Gladbach 3-2 Bayern: wonky system proves tactical masterstroke in statement win

Borussia Mönchengladbach’s come-from-behind win against Bayern Munich was a statement victory that could just revitalise their league campaign. Gladbach fans would have been forgiven for feeling a sense of resignation when they fell two goals behind in a six minute first-half spell against the best team in Europe. But the unlucky way in which they fell behind shouldn’t distract from what was a very intelligent – and slightly wonky – tactical set-up, which targeted Bayern’s weakness on their right-hand side and resulted in a rousing Gladbach comeback.

The system focussed around two key individuals. There was naturally a lot of attention given to the absence of Marcus Thuram and Alassane Pléa, and when Bayern raced ahead, it was hard to see a way back for Die Fohlen without that duo. But it was another pair who defined this game for Gladbach. Jonas Hofmann and Denis Zakaria had not started a game together this season before this match, but it was the inclusion of both in the starting eleven for the first time which allowed Gladbach to play an asymmetric – and highly unorthodox – system, which paid off brilliantly.

It sometimes looked like a 4-4-2. It sometimes looked like a 4-3-3. What was for sure was that Hofmann was on the left, and Zakaria was on the right. While Hofmann would push up against the Bayern backline, both when they were in possession to lead a press, and also to get involved in attacks, Zakaria was much more conservative, usually tucking in level with the central midfield pairing of Florian Neuhaus and Christoph Kramer.

This, within the first minute, shows the setup well.

But it was not the case that it was one shape out of possession, and one shape in possession, because if Bayern played past the press and had the ball in the middle third, Hofmann quickly dropped back to form a bank of four with the rest of the midfield, as shown here, leaving Lars Stindl and Breel Embolo looking like a conventional front two.

This quirky set-up is facilitated by Hofmann’s pretty particular skill set. As Abel Meszaros puts it, he is expert at “backwards pressing”.

That means he can spend a lot of time positioned higher up the pitch, in the left-wing slot, and Gladbach still maintain a compact defensive shape, all thanks to his defensive work-rate.

The purpose of this asymmetric system was to contain Bayern’s strengths and exploit their weaknesses. While forcing turnovers high up the pitch is one aim, a team with Bayern’s qualities will often find an out-ball, so channelling play is also important. Alphonso Davies at left-back has not been as explosive as last year, but poses much more of a threat than Benjamin Pavard at right-back, who was hooked at half-time against Mainz last week after an underwhelming showing. Joshua Kimmich often dropped back to split the centre-backs, meaning that Hofmann would also press up against Niklas Süle, a player much less comfortable on the ball than his defensive partner David Alaba.

Gladbach’s set-up did often leave space on their left flank, in behind Hofmann, and thus would leave Pavard free, at least for a moment. That made Pavard the more natural out-ball, compared to Davies, who always had Zakaria in front of him. Gladbach bet that by leaving Pavard free, they could channel play his direction. Of all Bayern’s players, he was the least likely to cause them problems, and even if he had a little time on the ball, it was never long, thanks to Hofmann’s backwards pressing.

That all seems a little complicated, given it results in the endpoint of Hofmann closing down Pavard. Why didn’t he just sit off in the bank of four, stand in front of Pavard, and close in down in a regular way? It would have certainly saved him some energy, but there are two good reasons.

Firstly, unless Gladbach’s tactics forced the ball out towards Pavard, Bayern likely would have directed more play out towards Davies, and probably threatened more often from the left. As it was, Stevie Lainer (18) and Zakaria (8) were close together, and clogging up that flank, compared to Ramy Bensebaini (25), who, on the face of it, had to cover more space by himself (until Hofmann made up the ground to help out). As such, Bayern directed more play down the right, as you can see. (Thanks WhoScored for these graphics. Gladbach player’s average position is on the left. On the right, Bayern’s attack sides are on top, with shot directions on the bottom)

The second reason helps explain the comeback. We’ve focussed so far on the assumption that Bayern, as a good team, usually beat the press. But Gladbach tested them to the limit, and in positioning Hofmann high up, he was able to pick on the weak links of Pavard and Süle – not only to channel play into areas of relative safety, but to counterpunch. If his backwards pressing helped Gladbach keep their shape, it was his forwards pressing which led to Gladbach’s key breakthroughs.

In the build up to the first goal, it’s worth considering what didn’t happen, as well as what did. Bayern did not build an attack from the left. Thirty seconds before Hofmann scores, Bayern are knocking it about the back and the ball is played to Davies. He is confronted with Zakaria, who contains him. He doesn’t dive in and give Davies the option of dribbling around him, and he doesn’t press overly aggressively. But Davies has nowhere to go but backwards.

A few seconds later, the ball is worked to the other side. Kimmich hasn’t dropped in between the centrebacks, and so Hofmann can press directly onto Pavard. The trap is set. He goes in aggressively, knowing that Pavard is not going to dribble past him in the way Davies might.

Pavard instead chips a poor quality ball to Sane, and Bensebaini completes his part of the press, forcing a turnover. Hofmann then shows the other side of his game, working the ball well with Neuhaus and then getting on his bike to exploit the left channel, blazing past the flat-footed Süle, taking the lovely ball from Stindl and slotting home.

Ironically, Zakaria was right up there with Hofmann to sprint in on goal, but in general, he did not offer the attacking outlet Hofmann did, demonstrated clearly in the second goal, where Hofmann caught Süle flat-footed the other direction as the centre-back stepped up too slowly and the Gladbach man beat the offside trap to convert another one-on-one, assisted beautifully once more by Stindl.

