The Tactical Approach of New Borussia Dortmund Coach Thomas Tuchel

The Tactical Approach of New Borussia Dortmund Coach Thomas Tuchel 25% or more off clearance soccer equipment - Click here to view current selection.

In April 2015, Borussia Dortmund announced that Thomas Tuchel would take over as manager from the highly successful Jürgen Klopp.

With a degree in Business Economics and a background in sports science, his coaching has taken him from the lowly Under-15 youth coach at VfB Stuttgart to the top job at Dortmund.

Like a lot of young modern coaches Tuchel never played professional football to a very high level, however as Constantin Ecker explains in this article from Outsideoftheboot, the young Head Coach has certainly been hitting the heights with his team performances and football philosophy.

The Pep Guardiola Influence

When Tuchel talks about his philosophy of football, he mostly talks about Barcelona and Pep Guardiola. He does not enthuse about the likes of Iniesta and Busquets, though. But Tuchel admires the humbleness and dedication of these megastars, who do not consider themselves too good to run extra miles on the pitch to apply their typical Gegenpressing to regain ball possession.

A clear characteristic of every Tuchel team is the use of aggressive Gegenpressing in the opposing half. At Mainz, Tuchel asked his players to play long and quick through balls towards the target players up front. The forwards either received the ball straight or went immediately into Gegenpressing mode. Particularly, great passers like Andreas Ivanschitz and persistent runners like Elkin Soto were vital to his system.

“I believe that Barcelona’s outstanding performance based on the way the whole team with abandon and passion tried to win the ball back after a turnover.” (Tuchel, 2009)

Tuchel does not need much time to impart his ideas. He is able to lead young players, to teach complicated tactics and to develop certain styles of play. However, when he acceded to the head coach position of Mainz’s Bundesliga team, he was aware of the weak points the players had at that time. Tuchel started by creating easily understood strategies. He basically reflected the opposing formations – that means he fielded a 4-1-4-1 against a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-1-3-2 against a 4-1-4-1, using strict man-orientations. Later, the 4-1-3-2 gradually became his favorite system, partly going off the idea of mirrored formations. The midfield diamonds have well-known strengths and weaknesses.

Four central midfielders can control the middle of the park and out-number the opponent near the ball. Normally, the full-backs have to deal with a lot of free space in front of them but Tuchel was able to make certain adjustments, so that the central midfielder – inside left or inside right – near the opposing full-back, who carried the ball, would quickly move towards that particular full-back, who then could not use the free space on the outside lane. Meanwhile the number ten was asked to keep both opposing central midfielders busy, which required great fitness.

Thomas Tuchel Soccer Formation

One of Tuchel’s strong suits is that he can readily react to the tactical set-up of the opponent. His success does not depend on the availability of his eleven best players. He often leaves some of these players on the bench, sacrificing them for the purposes of his match strategy. Even great talents such as André Schürrle were sometimes side-lined when they played under Tuchel. Frequent rotation helped as almost every player evolved in some aspects – particularly tactical ones – of the game.

Throughout the last years, Tuchel has become a coach who is highly revered for a reason. Especially his pre-game preparation stands out. Using information gathered on the other teams by extensively watching video material, he regularly changes formations and details regarding group tactical set-ups. Moreover, this approach does not end when the referee blows the opening whistle. During the ninety minutes, Tuchel shows his inner Guardiola, effortlessly changing formations and individual positions taking the course of the game into account. Particularly the clashes with Bayern Munich unleashed Tuchel’s very best, as his teams carried the superior opponent to the limit on multiple occasions.

For instance, he utilized a pentagon (5-2-2-1) as Mainz lost 1-4 at Allianz Arena in October of 2013. However, the match itself was not that decisive. Tuchel clearly attempted to lower the pressure in the middle, where Bayern usually could pass the ball quickly and accurately. Thus, Mainz was able to lead Bayern’s build-up play to the wings, and afterwards situationally overloading the wide areas when a left or right centre-back joined a full-back to defend the attacks there. Furthermore, some of the midfielders moved towards the ball to narrow the space around the ball carrier and win it back. On the break, one of the pivots then pushed forward joining the fast-running pack up front.  However, as good as that strategy was, Bayern found holes in Mainz’s game. Munich overloaded the deeper half-spaces with emphasis on exploiting the lack of pressure in those zones. Mainz’s central midfielder near the side did not have the nerve to leave his position, so that Bayern could easily circulate the ball and Mainz’s defence was overrun. Tuchel is quite impressive, but not perfect yet.

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