Can we do it like Dortmund?

In the wake of yesterday and tuesdays champions league semi finals, where Bayern crushed Barcelona and Dortmund made Real Madrid look average, there has been a lot of talk about the Bundesligas brilliance and how good the two german teams in the semi finals are. Reddit user kyith made an interesting post from that shows the tactical approach that Borussia Dortmund had in yesterdays game. This post is going to focus on the Dortmund way, even though Bayern and Dortmund did pretty much the same thing in beating their spanish opponents.


With reference to the photo above, you can see that Dortmund players have very defined roles, as we saw in the game aswell. Bender is exclusively picked to handle the likes of Özil and Modric, while Gundrogan is supposed to help out defensively, but also work as the connection between the deep midfield and the attacking trio in Kuba, Götze and Reus. We have played this formation several times this season with varying results. Most promising was the game with Jones in the place of Sven Bender, Kagawa centrally like Götze, Welbeck out left in Reus’ position and RvP up front. Phil Jones has to start playing regularly as a CB to fulfill his fantastic potential, and and Fletcher is very unlikely to return to his old top class self.

The roles



The BvB sidebacks are very similar to our own. Both Evra and Piszczek are experienced, top class attacking sidebacks. Piszczek is probably better at the defensive part than Evra, while Evra is better at creating space with his offensive runs. Rafael has cemented into our RB slot over the past two season, and ha been the best right back in the premier league this season. Rafael vs Real Madrid was a testament to his ability to defend well when given the opportunity. We barely saw Di Maria and Ronaldo pass him over two games, and he sure as hell can do as well or better than Schmeltzer did for Dortmund. We are able to play with the same dynamic sidebacks that Dortmund did.


The challenging area – midfield

Taking a look at the Dortmund 2-man midfield, that for me was the most important part in their victory against Real Madrid, you see a very traditional CDM in Sven Bender and a very, very versatile CM in Gundogan. Both players are engines in a hard working team that wins the ball countless times during a game and are able to set up dangerous attacking plays by linking up with the three attacking players in Reus, Götze and Blaszczykowski.

Looking at Bender (or Kehl) and Gundogan, it becomes very clear that the Sven Bender does not exist in todays Man United squad. Did you watch the Dortmund – Real Madrid game? Did you see Mesut Özil? Me neighter. I saw Sven Bender. Darren Fletcher was brilliant in this role, and if you look back since Fletcher got ill, we have struggled a lot with breaking up attacks from midfield. Michael Carrick has become the guy who carries our midfield in about every single game. Cleverley has had a very good season up until just a few weeks ago where he seemed to have lost his good form. We have the Gundogan in Cleverley. Maybe not as good yet, but I have great faith in Tom to keep progressing like he has done. He is very good at creating plays going forward, and has improved by a lot defensively by running a lot and winning a lot of close battles. Carrick reminds me more of the Xabi Alonso (and has been a better version this season, if you want to make the direct comparison), and would be absolutely fantastic in a 3-man midfield, with the freedom to go forward without the heavy defensive responsibilities. As I’ve been nagging on about for months now, we need the defensive piece in our midfield team puzzle.


The attacking trio in midfield – we got it

Blaszczykowski is a hard working right midfielder, and does both the defensive part and the offensive part very well. Does this remind you of last years Valencia? The more I think about it the more similar they appear to be. In terms of formation, Dortmund usually plays with “Kuba” out right, and as a more traditional winger in the modern game formation, it still works. This should be an indicator that Tony V can do the same for us. He has been picking his game up in the past three or four games, and will hopefully be back to his good, normal self from next season.