For the third goal, again Bayern try and work it up the right. Again Hofmann presses aggressively, this time intercepting the pass from Süle to Pavard. Süle then fails to close Hofmann down on the edge of the box, and he slips in Neuhaus who curls home beautifully.

Aside from a freakish penalty for handball, which Gladbach’s own Twitter admin attributed to a Neuhaus “brain fart”, and a well taken long-range shot from Goretzka from Bayern’s own counterpunch, where an unsighted Sommer was caught cold, Bayern did not create much. Their best moments came from Gladbach’s own struggles playing out from the back, rather than Bayern’s success in building up attacks from deep. And though Bayern had 67% possession, Sommer had very little to do, and, taking out the bizarre penalty, an xG of only about 0.6.

Gladbach did not get many chances themselves, and had to take them when they came. That goes without saying when you face a world-class team like Bayern Munich. But the system that Marco Rose and his team came up with made sure to limited Bayern’s own chances, keep Gladbach compact, exploit Bayern’s weaknesses and counterpunch in a way that meant helped create relatively high quality openings for the team. Rose has now beaten Hansi Flick’s Bayern twice, and after failing to beat Dortmund, Leverkusen, Wolfsburg or Union Berlin, such a positive result against the best team in the country will hopefully reignite Gladbach’s challenge for the European places.

Schampagne Football and the return of the Zak

Two games in four days vs Shakhtar and Schalke, and Gladbach produced composed and efficient displays in both, scoring eight and conceding just one. When the schedule is tightly packed as it is this season, it makes a difference that both games were at Borussia-Park – saving a bit on travel and tiredness – and having stuttered so often in games at home, it was important to take advantage.

Gladbach had reason to fancy themselves in both games. Having beaten Shakhtar Donetsk 6-0 in Kyiv, they knew they had the measure of the Ukrainians, and they picked up where they left off, with a penalty from Lars Stindl, a regulation header from Nico Elvedi and a very nifty bicycle kick from Breel Embolo putting Gladbach out of reach before half-time.

Shakhtar themselves are a model of how far (enforced) squad rotation can take you in the age of COVID, and also its limits. They shocked the European football world with their win against Real in Madrid on the first Champions League matchday, which came when they were missing a team’s worth of players to COVID-19.

But in the two games against Gladbach, they were understandably off the pace, and second best. In the first game Gladbach overwhelmed them with their intensity with and without the ball, and it was more of the same on Wednesday. Donetsk’s threadbare squad had given what they had to give, and were still out of the game by half time.

This game contained a valuable lesson for squad management, in that it’s easier to rotate a squad – both between games and within games – from a position of strength. Coach Marco Rose could therefore give needed minutes to Denis Zakaria and Laszlo Benes – and even give Ibrahima Traore a run-out – with the game secure. There is decent squad depth to Gladbach, but some of the disappointing results, especially the home draws in the league, have come from either trying to rest first-teamers before the game is won, or failing to get a hold of the game with a second string line-up.

Gladbach have had no problems producing strong performances in the Champion’s League – it is in the Bundesliga where sluggishness creeps in. And against Schalke, it did take them a moment to grasp hold of the game. But the midfield double pivot of Zakaria and Florian Neuhaus asserted itself, and is surely one of the best midfield partnerships in the league. Zakaria’s challenge in midfield in the build-up to the first goal is what he is all about: making a decisive intervention and getting the team going in the right direction. And of course Neuhaus, with his uncanny ability to arrive at the edge of the box at the right time, was in position to squeeze in the rebound. Neuhaus also picked out the pass for the onrushing Oscar Wendt to slot home the second goal. At the start of the season no-one could have expected Wendt to start two games in a week, let alone score in both, though there was more than a hint of fortune about the free-kick which wormed his way in against Shakhtar. But with Ramy Bensebaini out, the Schalke goal was a clearer demonstration of what Wendt can still contribute to a Rose team – intelligent attacking runs and energy to get into the box and make things happen, from an offensive perspective.

An unfamiliar face playing in the other full-back role was less convincing. Valentino Lazaro has impressed in his first displays for Gladbach, but looked ropey at right-back, picking up a yellow a rash challenge in a dangerous area which Mark Uth nearly scored from. But again, Rose was able to rotate from a position of strength, replacing Lazaro with Stevie Lainer in the second half and Zakaria with Christoph Kramer. Kramer has had a good season but Zakaria’s return will help him to contribute in the way he can best: as a sub to see games out and a starter in relief of players who need a break, rather than as a player who has to play twice a week all season.

If Gladbach had taken anything less than 6 points from these two games, questions would have been asked. However, just because maximum points were expected, it doesn’t mean the coach and players shouldn’t get credit for delivering in such a convincing manner – especially when fans a quick to jump on supbar performances in the Bundesliga that have led to six points dropped at home so far this season. It feels like Zakaria in particular will make a huge difference in giving the team the stability to produce more consistently in Europe and domestically, and hopefully these two games were the ideal way to build up his fitness ahead of Tuesday’s key match-up against Inter.

Leverkusen to Augsburg: no rest for the weary

Gladbach’s performance in the 4-3 loss to Bayer Leverkusen on the Sunday before the international break was that of a team playing their seventh game in 22 days. A team that needed a break. They kept on taking the lead, but never really felt able to cope with Leon Bailey’s pace, directness and uncharacteristic effectiveness on the wing, and with Lucas Alario providing a focal point for Leverkusen’s attack, it was only a matter of time before they asserted themselves on a Gladbach team that looked somewhat spent. After such close games against Inter and Real Madrid, a win against RB Leipzig and the thrashing of Shakhtar, Gladbach felt due an off-day, and did well to eventually make the score as close as it was, courtesy of some magic from Valentino Lazaro. They were also due a rest.

