Lucien Favre: Bringing the beautiful back to Borussia

With Lucien Favre’s Borussia Dortmund racing to the top of the Bundesliga standings, we take a look at what is on at the Signal Iduna Park.

A season to forget:

The 2017-18 season was a tale of two halves for Borussia Dortmund. The sad part is that the two halves were remarkably similar, not far from deja vu. Led by two coaches with a shared first name, Peter Bosz, followed by Peter Stoger, both of whom served more of the same in their eerily similar reigns.

With both coaches, Dortmund started well – going on an immediate upturn, followed by a plateauing of results and finally a downward spiral. Their records in the league were uncannily similar as well, with Bosz winning 6, drawing 4 and losing 5 while Stoger fared only marginally better – winning 9, drawing 6 and losing 4. The football on display wasn’t what the fans were used to, as they craved a return to the ‘heavy metal’ days of Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel with fast transitions creating goals almost in the blink of an eye.

New man in:

Enter Lucien Favre.

Not a coach everyone had heard of, but when have Dortmund ever been a club for high-profile appointments? Favre came in with a reputation for surpassing expectations, with the most recent of his success coming at fellow Bundesliga side Monchengladbach and French side Nice. Favre led Borrusia(the other one) to 4th, 8th and 3rd in his three exciting years with them. He then moved on to Nice, with some more beautiful football leading them to 3rd in his first season in charge, dropping off to 8th in his final year.

Clearly a man for instant impact(s).

Footballing philosophy:

But what exactly is Favre’s footballing philosophy and how are Dortmund doing this season?

Perhaps the most striking feature of Favre’s football is that it is – at least in theory, very distinct from the successful Dortmund sides of the recent past, namely Klopp’s ‘gegenpressing’ team. The attacking transitions are not as rapid as seen in Klopp’s devastating counter attacking units. Favre’s team instead look to build patiently from the back, looking for probing passes, taking their time to form patient passing sequences and combinations.

Key to his philosophy is playing out from the back and using a midfield number 6, one not afraid to carry the ball out from the back. Favre did not want to compromise on his midfield anchor and Borussia duly signed Belgium’s Axel Witsel in the summer. Indeed, Witsel has been key for them, starting all but one of their matches in the Bundesliga so far. He has the courage and the intelligence to link the midfield with the defence and is one of the first names on Favre’s teamsheets. With teams identifying Witsel as the anchor-man, it frees up space for the other midfielder – be it Weigl, Delaney, or Dahoud.

Upfront, the manager relies on fluidity from his attackers with positional interchange being key to them creating havoc in the opposition half. Favre is well known as a manager who does not like to overload players with instructions in attacking positions, instead wanting them to come up with solutions on their own.

Astute man-manager:

One of the most crucial aspects of Favre’s philosophy is his man-management. Remember, this is the man who not only tamed but also brought out the best of Mario Balotelli at Nice. Marco Reus, his protege back from his Monchengladbach days, is never shy in his praise of Favre. “He is a sensational coach,” said Reus upon switching Borussias from Gladbach to Dortmund in 2012. “He’s the person from whom I’ve learned the most in my career.” Reus adds. The young guns at Dortmund, most of all Sancho and Pulisic, are progressing well under him too, with Sancho in particular posting impressive statistics – 1 goal and 6 assists in only 220 minutes of football. The Spaniard Paco has given his coach a welcome headache as well, netting 6 goals in only 84 minutes of football played so far.

Dortmund are unique in the sense that they find themselves top even in the absence of a fixed attacking lineup. Marco Reus is the only constant in the attacking lineup with the remaining attackers often intertwined in a game of mix and match, though Maximilian Philipp is usually asked to lead the line. The remaining attackers  – Wolf, Paco, the young Sancho et al are all rotated at regular intervals, with each given adequate time on the pitch.  Favre’s management has been key to this rotation – with him being able to make each and every player feel important while at the same time always emphasizing the collective over the individual.

Conclusion:

In a nutshell, although it has only been 7 matches into the German season so far, Dortmund are sitting pretty – on top of both the Bundesliga as well as their Champions League group(2 matches in). Favre – prima facie a coach far removed from Dortmund’s traditional quick transition style has, in his own way quietly made himself at home in Signal Iduna Park, with thrillers such as the 4-3 against Augsburg in keeping with club tradition. Thus, while it is too early to draw conclusions so early into the season, one can only look at what’s in front of them.

On the face of it, Lucien Favre is a happy man and Dortmund is a happy place once again.

 

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