Although we can easily see a 1-4-3-3 shape in the way Dortmund play, Marco Rose is a manager who very often changes his team’s formation depending on the opponent, but also on the phase of the match. He doesn’t shy away from playing three defenders at the back, fielding two strikers next to each other or finally narrower variants abandoning the classic wingers. By the way their shape in defence and attack varies so much that it is difficult to point to a constant and clear formation of this team throughout the season. Nevertheless, the best picture of Borussia’s game under Rose is the 1-4-2-3-1 formation.
They usually defend quite wide and this shape not only provides them with a good defensive second line, but also limits the natural tendency of their rivals to play wide when facing an overloaded midfield. The midfield when playing without the ball usually consists of three midfielders: one “6” (Witsel, Dahoud) to protect the midfield and “8” (Bellingham) and “10”(Reus) with the task of higher pressing. With the very active and necessary participation of the three strikers (or a striker and two wingers), the team presses from the centre of the pitch pushing their rivals outsides. In the first phase after losing the ball there is a quick and aggressive pressing to recover it. The wings are entrusted to the side defenders (Meunier, Guerreiro) who playing in the front line of pressure have the task of pressing the opponent’s defenders. Doubling up and isolating the forwards is handled exclusively by the central defenders as the midfielders, meanwhile, are tasked with overloading the centre of the pitch and supporting any overloads on the flanks. While the first line of pressure is tasked with receiving the ball as quickly as possible, the players positioned deeper merely close down space and block passing options.
When playing with three defenders Rose generally opts to play with two forwards, although this then causes overloads on their wings and requires extra work from the wing-backs, hence he probably does not hesitate sometimes to set the team up in a narrow 1-4-1-2-1-2 formation as well. In this formation they defend deeper, but in a tighter block, as the defenders are tasked with getting closer to the second line. On the wings the strikers, side defenders and central midfielders are then responsible for pressing and overloading these zones. A noticeable pattern is also the tight marking and pressing on the defensive midfield of the rivals by their offensive central midfielder (Reus), which is due to the fact that in the Bundesliga many teams use a pivot positioned deep. In Rose’s case, after all, more important than the formations themselves are the individual duties that make him better at positioning himself against rivals and harder to read, although the team’s structure and its cooperation in particular zones sometimes are broken.
Although in the first phase of the attack much depends on the fluidity and speed with which they are able to change their positions, even when the first attack fails, they do not move to deeper play but look for more progressive balls and penetration of the offensive third.
As they go higher they involve more and more players in the game with central midfielders attacking vertically in the half-spaces and side defenders wide rotations. Paradoxically both rarely receive the ball, but the team uses their rotations to create more space for offensive players (Brandt, Reus, Hazard, Malen). They love playing in tight zones and in small spaces.
Clearly Dortmund take advantage of the presence of Haaland, who being a constant and versatile threat to rival defenders is often isolated from the rest of the attacking team, but the constant movement of players without the ball and the entry of more partners into the offensive third mean that their striker, even isolated, can always count on a bit of free space, lost marking or space to win the high ball.