Officially sexy goal

However, this is 2020, and there is no such thing as a refreshing break this year. Reigning player of the month Jonas Hofmann picked up a muscle injury with Germany which will rule him out until January, while Ramy Bensebaini helped Algeria qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations, and then tested positive for COVID-19. In a cruelly ironic twist, Alassane Pléa, who was overlooked by France for a call up, nevertheless contracted COVID at home, while Marcus Thuram, who had a tremendously successful international break by 2020 standards, featured in three games over the two weeks, which will contribute to his fatigue if nothing else. Shout-out to the Swiss contingent, though. Nico Elvedi thoughtfully got sent off against Spain, to save himself an extra game, though positive tests in the Ukraine game resulted in that one getting cancelled – an inevitable consequence of trying to keep international games going during a global pandemic, and they’ll have to try and find a time to play that game in the packed schedule that is 20/21.

All of which meant that the starting line-up against Augsburg was hardly full strength. Coach Marco Rose has made a bit of a theme of giving the likes of Hannes Wolf, Patrick Herrmann and Oscar Wendt game-time in the league, rotating players out to save the form Champions League football. With Shakhtar visiting on Wednesday again already, that will have been one motivating factor behind resting the likes of Thuram, but if Wendt, say, has to play twice a week while Bensebaini self-isolates, that could present issues for the 35-year-old. Rose will have held his breath when Caligiuri trod on Wendt’s foot in the first half.

While the injury list is piling up, at least the return of long-term absentees could provide welcome respite. Lazaro’s best contribution in a Gladbach shirt came in the final minute of the Leverkusen game, and he will presumably be called upon more now that Hofmann is out for the forseeable. Denis Zakaria was on the bench against Augsburg, making a brief appearance at the end, and will make a real difference when he’s back to full fitness. Laszlo Benes could contribute too.

For the meantime, the B Team (B for Bundesliga, of course) acquitted themselves well against Augsburg. The game was open, maybe too open for Rose’s liking, but Augsburg are no slouches, and given that fact, Florian Niederlechner was kept quiet. A fellow Florian, Neuhaus, did well to power home an opener after a bit of a broken play five minutes in, and his midfield partner Christoph Kramer did a fantastic job breaking up play. The story on the wings was a bit different. Herrmann looked rusty, while Wolf was unlucky not to get more freekicks for various times he was kicked, limiting Gladbach’s production from the wing.

Breel Embolo led the line with energy, and both could have done better in a one-on one on sixty minutes, and also was unlucky to see his effort barely saved onto the post. Embolo looked to be played in again but tripped by Raphael Framberger, who received a second yellow card just fifteen minutes after coming on. Augsburg, who had been offering less in the second half, nearly equalised when Rami Khedira was smartly stopped by Yann Sommer, but Gladbach increasingly dominated possession. A lovely team move set Embolo through again, but his chip was saved and somehow he put the rebound into the side-netting. That Rose could replace Lars Stindl and Herrmann with Thuram and Lazaro shows the depth there still is in the squad.

But then the sickener. A goalmouth scramble fell to Daniel Caligiuri, who caught the the volley well, it caught Wendt in the midriff, and wrong-footed Sommer. Union Berlin. Wolfsburg. Real Madrid. Another home game, another late equaliser conceded. The international break provided a pause in the club football calendar, but no respite, and unfortunately the chance for a Bundesliga reset came and went.

Shakhtar 0-6 Gladbach: Pléa takes charge as BMG’s cup overflows

Shakhtar Donetsk : (4-2-3-1) Trubin; Kornilenko, Khocholava, Bondar, Dodo; Marcos Antonio, Barberan; Solomon, Marlos, Tete; Taison

Gladbach: (4-2-3-1) Sommer; Bensebaini, Ginter, Elvedi, Lainer; Kramer, Neuhaus; Thuram, Stindl, Hofmann; Pléa

In short

This was a phenomenal performance and a historic night for Gladbach. It was only their third win of the Champions League era in the competition, but what a win it was to leapfrog the group leaders and take charge of Group B. One view is that a depleted Shakhtar side made life easy for Gladbach, and they did, but this team beat Real and held Inter with similar numbers of second-stringers in their line-up, so it doesn’t quite explain how well Gladbach played. BMG started brilliantly, with intensity both in attack and in the press when they lost the ball, and they only went from strength to strength from there.

Marco Rose went with the starting line-up that impressed against Real, and things started to click in attack straight away. Florian Neuhaus had plenty of time to find Stevie Lainer in acres of space down the right, who centred for Alassane Pléa to make it 1-0. There were similar gaps on the left, exploited by Pléa to lay the groundwork for the second goal. It wasn’t rushed: his intelligent hold up play helped to work the ball to Kramer, whose deflected shot squirmed past Trubin in goal.

Good work by Thuram and Stindl on the left led to an almost carbon copy chance for Pléa, and the Frenchman’s strike was a lot sweeter than Kramer’s, flying into the top corner for the third of the night. Ramy Bensebaini scrambled in a fourth from a corner – all before half time.

Shakhtar didn’t commit a foul in the first half and Khocholava got a yellow within a minute of the second, illustrating the message that coach Luis Castro had imparted on his players during the break. But, though the intensity let up a little, Gladbach kept winning the ball up the pitch, and Stindl got in on the act with a smartly taken finish. Pléa nabbed his third, and Gladbach’s sixth, and Shakhtar had nothing left. By the time Marco Rose sent on the B team for the last ten minutes, Gladbach had already made a massive statement and secured a huge win to take them top of the group.

