When Thomas Tuchel was appointed to succeed the iconic Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund it seemed to be a natural fit.
Tuchel is arriving from Mainz 05 – the same club that Klopp managed before he moved to Dortmund – and is widely regarded as one of the best young managers in Germany. What remains to be seen is how (if at all) he will change Dortmund’s attacking, quick passing style that has become synonymous with the club under Jurgen Klopp.
Tuchel, 41, will be dealing with a stronger squad than he had at Mainz, who finished 11th last season. This will inevitably give him more options in terms of playing styles, but it is still worthwhile to compare the style Dortmund played under Klopp to that Tuchel played at Mainz.
First it’s important to note that by almost every statistic other than the final table – in which they finished 7th – Dortmund were the second best team last season behind Bayern Munich.
Borussia Dortmund had the second most shots per game in the Bundesliga with 16.7 and they had the second fewest shots conceded per game with only 8.6. Their Total Shots Ratio – the ratio of shots a team takes relative to the number of shots they both take and concede – of 0.66 was the second best. They also spent the second highest amount of time in the opposition’s final third in the Bundesliga.
In all of these categories they trailed only Bayern Munich. So while last season may not be remembered as a vintage Dortmund season their underlying numbers were actually quite impressive and they played a style indicative of Klopp’s general approach.
When comparing playing styles it is important to adjust for possession. If a team has 65 percent possession per game than they will tend to have more of all types of passes than their opponents so it is difficult to compare purely stylistic differences. To adjust for this we use possession-adjusted numbers, which are the numbers of each type of pass a team would have made if they had averaged 50 percent possession in each game. This allows us to compare the types of passes teams are choosing to play as opposed to the raw numbers which are affected by how much of the ball a team has.
Since Tuchel was at Mainz two season ago his numbers are all from the 2013-14 Bundesliga season.
Last season Borussia Dortmund averaged 407 possession-adjusted short passes per game, the second most in the Bundesliga. Mainz 05 on the other hand averaged only 350 possession-adjusted short passes per game, the 14th most in the league. Already a significant stylistic difference between Dortmund’s quick passing attack under Klopp and Tuchel’s Mainz team.
Looking at long passes Mainz 05 had the most possession-adjusted long balls per game in the league with 83 and Dortmund had the third least with only 66 per game.
This seems to suggest that even if we take the possession differences out of the picture Tuchel and Klopp’s sides made very different choices in terms of pass selection.
Given these differences in approach it is interesting that Tuchel’s major offseason signing at Borussia Dortmund has been Gonzalo Castro, a deep lying midfielder from Bayer Leverkusen. Castro averaged 1.7 key passes – passes that lead to a shot – per 90 minutes last season and 0.4 assists per 90 minutes. Both decent attacking numbers for a deeper lying midfielder, but what his role under Tuchel will be remains to be seen.
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Despite all of these differences in terms of pass selection and attacking focus there is one similarity that sticks out between Mainz under Tuchel and Dortmund under Klopp. They were the top team in back to back seasons in the Bundesliga for catching opponents offside. Dortmund caught their opponents offside and average of 3.5 times per match, while Mainz the previous year averaged catching opponents offside 3.4 times per match.
Similar defensive approaches may prove to be useful for Tuchel in adapting to life at a new club. Especially since managers can often struggle implementing offside trap defenses at clubs that aren’t used to playing them (Andre Villas Boas’s high defensive line at Tottenham was a classic example of this).
What does it all mean for Thomas Tuchel as he enters life in the spotlight at Borussia Dortmund? Coming from a club playing a very different style than Dortmund may prove to be a challenge, but we can be sure that one of the storylines to watch this year in the Bundesliga will be whether Dortmund changes Tuchel or whether he changes the club.
Stats courtesy of Opta
Sam Gregory is soccer analytics writer based in Montreal. Follow him on Twittera