, building longer pass sequences and using the whole width of the pitch. In this new style, his players have scored 149 league goals from only 109.6 xG – by far the biggest overperformance of all teams across the top five European leagues in this period.

Favre’s teams regularly overperform their xG, with the Swiss teaching his players to wait for promising shot positions. They record an average of 0.14 xG per shot which is a joint-league high in the period he’s been at the club.

To provide these prime chances, Favre favours players with productive ball progression like Jadon Sancho, Thorgan Hazard and Achraf Hakimi. As a result, Dortmund are winning 54% of their dribbles in the Bundesliga under Favre.

Favre seems to have found the right balance as far as his record is concerned. In comparison to Tuchel and Klopp, he averages more goals and points per game. The only thing he’s still waiting for is a title with Dortmund…