Pléa of the match

An utterly fantastic display from Alassane Pléa here, of course, and one which demonstrated his full range of strengths. The first goal was in one sense a classic poacher’s finish but with a special Lasso twist – his run was not one of a striker leading the line in the traditional sense, but one from the deeper areas that he so loves to operate in. The second goal showed why he loves to drop deep, because he is a top-class finisher with a underrated ability to score from distance.

A very nifty flick from Lasso provided the assist for the Lars Stindl, who made it five, and Pléa rounded off the scoring by completing his hat-trick. He showed great awareness as a striker who can indeed lead a line in a conventional sense, doing brilliantly to check his initial run and somehow stay onside to finish. He seemed to think he was offside, but professionally finished the chance anyway, and a quick VAR review handed him the match ball.

Pléa is both a very intelligent forward who can drop into space and link with the midfield, and also just a brilliant finisher. Sometimes the fact that he does all the other things so well distracts from how well he can finish, but not tonight, as he bagged Gladbach’s first hat-trick in Europe’s top competition since Jupp Heynckes in 1975.

Full-back to front

Shakhtar played with the deadly combination of a high line and zero pressure on the ball which was fatal for their chances in this game. A screen grab of every single time Gladbach were able to get in behind on the flanks would crash my computer, so will leave it at just the one.

A big part of Gladbach’s system is very attacking full-backs, who look to get forward where possible. Stevie Lainer and Bensebaini have brilliant work-rates, meaning they can join the attack with abandon without necessarily sacrificing too much the other way. That was on display on Tuesday night, as was poor positional play from their opposite numbers.

Shakhtar left-back Kornilenko tended to tuck in, leaving so much room on his outside for Gladbach to exploit. Jonas Hofmann at right wing often looked to stretch the play, but so did Lainer. For the first goal, Hofmann drifts inside, which might explain why Kornilenko stays narrow, but Donetsk had other players central so there is no excuse for the space he gives Lainer. Maybe he thinks he has the run on Lainer in a foot-race, but if he thinks that, he’s mistaken.

There is no pressure at all on Neuhaus when he makes the pass to Lainer on the right, no pressure on Lainer as he crosses, and no pressure on Pléa when he slots home. Another aspect of Hofmann’s run is that he is the most advanced player in the centre, helping to create space for Pléa’s late run.

The space in behind for the second goal was created because – not only is the line high, but Dodo is such an attacking fullback, he has pushed on further, and is caught out on the turnover, which lets Pléa bring the ball forward and work it via Stindl to Kramer. For the third goal, again Thuram needs to be patient, owing to Dodo’s recovery pace, but that Gladbach not only got in behind, but could then reset and attack in a more considered way when the pace of the game had slowed, is really encouraging.

Bensebaini’s role is different to Lainer – he can overlap when needed, but he can also tuck in to be an option in possession, especially when Thuram is the one stretching the play. Given the counter threat Dodo theoretically posed, Bensebaini did not need to show all his attacking range once Gladbach took a commanding lead, but he tackled well and his overall performance was rewarded with a goal.

This game will go down in history for all the right reasons for Gladbach. After spurning late leads against Inter and Real, it was easy to go into this game seeing the cup as being half-empty, even if draws against those two teams are more than respectable as results. Now, the cup is not just half-full, it’s overflowing, and Gladbach are in an unbelievable situation half-way through the group stage, heading up the Group of Death.

Gladbach 1-0 RB Leipzig: hard work pays off

Gladbach: (4-2-3-1) Sommer; Bensebaini, Ginter, Elvedi, Lainer; Hofmann, Neuhaus; Wolf, Embolo, Herrmann; Pléa

RB Leipzig : (4-2-2-2) Gulácsi; Angelino, Upamecano, Orban, Heinrichs; Kampl, Sabitzer; Samardžić, Olmo; Sørloth, Poulsen

In short

There was a lot of anticipation ahead of this one, and an extra frisson given that Borussia Mönchengladbach have never beaten RB Leipzig, at home or otherwise, and given, well, it’s RB Leipzig. Perhaps it was no surprise that this was the home game where Gladbach wheeled out their 120 anniversary kit, in a not-so-subtle dig at their opponents.

The game didn’t quite live up to it, and definitely had the vibe of two teams stung by the events of the midweek in the Champions League, wanting to compose themselves ahead of next week in the Champions League, and needing a bit of a moment of respite in between, which the fixture list didn’t provide. The first half was scrappy with few goalscoring chances, though Leipzig’s very flexible shape, with Sabitzer moving up on the right to create a 4-1-3-2, was interesting to keep an eye on.

With both teams rotating key personnel, any result here was going to have to be ground out through attritional play. Fans of narrative will enjoy that Hannes Wolf – on loan from RB Leipzig – got the go ahead goal, and this time Gladbach showed a resolute defence to actually defend a late lead. Though sometimes Gladbach’s best performances haven’t been rewarded with full points, this felt like a statement game of the team’s ability to go toe to toe with anyone in the Bundesliga and get a win, even with a heavily rotated team and some stars, like Marcus Thuram, benched. Exactly the right result at exactly the right time for Marco Rose.

Wolf at the door

What a rollercoaster week for Hannes Wolf. Having contributed in a small way to the comeback against Mainz last weekend, he contributed in a bigger way to the last minute collapse against Real Madrid, and it seemed that his integration into the team had hit another roadblock. Credit then to coach Rose, who perhaps sensed that throwing Wolf on for 10 minutes here and there isn’t going to be the way to build up a players confidence. So the decision to start him in an unfamiliar berth out wide on the left was a bold one, and one for which Rose was rewarded.

