Aubameyang, Reus and Mkhitaryan constantly run in-behind our defence as our Europa League clash finishes Spurs 1-2 Dortmund at the Lane.
It was always going to be a struggle to overturn the three-goal first leg deficit in our Europa League tie. At White Hart Lane, Mauricio Pochettino unleashed a more attack-minded and pressing-focussed side. However, we couldn’t get the job done as Thomas Tuchel’s team ran in-behind our high defensive line all-game to make it Spurs 1-2 Dortmund on the night and 1-5 on aggregate.
Press vs Press
In the first leg we were very subdued and passive. Here we were quickly out of the gate and looking to press Dortmund at every opportunity.
Straight from the kick-off Son Heung-Min was signalling the side’s intentions. He first of all raced to close down Papastathopoulos; then over to Weidenfeller as the ball went back to the keeper and finally after Subotic.
It was an incredible amount of running for the first 30 seconds and if Son had continued at this pace he would’ve been exhausted by half time. He did get his reward for his pressing later with a goal, but the whole team were active in trying to stop Dortmund building through the pitch as they had done so easily a week ago.
The strategy was successful in achieving the aim of gaining possession. Dortmund was often forced to clear long and Eric Dier, Toby Alderweireld and Kevin Wimmer hoovered these balls up.
On the other side of the ball Dortmund were also using their style of pressing to achieve an aim. The German side were a bit more calculated in their approach. They were looking to use Aubameyang and Reus to pressure the ball away from our centre backs and out to the full backs. Once the ball had gone out wide, the rest of the team would close in, as they would often have six or seven players inside our half.
The result of Dortmund’s press saw us playing the ball around a lot at the back. This gave us a ton of possession, 61% according to WhoScored, but not in the areas that we really wanted it in to hurt the German side. Often we struggled to get out of our half and it also caused errors that Dortmund were looking to take advantage of.
Lack of a target man
Harry Kane’s absence in Germany last week saw us struggle to have a target or focal point up front. It wasn’t a surprise to see him left out again with the big deficit from the first leg, but it also meant that we had the same issue.
In Son Heung-Min, Nacer Chadli and Erik Lamela, we again had a number of players that like to run in-behind and want the ball facing towards goal. None of them are target players or are comfortable with their back to goal, so we struggled to find a focal point to work off. Any long balls forward that we looked for, or were pressured in to playing, were gobbled up by the Dortmund centre backs.
Our one big chance of the first half came from Erik Lamela being able to get on the ball travelling forward. He then fed in Son with a through ball to race on to. Son scuffed his shot wide, but the passage of play should’ve signified what we needed to do. Dortmund’s second choice centre back pairing had to be exposed over the ground rather than through the air.
Dortmund run in-behind
In the first leg Dortmund had used Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to come towards the ball and suck our centre backs up the pitch. This allowed others to run past and off him in to the space to get the resulting passes.
Here Aubameyang played much more on the shoulder as he tried to use his searing pace to get in-behind our defence. He was joined by the equally jet-heeled Marco Reus and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, as Dortmund tried consistently to expose our high line and the fact that we had to chase the a three-goal deficit.
The balls in-behind started as early as the first minute with Aubameyang looking to get Reus in.
Minutes later and Ben Davies was knocked-out from a collision with Hugo Lloris, as Reus looked to find Mkhitaryan’s run.
Toby Alderweireld had another fine game. He snuffed out two such Dortmund ball in-behind attacks in the first half. The first saw him recover and chase down Aubameyang. The Gabon international raced through from a long ball sent beyond Kevin Wimmer, who had got himself in an awful tangle, but was denied by Alderweireld’s goal-saving tackle.
The second saw Wimmer and Trippier both make mistakes to allow Mkhitaryan to race on to the ball in-behind this time. Alderweireld motored back to block his shot for a corner.
These situations both occured after Dortmund took the lead from a move that again started with a ball in-behind for Aubameyang to chase. Kevin Wimmer just got to it first and he was able to send the ball back to Hugo Lloris.
Dortmund then pressed us and forced the play out to the full back zone where they could close in. We had played out through their pressing for much of the evening, but a loose touch from Erik Lamela under pressure gave possession away in a dangerous area to Gonzalo Castro.
Now with the ball in a high area of the pitch and us out of position, Castro found Aubameyang. He had time and space to let fly with a pearling shot that arced in to the far corner beyond the outstretched arm of Hugo Lloris.
Surprisingly no one had closed down Aubameyang. Usually we see our players go straight after the ball as soon as we loose it. Eric Dier and Ryan Mason both stood off, more concerned with the run of Mkhitaryan. Kieran Trippier was late in his defensive rotation to come out and challenge the shooter.
After the interval and despite the warnings we’d been given, Dortmund continued to look for the ball in-behind our defence. Aubameyang went close, as he was set free by Mkhitaryan.
Dortmund then added a second as Mkhitaryan found Aubameyang running in-behind once more. The passage of play started with us attacking down the left. Having numbers forward when we lost the ball, we tried to press. This saw us with seven players up the field in the Dortmund half, including Eric Dier and Ryan Mason.
With Dier and Mason caught forward, and with Danny Rose also up in the attack, suddenly there was a huge gap between our lines for Julian Weigl to get the ball to Mkhitaryan in.
The Armenian international cruised forward and passed the ball in-behind our defence for Aubameyang to run on to in the space that Rose had left. Aubameyang made no mistake to make it 2-0.
Dortmund takes their eye off the ball
With the game almost sewn up and the tie well out of sight, we got a consolation from pressing and a Dortmund error.
We’d pressed well as a unit throughout the match, but didn’t have success in creating turnovers high up the pitch. Dortmund had often been either able to clear their defensive zone with a long ball downfield or from playing their way out.
Just minutes after Dortmund had scored their second, Son Heung-Min was able to profit from a sloppy back-pass from Neven Subotic. We had Dortmund well defended as both centre backs were under pressure. The ball went back to Subotic and as a result of his miscontrol he tried to go back to goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller, but under hit the pass.
This allowed Son, who had been racing about all night trying to close players down, in to round the keeper and roll the ball home to make it Spurs 1-2 Dortmund. A consolation it was, but a reward for Son who had worked tirelessly without the ball from the opening minute.
Spurs 1-2 Dortmund overall
Dortmund were again a cut above us and showed the level that we need to get to if we are going to make any headway in the Champions League next season.
Without Harry Kane we really missed the focal point in attack that he provides. We also lacked the pressing and ball retention presence that Mousa Dembele brings to the number eight position. These two would’ve made a real difference to decreasing the margin between Dortmund and us.
The tie overall highlighted that the depth we thought we had isn’t quite at the level it needs to be to compete on more than one front.
Final score: Spurs 1-2 Dortmund (agg 1-5).