Champions League Tactical Analysis: Malaga vs Dortmund

Champions League action resumes this weekend and we focus on how Dortmund and Malaga will line up tactically when they face each other in Spain....

By Srinivasan Mohan

The Champions League quarter-finals this time around has a different look to it. A competition which always has a team from England has no representation from the Isles this time which is a sign that the other nations in Europe are well on the road to development in the prestigious tournament. With the PSG-Barcelona and Bayern Munich-Juventus games garnering maximum hype, the match between two teams who have belied their status to reach this stage of Europe’s premier club tournament is a story of dreams. Yes, we are referring to the game between Borussia Dortmund and Malaga. With both teams stringing together some remarkable performances in Europe, this match promises to be an exhibition on attacking football.

Reus/Gotze vs Isco –  a battle between Europe’s finest talents

Spain has always been a nation that seems to have an assembly line of talented footballers coming through year after year. However the 2010 World Cup saw the Germans showing the world the benefits of their restructured youth program. Players like Mario Gotze and Marco Reus have been anointed by the senior national side and form a devastating partnership for the Borussians. With 24 goals and 19 assists shared between them in all competitions, the duo has been a thorn in the side of every defense that they have encountered in the Champions League. What’s more they have troubled quality opposition like Real Madrid and Manchester City on both the home and away legs to prove that they are the real deal.

Dortmund's Awesome Twosome - Gotze and Reus

While the Germans can boast of Reus and Gotze, the Spaniards have arguably found a gem in their attacking playmaker Isco. The Valencia youth product has scored 13 times in 60 appearances for the Andalucians which makes him a credible threat to the Germans. With prolific dribbling skills, an equal eye for a pass and the goal, the 20-year old is well on the way to superstardom. Alongside fellow Spaniard Portillo the duo have struck a chord with each other to ensure that the Spaniards too have their own version of Gotze and Reus.

These talented youngsters resort to rapid interchange of positions and play neat little one-two's with the central striker to open up defences which is what that makes a them a threat from any position.

With both Jurgen Klopp and Manuel Pellegrini having instilled a possession-based philosophy into their clubs’ ranks, the battle between these diminutive young players will surely be a tussle worth watching.

Wing-backs and wing-men

With both Dortmund and Malaga employing the all-too-familiar 4-2-3-1 formation, the combination between the fullbacks and wide men is the area where both teams are strong at with the wing play accounting for over 70% of their attacks.


For Dortmund, Lukasz Piszczek  and Jakub ‘Kuba’ Blaszczykowski along with Marcel Schmelzer and Mario Gotze/Marco Reus are set to be the chief tormentors for the Malaga defence who are uncomfortable when players of such quality have a run at them. With pace in plenty the Germans are one of the masters in the art of counter-attacking football, an area where Malaga are often caught wanting.

Malaga on the other hand are known for using their right-flank a lot more than their left with the bombarding Jesus Gamez working in tandem with former Valencia and Spain international Joaquin Sanchez to carve defences open. With left-full back Nacho Monreal moving to Arsenal, Portuguese defender Antunes has to deputise in the role that his predecessor performed with aplomb. He will have to ensure that he stretches the play as often as he can to allow Isco space to work his magic.

Players Goals Assists
Piszczek-Kuba 12 15
Schmelzer-Reus-Gotze 20 20
Gamez-Joaquin 6 6
Antunes-Portillo-Isco 13 9

                             Contributions of both teams' widemen in La Liga and Champions League

Aerial Threat

The 4-2-3-1 formation requires that the target man be a player who is good aerially and also is capable of shooting with both feet. Robert Lewandowski is someone of this mould which has seen him being coveted by the likes of Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Chelsea. The 24-year old Pole has registered himself on the score sheet 20 times this season, winner of an average of 3 aerial duels per game and providing assists on 5 occasions as well which just goes to show what a versatile player the Germans have in their midst. His understanding with his countryman Kuba and fellow teammates Reus and Gotze makes them one of the most efficient frontlines in Europe. 

Dortmund's Smiling Assassin-Lewandowski

Felipe Santana may not be the best of defenders but he packs a punch with his headers as exhibited in the second leg against Shakhtar Donetsk during the Round of 16. The Brazilian along with his Serb partner Neven Subotic will be potent threats in the air during corners. With set-pieces being a key area of attack for the reigning Bundesliga champions, Lewandowski, Santana and Subotic will be players whom Pellegrini’s men will have to keep a hawk’s eye on.

However, this match has two teams that are nearly mirror images of each other. If Dortmund have Lewandowski, the Spaniards have their own frontman in Roque Santa Cruz. The Paraguayan who has seen Bundesliga action during his days with Bayern Munich is someone who is looking to put his Manchester City disaster behind him.

Though he has not been amongst the top goalscorers in the league like Lewandowski, Santa Cruz will be the aerial threat Pellegrini will turn to in order to trouble an arguably shaky Dortmund backline who look pedestrian without defender Mats Hummels. With an average of 3 aerial duel wins per game, the 31-year old striker looks to make amends for his career downturn in England.

Santa Cruz on the road to revival at Malaga

It is so coincidental that Malaga possess a centre-back pairing which is similar to the one Dortmund have now. Martin Demichelis was always a suspect defender while his partner Weligton is slightly better off while defending. With the Argentine having a tall frame which will be quintessential during corners, Malaga too have a presence when the ball is floated into the air. With Brazilian Felipe Santana not the most reliable of defenders aerially or on the ground, Santa Cruz, Demichelis and Weligton will be the trio that Dortmund have to find a way to keep under wraps.

Midfield Battle

When a team has so many talented players that are often in the news for their goalscoring exploits, one tends to forget the rest of the team that are equally important but more often than not shunted to the sidelines in terms of recognition. Dortmund’s midfield pairing of Sebastian Kehl and Ilkay Gundogan has developed into a fruitful partnership in the center of the pitch.

One was a former German international and the other is just taking his baby steps into the senior national team. With both equally adept at tackling and guarding their backline, the Germans’ double pivot will be instrumental in minimizing the influence of Isco and Joaquin on proceedings.

Malaga will have a similar task on their hands and will look to the duo of Jeremy Toulalan and Ignacio Camacho to shackle the likes of Reus and Gotze in order to disrupt their rhythym. In a system where there is a considerable amount of space between the wingmen and the fullbacks, the pivot has a huge task on its hands to keep the opposition at bay.

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