Wolf won’t get everything all right all of the time, but he is the sort of player who tries things. When those things are silly flicks to no-one in the final stages versus Real Madrid, that can cause frustration. But he really offers something different in the Gladbach attack, a subtle touch which prospers better when it has more time and space to operate, and more minutes of a game to work in. So even though there was an early chance where he tried to beat an extra man rather than taking the shot, he got his chance at redemption just before the hour-mark, where he slotted home from Herrmann’s clever layoff, on his weaker right foot.

Something else that was notable about his performance was his work rate. He has a slightly odd, upright running style, which can make him look stilted in the press, but he did a very good job of getting into Leipzig’s faces on Saturday. Not only is that essential for Rose’s system, but it makes any turnovers more forgiveable if he’s prepared to work to get the ball back. And when he tries something and it does come off, boy that makes for a special moment.

Left bereft

With Thuram rested but Rose switching back to a back four (compared to last league game against Mainz, where Thuram also didn’t start but there were wingbacks), it posed the puzzle of – who would play on the left. It turned out to be Wolf who, as discussed, did very well. He was very happy to drift infield and let Ramy Bensebaini overlap, suiting both their games.

Sometimes, especially in the second half, Alassane Pléa would pull over to the left, a channel he likes to operate in and perhaps has more experience of compared to Wolf. After such a stodgy first half, this helped Pléa get into the game, and indeed, it was such movement which let him put in the initial ball for Wolf’s goal – the Austrian having of course taken up the central position. Pléa’s connection when shooting wasn’t always there but he looked good and the one shot he did get hold of, he was unlucky to see it bounce off the woodwork.

Wolf likes to cut in from wide positions, normally as an inverted winger from the right. But if he as this understanding with Pléa, giving them the flexibility to form a more fluid frontline, as if he actually has a right foot, as he proved on the goal, then he might be able to provide an effective rotation option for Thuram, given that the right wing is already packed with depth. The ability to play left, right or centre will only help him get game time and further match rhythm.

Defensive sense

A clean sheet! A clean sheet. A one goal lead defended in the final seconds. This will be music to any Gladbach fans ears, and all the more welcome – and unexpected – given Nico Elvedi went off at half time with a muscle issue. Elvedi and Matthias Ginter have not gotten the reward they deserve for individually impressive performances that have somehow managed to translate into a collectively leaky defence for Gladbach so far this season. Bensebaini was impressive in replacing Elvedi in the centre of defence, and that gives Rose options in terms of how to format the side if Elvedi is going to miss any amount of time.

RB Leipzig had fifteen shots to Gladbach’s five but only three on target, the same as Gladbach, and only edged Gladbach on the xG by 0.70 to 0.62. That speaks to a resolute collective defensive effort from the front back by BMG, and one which restricted Leipzig’s ability to create clear chances – their highest xG shot was just 0.12 by metrics. It always feels good when hard work is rewarded, and that made Saturday a very satisfying night for Marco Rose and the Foals.

Analysis: Gladbach 2-2 Real: BMG’s left, Madrid’s right

Football is a game of perspectives. Your team’s attack is the opposition’s defence. Your left is their right. A last minute collapse is also a stirring comeback. And for Borussia Mönchengladbach, one point gained against record European Champions Real Madrid was also two points dropped, at home, for a side winning 2-0 with three minutes to go. 

There was a lot to process after Tuesday night’s game, and the 2-2 draw against Real Madrid had many of the same attributes of the game against Inter. On chances created, Gladbach’s opponents would probably feel hard done by not to have won, let alone if they had lost. On the other, Marco Rose’s Foals again blew a late lead. Whatever your perspective, it’s another game where no-one really goes home happy. 

Both sides of the story were told on one side of the pitch. When the teamsheets landed, one thing immediately jumped out from a Real perspective. With Dani Carvajal and Nacho Fernandez both out, Ferland Mendy on the left and Marcelo on the bench. Lucas Vazquez was playing right-back. Naturally a winger, Vazquez was going to be tasked with containing Thuram, which is a hard task for anyone. Thuram’s quick feet and ability to get into the box has already drawn penalties against both Inter and Wolfsburg, and the idea of pitching him against a non-specialist gave fans reasons to hope. However, Vazquez himself can offer a winger’s quality in attack. With Karim Benzema instructing left back Ferland Mendy not to pass to left-winger Vinicius Junior, it was clear on which flank this game was going to be defined: Gladbach’s left, Real’s right.

Attack vs attack

In the first minute, Ramos sprays the ball over the Vazquez, who has got up ahead of Thuram. Though Thuram recovers his position initially, in the second image you can see that he gets drawn to the ball, allowing Vazquez to run on again, eventually resulting in a harmless cross from Karim Benzema.

That set a pattern of play for the game. The match-up was even more interesting as Vazquez looked to give Madrid width (left-footer Marco Asensio cutting inside ahead of him) while Thuram looked to drift infield himself. Here you can see in the first image, Stevie Lainer makes a good interception and Thuram is in a lot of space. But by the second, the play has broken down again, Real have regained the ball and Ramy Bensebaini is having to close down Vazquez, drawing him up the pitch…

…and leaving space in behind. Interestingly, it is once more the nominally central striker Benzema who makes the run to exploit the space. Elvedi covers him well Bensebaini drops back centrally, giving Gladbach a bit more shape defensively. But it is Vazquez who provides the overlap and the overload, getting a cross in which eventually results in a Toni Kroos shot that is well saved by Yann Sommer.

Obviously, while Thuram did not track Vazquez in that example, the Spaniard’s own defensive deficiencies – and Thuram’s ability to exploit them – counted for more in the first half. Here we see Hofmann win the ball back in a similar position to Lainer earlier, and Vazquez is wider than Thuram. Credit to the makeshift right-back, he realises he has to cover Thuram and tucks in accordingly, as the ball pinballs around the midfield somewhat.