Götze played behind Lewandowski in the role Kagawa had for Dortmund last season, and was brilliant at creating space, doing brilliant build up passes and creating goalscoring opportunities for Lewandowski. Kagawa fits this position in United just as good as he did at Dortmund. We saw him against Norwich just dictating the play for United, and he has been given the central attacking role more than earlier in the season after showing us his ability starting behind the striker. Being played in his best position has showed us how brilliant Kagawa can be if he gets to see a lot of the ball and is behind players in quick movement. Rooney can also do this role very well, allthough his skillset it different from Kagawa in many ways. Rooney comes through with more power, and  makes pressure with long passes over the opponent sidebacks and being threat with his long shot abilities.

Marco Reus had an amazing performance against Real Madrid. He was out left, he was in the middle, he was in the box, he crossed and dribbled and created chaos at the galacticos defense. For United we have several different options for this role. We can play either Kagawa or Rooney out left, which gives us a player with passing and team playing ability rather than the ability to create things by himself. We are seeing Wilfred Zaha coming in during the summer who is a modern type winger that can dribble, take the defense for a run, cut in, go around and cross, create goals. Nani in form does this aswell, and should not be forgotten, and the Young we saw at Aston Villa was very much a similar type of player to what Reus showed against Real Madrid. Danny Welbeck has the ability to do similarly, and was fantastic against Real Madrid and in many other games this season in a wide role. He creates a lot on his own with his physique, speed, ability to not give a fuck and just go straight past players. If he gets better at delivering the ball after his good dribbles and runs, we are going to have a very exciting attacking player in Welbeck. We have the players, though many of them have not performed up to par this season.

Yesterdays exciting news regarding Januzaj should be mentioned aswell. A player with all the traits requried to play in an attacking trio, either in the middle our out wide, in the future for us.


Two (or three) top class strikers

Where Dortmund has Lewandowski, who obviously is a top class striker, we are very much spoiled at United having three very different, top class strikers. Hernandez offers clinical finishing, hard work, quick and smart runs behind enemy backline and has become quite good at build up play. Van Persie has proved himself to be one of the best three or four strikers in the world, and is the complete package. He can cross, dribble, shoot from afar, score goals on crosses, score goals on difficult chances and be fantastic in the build up play. The Wayne Rooney we saw after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo was amazing in front of goal. Scoring 34 goals in 42 games in the 2009/2010 season proves that he has what it takes to do the job as the man up front. Adding to that, we have exciting prospects like Will Keane and Angelo Henriquez coming through the ranks.

Conclusion and possible United XI

Looking at the Dortmund squad and the Manchester United squad, you find that many of the players fit in to the same position and has the ability required to play in the dynamic Dortmund system. A new midfielder might be required to take care of the enemy attacking trio together with the centre backs, atleast against tough opposition, but the rest of the squad is good enough to fit it. We also have great, versatile attacking players in Rooney, Kagawa, Young and Welbeck who all can fill in more than one position with their allround skill, which makes it easier for the squad to handle injury situations. I didn’t talk much about the centreback pairing, because the Dortmund CBs in Subotic and Hummels/Santana is very similar to the one we have at Man United. Both are good with the ball, are good at starting attacks and brilliant at defending. The vital point here, is the ability to take part in build up play rather than just smashing the ball forward while clearing attacks up.

I’ve made a little attempt on showing how our squad can fit the Dortmund style


Which could work very well for us. If Cleverley is to play, we’d see him swap positions with Carrick in this formation, but if a new player is signed, the defensive one takes on the Sven Bender role and helps out defending together with the centrebacks.

I also thought about another possible formation that looks pretty similar, but with a more narrow setup in defense.


In this formation , Cleverley works as an engine connecting the defense, midfield and attack while running like crazy. He is probably more suited to the role where Rooney is put, where he gets more creative freedom though. The player names in the spot is not necessarily the most important part about the pictures, but should act as an indicator of how we COULD play if we wanted to.

Bonus picture of future United starting XI?



1. By using any type formation creator (I used this one, which kind of formation do you think United should aim to use as the main formation for next season?

2. Does any of the players in our squad not fit the new, modern formation?

3. Which position needs strengthening during the summer to make this a sustainable, effective way for us to play football?


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