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Thomas Tuchel’s Juego de Posicio taking hold at Borussia Dortmund
Pep Guardiola is synonymous with Tiki-taka, the possession-based brand of football with which his legendary Barcelona team from 2008 to 2012 took the world by storm and led Vicente Del Bosque’s Spain to the 2010 World Cup. The approach still influences Barca and Spain’s present day-tactics, though both sides have evolved as the squads have changed.
In Germany, Guardiola has more recently distanced himself with the term for the extremist connotations it carries. Upon Guardiola’s exit from the Camp Nou in 2012, Barca lost some of their direction and began, as the Spaniard recounted in Marti Pernarau’s excellent biography, Pep Confidential, to “[pass] for the sake of it,” Tiquitaca. In his three year spell at Bayern Munich, Guardiola has transitioned to the more pragmatic, but less famous tactical concept: “Juego de Posicio.”
The style encompasses a more rigid structure and philosophy, seeking superiority in every part of the pitch. “I look at the footage of our opponents and then try to work out how to demolish them,” Guardiola said in Pep Confidential. Juego de Posicio is his means of doing so.
The basic idea is to split the pitch into zones (which Guardiola famously took very literally at Bayern’s training ground) and assign different tasks and positions for different players in each zone for both defensive and offensive situations. It’s meant to be versatile where Tiki-taka was not. When executed effectively, a team unit is capable of utter domination. The drawback is that it’s very hard to coach and requires a gifted group of players.
Perhaps the only other man in the Bundesliga who operates under a similar system is Thomas Tuchel, Jurgen Klopp’s replacement at Borussia Dortmund. Tuchel, a tall, slender figure, is underwhelming in front of the press compared to his charismatic predecessor, but fits right into Dortmund’s team-first ideology. Towards the end of his reign at Dortmund, Klopp’s presence overshadowed his team, and arguably contributed to his eventual departure to Liverpool.
Tuchel has added a new dynamic to Klopp’s “gegenpressing” philosophy: combination-play and buildup from the back. His system is based upon a 4-3-3 with a lone forward, two attacking central midfielders (one of which slides back into a double-pivot midfield duo in defense) and Julian Weigl usually rooting the midfield.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has shouldered the brunt of Dortmund’s goalscoring needs with his growing prowess, bagging twenty-four goals in all competitions so far — one fewer than his tally over the entirety of last season.
Of course, Dortmund are still deadly on the break and their vigorous pressing and aggression will always be with them. “We’ve internalized that in the past years,” Marco Reus told German magazine Kicker.
As Gabriele Marcotti wrote in ESPNFC: “Tuchel’s first months in charge have been a triumph of many small tweaks, on and off the pitch.” This is Juego de Posicio’s subtle but still very firm impact on the team.
Dortmund have transitioned to the new style almost seamlessly and now sit comfortably in second place in the Bundesliga, having defeated rival rivals VfL Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen. Their only hitches have been a 5-1 humiliation at top-of-the-table Bayern and a poor spell of form in the Europa League. Tuchel let a few aging squad members go, notably replacing Roman Weidenfeller with Roman Burki in goal, while adding a few younger players to the squad. Tellingly, Burki’s pass completion rate is in Dortmund’s top five so far this season in the league despite having a significantly longer average passing length than any of his teammates.
This is but a small indication of the all-encompassing effects of Tuchel’s management that often go unnoticed on the pitch. That is, until the titles start rolling in.
Homepage photo credit: Steffen Flor, via Wikipedia Commons