However, while he is trying to do his defensive duties, his overall lack of awareness lets him down. Vazquez actually overcompensates, and gets caught too narrow. Thuram uncharacteristically makes a run on his outside, and Vazquez, caught watching the ball, can’t get close enough to either Pléa’s magical pass or to the ball, and Thuram finishes magnificently. It’s a brilliant goal that should be treated as such, but one wonders whether Carvajal, say, would have let such a thing happen.

Before the half was out, good play between Vazquez and Valverde created a chance for Asensio. Thuram was helping out defensively, but it was just another example of how having a winger playing right back (whose offensive awareness is greater than his defensive acumen) can help create overloads.

For his part, within a minute of the second half starting, Thuram picked the ball up in his own half, ran at and beat Vazquez one-on-one before just overrunning the ball before he could centre. Both sides therefore backed their attackers on Gladbach’s left, or Real’s right.

For Thuram’s second, he picked up the ball in his own half and drove centrally, spreading the ball to Lainer. Responsibility for this goal lies with the other fullback Mendy – firstly, for not closing down Lainer cross, but more criminally, not pushing back out. Although Vazquez with his centre-backs was statuesque when the rebound popped to Thuram, the thought that he was probably offside was a reasonable one, were in not for Mendy’s laziness.

Overload, overwhelmed

When Thuram was withdrawn after the 70th minute, Jonas Hofmann came to his side in a bid to secure that flank against Vazquez, and to let Patrick Herrmann play in his natural position on the right-hand side. But as the game went on, he was drawn deeper and narrower. For the first goal, there is an element of luck for Real Madrid. The ball comes in from the right after play between Modric, Rodrygo, and yes, Vazquez, but the cross from Valverde when it comes looks mishit, and so nearly drifts out of play before Casemiro knocks it back across for Benzema to score.

With one goal back, all Gladbach fans feared the worse. The replacements for Lars Stindl and Alassane Pléa – Breel Embolo but especially Hannes Wolf – were unable to retain the ball high up the pitch and take pressure off their team, and with Sergio Ramos playing as an auxiliary striker, there was a sense of inevitability to the goal. But at this stage, it wasn’t only Ramos playing as an extra attacker. It was the natural forward at right-back, Vazquez, too. As Gladbach were offering ever less of a threat down the left hand side, he could push on with greater impunity. In the scenario below, Vazquez faces Hofmann up, Embolo thinks he’s helping by joining him to close down, but in fact, it leaves Modric free to play the ball in, for Sergio Ramos to knock it back to Casemiro to turn in an almost carbon copy goal.

In the end, playing an attacker at right-back gave Real the extra man they needed to create the overloads which got them back into the game.

Gladbach took a seemingly commanding lead thanks to the situation on their left flank. But they lost because of what was happening on Real’s right.

Mainz 2-3 Gladbach: all’s well that ends well

Mainz: (4-2-3-1) Zentner; Brosinski, Niakhate, Killian, St. Juste; Kunde, Latza; Quaison, Boetius, Oztunzali; Mateta

Gladbach: (3-4-1-2) Sommer; Jantschke, Ginter, Elvedi; Wendt, Kramer, Reitz, Lainer; Stindl, Embolo, Herrmann

In short

Seven games in 22 days, and this was meant to be the easy one. With squad freshness in mind, coach Marco Rose rung the changes for Borussia Mönchengladbach, making five changes from midweek and also switching system to play with a back three. But, as they say, there are no easy games at this level, and early hopes of easing to a straightforward win were dashed, when a Mateta double overturned Lars Stindl’s opener. Aside from debutant Rocco Reitz, who looked assured in central midfield, the Gladbach B team were not bringing their A game.

Rose did not wait long into the second half to start making changes, with the introduction of Alassane Pléa and Marcus Thuram heralding a return to 4-2-3-1 within ten minutes, and quickly followed by Jonas Hofmann and Florian Neuhaus, who came on in the 60th minute. Mainz did not make life easy, and with Zentner uncharacteristically in-form against the Foals and Niakhate making a spectacular goal-line clearance from an Embolo chance, it seemed like Gladbach were going to slump to another disappointing result in the Bundesliga. However, when Niakhate was adjudged to have blocked another goal-bound shot from Thuram with his arm, Hofmann took his chance to equalise from the spot, and he also got his fourth assist of the season with his corner for a Matthias Ginter header. Gladbach – used to conceding late goals from corners themselves this season – thus rescued all three points from the game to pick up their second win in five league games.

Changing your Mainz

Scrutiny of course will fall on Rose for the extent of the changes he made for this game. Gladbach’s slow start could easily be seen as proof that BMG don’t have the depth to compete on two fronts, and rotating the team in the league risks dropping vital points against beatable opposition. Gladbach got away with it this time, but the sad fact is that getting into the Champions League via a top-four finish must be a higher priority than the games Gladbach play in Europe once they’re there.

A more optimistic view is this: Gladbach both got all the points while giving their stars a rest, and though they all featured versus Mainz, playing just 30 minutes rather than playing 90 or even 60 could make all the difference against Real Madrid on Tuesday. Rose can’t expect the reserve players to be up to speed if he doesn’t trust them, and a slow start against Mainz doesn’t mean that the players who played won’t have benefited from the minutes in their legs.

