Hamburg kept three vital points at home with a display that took advantage of the weakness of Borussia Dortmund.
Hamburg started in a 4-4-2 formation. This was their defensive formation, but they have spent so much of the game out of possession - they had only 36 % possession - that their defensive formation can be viewed as their overall formation.
Borussia Dortmund started in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation. Matts Hummels was still injured, so Friedrich and Papastathopoulos started in the centre of defence. Großkreutz started on the left side of the wide attacking midfield, playing alongside Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang on the right.
Hamburg let the away team keep the ball, and sat deep enough that it was hard to play through balls behind them. The Dortmund attackers couldn't use their pace to race behind if the ball was played by the defenders. At the same time Dortmund struggled to bring the ball forward into midfield to play through balls behind Hamburg from a closer range.
The home team have used a tight 4-4-2 formation out of possession. The two forwards dropped towards the Dortmund holder if he was in possession, pressing him from behind. The midfielders sat very narrowly to each other, making it impossible to pass the ball to Lewandowski in the hole between the midfield and the defence. In fact the two central midfielders always made sure to cover such forward passes. If one of the Dortmund full-backs had the ball, the Hamburg central midfielders dropped deeper and closer to Lewandowski so that the pass forward could not be played.
Hamburg have done some pressing if Dortmund played a slow or wayward pass at the back, but they have sat back for the most part.
Dortmund's central movement
Dortmund tried to play the ball forward centrally by Sahin, and either Mkhitaryan or Aubameyang making reverse runs. These kind of runs are designed to keep the defenders and the central midfielders guessing who they should be picking up, but with Hamburg playing with so narrow lines with a zonal marking system, they didn't have to guess. There was so little space for Dortmund that even if someone could beat a midfielder, the defender was there to dispossess him instantly.
If Mkhitaryan came deep, Sahin dropped towards the wing into the full-back's position, allowing Schmelzer to push up. However the service for the advanced wide players was lacking, due to Dortmund finding it hard to get into advanced central positions from where the ball could have been played wide with diagonals.
Dortmund create half-chances from throw-ins
Dortmund are very good at creating chances from throw-ins. Don't think of something shady in the Rory Delap mould. The way they use throw-ins is by playing the ball right out of the pressure area at the byline, and moving it quickly towards the other side, where the opposition's defence is light.
However Hamburg kept such beautiful lines of four - with the strikers stepping back - that it was impossible for Dortmund to move the ball out of the pressured area by dribbling. Their few good switches came when Schmelzer overlapped on the left wing. Lewandowski had a try at goal after one of these overlaps in the 29th minute, but his header went high and wide.
It was very hard for Dortmund to attack on the wing if Hamburg were in their defensive formation. The wingers tracked back in a disciplined manner, so in order to take advantage of the overlapping full-backs Dortmund had to pull the Hamburg wingers away from them. The easiest way of doing this against a narrow zonal defence is by switching the side the ball is on with diagonals as quick as possible, and instructing the wingers to be very direct, and run at goal. This was basically what Dortmund did at throw-ins, passing the ball quickly to the other side.
These overlaps would have been the best way for Dortmund to break down Hamburg. The home team kept narrow lines when the ball was in a central position, which could have been exploited with using the wings more.
Hamburg didn't take many chances in possession, and were looking to play it forward quickly and finish the attack. This prevented them from pushing too high, loosing the ball and getting caught on the counter. It is really telling that Dortmund's first and only counter-attack came in the 32nd minute, even though Dortmund is one of the best counter-attacking teams in Europe.
Hamburg were very direct in their attacks, using a few pre-rehearsed passing patterns. One obvious such pattern was the use of one-touch vertical passes forward on the wings. The other was playing long balls to Lasogga behind the Dortmund defence. The third was using Jansen's overlaps on the left wing.
Hamburg took the lead after they put in a cross from the right wing that Dortmund defenders should have cleared. However they not only let Lasogga get to the ball, but let him put the ball right back in front of the goal for Jiracek to head in.
The second half
Dortmund have switched to a 4-3-3 system for the second half. Reus came on for Bender, so Großkreutz and Mkhitaryan played in front of Sahin in the midfield triangle.
Sahin lost the ball in the 58th minute in midfield. This allowed Hamburg to counter, and play a through ball to Lasogga, who shot past Weidenfeller. Hamburg's whole attack started from the midfielder putting pressure on the player in the hole. Hamburg were leading with two goals in a game where Dortmund have not found the antidote to the home team's defending. Mirko Slomka's gameplan was working perfectly.
Jürgen Klopp sent on Marvin Ducksch for the largely anonymous Robert Lewandowski in the 67th minute. Lewandowski didn't drift towards the wings often enough, which was really surprising considering how much success he had with this kind of movement in their previous game against Eintracht |Frankfurt, but also considering that he could almost get behind the Hamburg defence on the left wing after winning a long ball in the air.
Klopp was right when he said after the game "Mirko has given his team security and provided the required tactical system." Slomka praised the willingness of the Hamburg players to run and work hard while remaining disciplined. They were worthy winners of the game, however it remains to be seen if they can put in such performances every week. If they can, they should have no problems with staying up come the end of the season.
Dortmund were not playing to the best of their abilities. It is fair to say that the players were not on the top of their game, however Dortmund are having the same problems they had last season. They struggle to break down teams who sit back and give them the ball. Dortmund's strength is their ability to counter-attack, while their weakness remains their positional play against compact teams.
I would love to hear what would be the way forward for Dortmund in your opinion. How could they become more effective at positional play while keeping their effectiveness on the counter? Should they change the formation, the personnel, or interpret the same system differently? Have your say in the comments below!