Borussia Dortmund: Euro Kings but Bundesliga Jokers

No team encapsulates a story of two competitions this season as well as Borussia Dortmund. The 2013 Champions League finalists lie a dismal 17th in the Bundesliga table, but in Europe they have excelled, taking 3 wins from 3 matches in Group D.

“We have to correct our mistakes now, not tomorrow or the day after,” coach Jurgen Klopp told AFP. “We need to get ourselves out of this rut and no one will do it for us.”

How is it possible for the team managed by Klopp, one of the world’s most highly regarded coaches, to experience such contrasting fortunes?

Let’s compare their performances and see what the data tells us.

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Possession doesn’t seem to be the problem. In fact Dortmund have enjoyed an average of 57% ‘live ball possession’ in their domestic games, compared to just 46% in Europe.

Looking at their desire to push into opposition territory doesn’t give us any more clues. Dortmund launched an average of 83.5 attacks per game in the Bundesliga, and 80.0 in their European campaigns.

So what could it be? Some pundits have blamed the late arrival of Germany’s World Cup heroes back to their clubs after the Brazil 2014 success, including Marco Reus. But what are the differences on the pitch?

Looking at the build-up patterns, it seems a style could be a big factor. Dortmund have scored 9 goals and conceded none in their impressive home win over Arsenal and road victories over Galatasaray and Anderlecht. Even at the Signal Iduna Park against Arsenal, they won these games with a lightning-quick counter-attacking brand of football.

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In Europe, an average of 20.7 ‘counter-attacking style’ build-up moves per game, has made them one of only 3 teams with perfect records in the competition, this compares with an average of only 12 per game in the Bundesliga. Furthermore, Dortmund have had a deadly taste of their own medicine in the league, leaving themselves open to an average of 19.7 ‘counter-attacking style’ build-up moves per game, compared to just 10.3 in the Champions League.

The theme of this tale is continued when we look at Dortmund’s pressing of their opponents. In Europe, where they opt for a counter-attacking style rather than their domestic possession play, ‘The Black and Yellows’ regain possession from the opposition an average of 14.3 times per match, compared to 9.3 times in the league.

Maybe Dortmund’s position as one of Bundesliga’s giants obliges them to take the game to the opposition, rather than sit back and strike on the break. Whatever the reason, Klopp may well want to consider a transplant of his team’s European tactics in order to recover from such a disastrous start.

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