Maxence Lacroix and Erling Haaland pushed each other to impressive speeds when Wolfsburg played a Borussia Dortmund side with ten men. - © /
Maxence Lacroix and Erling Haaland pushed each other to impressive speeds when Wolfsburg played a Borussia Dortmund side with ten men. - © /

Average Positions: Trends – How Dortmund beat Wolfsburg with a man down

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In Simon Rolfes, the Bundesliga and its partner AWS have an expert who knows the Bundesliga from A to Z. Bayer 04 Leverkusen's Sporting Director, Rolfes wore Die Werkself's colours 288 times between 2005 and 2015, and represented Germany on 26 occasions. Rolfes is the ideal man to write a regular column for the 'Bundesliga Match Facts Zone' on bundesliga.com, analysing current trends and giving unique insight on the Bundesliga Match Facts.

This week, Simon Rolfes takes a look at Average Positions: Trends to explain how Borussia Dortmund were able to beat VfL Wolfsburg in a UEFA Champions League battle on Matchday 31, even after having a player sent off.

By Simon Rolfes

The Bundesliga Match Fact Average Positions: Trends is a perfect way to see how a team performs when they go a man down. A red card can often signal a turning point in a team's tactical approach to a game, and it can often change the course of a game. Sometimes, the team with ten men even manage to win, which makes Dortmund's win over Wolfsburg on Matchday 31 all the more interesting.

In this extremely important match, not least due to the two clubs' respective challenges for a place in next season's UEFA Champions League, became all the more complicated for Dortmund following the red card of Jude Bellingham for a second yellow card in the 59th minute. Fortunately for Dortmund coach Edin Terzic, his side were already leading 1-0 at this stage so he was afforded the opportunity to make more defensive changes

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While Dortmund had been playing with a 4-2-3-1 formation for the first hour, up to the red card, and exactly mirrored the tactics being used by Wolfsburg, Terzic quickly changed his side to a 4-4-1 formation following Bellingham's dismissal. He brought on Thomas Delaney (No6) to fill the void left by Bellingham (No22), sacrificing a more attack-minded player in Jadon Sancho (No7).

The defensive positions were therefore untouched, with just Erling Haaland (No9) left alone up front. That may seem like an unforgiving task for an attacker, but it was one Haaland relished last Saturday. With his physical strength and robust nature, he was still able to win key challenges, as the statistics confirm: with 18 tackles won, he was Dortmund's most successful tackler. Furthermore, he was able to put his renowned pace to good use, latching on well to long balls from his teammates. Wolfsburg, meanwhile, deployed Maxence Lacroix to keep a close eye on Haaland, and this led to an intriguing race for one ball in which Haaland hit the second-highest speed in the Bundesliga all season (22.36mph (35.99 km/h) – second only to his own record from Matchday 28) and Lacroix put his own name in the top four of that 2020/21 ranking by reaching 22.21mph (35.75 km/h).

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With Wolfsburg effectively forced to take the game to Dortmund, in an attempt to recover something from the game, and with BVB consequently pushed back deep into their own half, this opened up huge gaps for Haaland to exploit on the counterattack. The Norwegian was denied well by Wolfsburg goalkeeper Koen Casteels early in the second half, but there was nothing anybody could do to stop him in the 68th minute. After a long pass from Mahmoud Dahoud, Haaland was quicker than Lacroix and Co. even with the ball at his feet, and he tucked the ball in to make it 2-0.

With now a much more comfortable advantage established, yet still 20 minutes to be played, Terzic called for even more cover at the back. In the 80th minute, he sent Thomas Meunier (No24) on into a five-man defence. Despite Wolfsburg leading in the possession stakes with 53 per cent, and playing far more passes (455-405), Dortmund defended so cleverly that Wolfsburg were only ultimately able to get the last two of their 21 attempts on goal to hit the target.

That proved to be too little in the end, as Dortmund took all three points from just eight efforts on goal, and the final xG values of 1.38 to 1.46 confirmed the impression that Dortmund had actually been the more dangerous side, even playing for over half an hour with a man less.