Rotating personnel can be understood, then, but the switch in system could have been the cause of more problems. While a back three last time out against Inter could have helped Gladbach contain two centre forwards, against Mainz, it looked overly conservative. If wingbacks push up and the team dominates possession, an extra centre-back does not necessarily translate to a more defensive mindset, but when that centreback is someone like Tony Jantschke, rather than more of a ball-playing defender, then it looks cautious. Against weaker teams, Bensebaini could slot in as a ball-playing left centre-back, and help control things. But as it was, the system didn’t help Gladbach’s possession play, and also wasn’t very defensively secure, with the extra bodies looking disorganised as they were unable to stop Mateta bagging his brace. Maybe Rose has decided that Wendt is better as a LWB rather than a LB (though he played as a full-back against Wolfsburg) and therefore to give Bensebaini a rest it needed a system change. But with fewer bodies higher up the pitch, the back three seemed to invite pressure. Rose wants his players to be flexible, but maybe next time he rotates his starting XI, he will stick to the 4-2-3-1 that has brought some success thus far.

Bang to Reitz

Rocco Reitz was fantastic in the first half, bringing real composure in midfield and outplaying his more experienced colleagues. He routinely found Herrmann with his now trademarked lofted passes, one of which created a great chance that Herrmann hit the bar with. He has an eye for an interception and a good work rate, although his defensive awareness has room to improve and he wasn’t always in place to make tackles. But, if it was fair to be a bit cautious about how his good pre-season would translate into league football, this impressive debut suggested that he can certainly contribute at the highest level already.

Wolf: der zwölfte Mann

Speaking about people translating their pre-season form into the league, Hannes Wolf offers a cautionary tale. One of Gladbach’s better performers in pre-season, he started out of necessity against Dortmund, did not particularly impress, and has been on the outside looking in ever since. Here’s one reaction to his Wolfsburg performance:

… and despite all the changes, he did not get a look in until the 72nd minute versus Mainz, still remaining the twelfth man even of a B team. The back three system may not have suited him, but Rose could’ve found a way to start Wolf. The fact is that Rose would rather play Jantschke and change system, rather than start Wolf on the right of a 4-2-3-1.

It wasn’t just the Wolfsburg game too. Before today, Wolf had been on the pitch for 5 goals conceded in the league, despite playing just 107 minutes. His +/- of -4 (five goals conceded while he’s on the pitch, one scored) is the worst in the squad, per Obviously the teams recent tendency to concede late goals (a time where he is likely on as a sub) is a collective responsibility, but he’s also not been associated with improved attacking play too. This is a problem.

Wolf looked tidy enough here, drawing a yellow card for Latza, and – perhaps in structural terms more crucially – coming on when the team was 2-1 down, and being reliable enough to help the team to a 3-2 win. Of course, it wasn’t his contributions that were the telling ones, but even just being on the pitch for a time where the team scores twice and doesn’t concede could be a small step in the right direction for Wolf, and help him gain Rose’s trust.

Champions League: Inter 2-2 Gladbach – Two hot to handle

Inter: (3-4-1-2) Handanovic; Kolarov, De Vrij, D’Ambrosio; Perisic, Vidal, Barella, Darmian; Eriksen; Sanchez, Lukaku 

Gladbach: (4-2-3-1) Sommer; Bensebaini, Ginter, Elvedi, Lainer; Kramer, Neuhaus; Thuram, Embolo, Hofmann; Pléa

In short

A game which started as a slow-burner erupted in the second half, as both sides hoped to capitalise on Real Madrid’s shocking home defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk and secure maximum points to start the group stage. A Romelu Lukaku opener shortly after the break was cancelled out by Ramy Bensebaini’s penalty in the 60th minute after Marcus Thuram once again caught out an opponent with his proverbial quick feet for a big man to draw the foul from Arturo Vidal, awarded on review. Jonas Hofmann looked to have won it after a scintillating, defence-decimating pass from Florian Neuhaus set him through, and he coolly slotted through Samir Handanovic’s legs. An eternal VAR check later and Gladbach’s lead was confirmed. Once again, however, Marco Rose’s men were unable to see out the win, with Lukaku bundling in a flicked-on corner in stoppage time. By xG, Inter were 3.51 to Gladbach’s 1.45, so Rose will be satisfied with the draw, but failing to defend a corner in those circumstances is galling.

I’d have happily taken a draw here, but considering how the game was going, it’s a pity we didn’t do better on their equaliser.”

Marco Rose

We haven’t even mentioned Lautaro Martinez hitting the post, appealing for a penalty and Samir Handanovic wiping out Alassane Pléa and avoiding a red card, all in the same minute. It was an exhilarating game, by the end, and a fantastic way to mark Gladbach’s return to the big-time.

Before we get into the tactical breakdown, please enjoy this pass once again, which more or less confounds any analysis beyond the word outrageous.

Dream team assembled

Gladbach were able to reunite the attacking trident of Marcus Thuram, Alassane Pléa and Breel Embolo for the first time on a pitch this season. It allowed for a sort of lop-sided 4-2-3-1, where Embolo and Pléa can interchange in the middle and Thuram cut in on his right foot from the left.

There first half did not see much by way of clear-cut opportunities for Gladbach, though there were a few near misses where the final ball was not quite there. A little lack of fluency is understandable when all three individually need more match fitness, let alone time playing together.

The first half ended on an encouraging note, when Thuram was able to outmuscle D’Ambrosio, feed Pléa, whose intelligent first time ball found Embolo. His centre for Hofmann was just in front of him, but it showed the spaces that the attacking trio could create and exploit, as well as the value of working on patterns of play and automatisms that aren’t necessarily based around traditional ideas of fixed attacking formations and central strikers (though that it was Hofmann left to try and get on the end of the cross does suggest a possible deficiency in this approach.)

Further evidence of the improving fluency came in the second half, where Pléa dropped deep in traditional fashion to set up the Gladbach counter after Embolo won a header…

…pressed aggressively when the initial pass was cut out, forcing a turnover…

…and then fed in Thuram, who drew the foul from Vidal.

Good Luk

But Pléa, Thuram and Embolo were not the only attacking unit to be reunited after too long apart. Lukaku and Lautaro might only have been separated for one half of football, but that was clearly 45 minutes too many from an Inter perspective.

Lukaku was able to cause Nico Elvedi plenty of problems in the first half, but Elvedi put up a good fight and was able to limit his chances and influence. Here he is up for the physical battle and though Inter retain possession, Elvedi forces the ball backwards and does not let Lukaku hold it up and bring others up the pitch.

But as well as the physical battle, it is Lukaku’s cleverness and deftness of touch which makes him so unplayable at times. In this example, he flicks the ball before Elvedi can get close, and the Swiss defender has little choice but to follow Eriksen and the ball as Bensebaini is caught up the pitch.

He is still out wide when Matteo Darmian eventually crosses, and with Christoph Kramer now picking up Lukaku in the middle, a better ball could have caused real issues for Gladbach.

Part of what makes Lukaku so hard to deal with is that he fancies himself in any one on one battle, and so requires normally more than one defender to contain him. Here it is Kramer who tries to help Elvedi out, but Lukaku still finds Sanchez, who gives the ball back…

…and with a nice stepover Lukaku beats Elvedi and flashes the best chance of the first half just wide.

Lautaro joins in

After the game, Hofmann said, a little derisively perhaps, that 99% of Inter’s gameplan was to get the ball to Lukaku. Although Sanchez got involved in the game in that chance, Gladbach’s defence struggled most after half-time, when they suddenly didn’t just have Lukaku to worry about, but Lautaro Martinez too.

Straight away in the second half, an early warning sign. Again Kramer tries to help Elvedi contain Lukaku…

…again they are unable to, and Eriksen is away down the wing.

That leaves Eriksen free to cross to Lautaro, and Matthias Ginter has to deal with him alone. The cross is bad, and Ginter, so strong in these situations, clears easily.

However, it sets a pattern for a Ginter/Lautaro match-up that was going to cause the German many more problems than Sanchez did in the first half. Because while Ginter was always favourite in this situation, Lautaro can operate as a natural number 9 in a way that Sanchez does not, and that gives Gladbach a second focal point for attacks to worry about.

When the ball comes out to Vidal here, Elvedi is typically tight on Lukaku, whereas Ginter does not have good position on Lautaro.

That’s understandable, given the ball has just been cleared and it is something of a broken play. But it quickly becomes apparent that Lukaku is not all that Gladbach have to be concerned with, and Lautaro poses a danger to Ginter that was just not there in the first half. Because the ball is played towards Lautaro rather than the Belgian, and he is the one to win the header which starts the scramble resulting in Lukaku’s goal.

Next, a familiar scene: Elvedi is tight to Lukaku but his touch is too good, and it releases a colleague down the right – this time Darmian.

Again Ginter is isolated with Lautaro in the box, but crosses from this area are Ginter’s specialty and no problem, right?

It’s another arguably bad cross, or at least not a traditional one, but Lautaro works wonders to some not only beat Ginter to the ball, but get a clean volley on it, and he comes very close to giving Inter the lead, smashing it against the post.

Ginter now knows he has a battle on his hands, and in the end, he is perhaps too up for the fight. When the ball is played into Lautaro in the last minute, Ginter seems to lose his composure and hauls him down, handing noted free kick specialist Aleksandar Kolarov a chance to win it right at the end, which he nearly does.

Assuming Lautaro and Lukaku are likely to start together when these teams next meet, how should Rose deal with this? One wonders whether Rose might be tempted to try a back 3, giving an extra centre-back spare. That would leave less riding on the individual matchups of Elvedi vs Lukaku and Ginter vs Lautaro, it would allow the defence to double up on whoever has the ball without the midfield losing their shape, and could generally spread out the workload. Rose has sometimes matched up back three against back three, as against Dortmund, but the format of Inter’s attack should mean that such a match-up is more successful than against BVB. He might be reluctant to break up his own attacking unit in such a reactive manner, but Pléa and Thuram could always play as a two up top with Embolo as a number 10. That could be the compromise that lets Gladbach nullify Inter’s strengths while not losing their own edge.

Gladbach 1-1 Wolfsburg: Scrapping and scrappy

Gladbach: (4-2-3-1) Sommer; Wendt, Ginter, Elvedi, Lainer; Kramer, Neuhaus; Thuram, Stindl, Hofmann; Embolo

Wolfsburg: (4-3-3) Casteels; Baku, Lacroix, Brooks, Roussillon; Schlager, Guilavogui Arnold; Mehmedi, Weghorst, Brekalo 

In Short

After the heartening derby win before the international break, a slightly flat Borussia Mönchengladbach performance saw them draw 1-1 at home once more. A draw against Wolfsburg is respectable, and the result was fair, but there are two reasons why it is a little disappointing. Firstly, Gladbach created the much better chances in the first half, with Marcus Thuram hitting the side-netting and Florian Neuhaus heading against the post, but were unable to take the lead. Secondly, having taken the lead, Gladbach were unable to see the game out. Gladbach’s goal came against the run of play, and Yann Sommer had to weather an assault on his goal as the tide turned in Wolfsburg’s favour after the break. But after Thuram earned a penalty on the counter-attack, which was converted by Jonas Hofmann, Gladbach once again failed to hold on, and Bote Baku somehow ghosted the ball into an unmarked Wout Weghorst for him to sweep home. For Gladbach to establish themselves as Champions League regulars, they don’t need to be brilliant week in, week out. They do, however, need to be able to see out a 1-0 win at home even when they’re not at their best. And the late, sloppy equalisers conceded to Union Berlin and now Wolfsburg will give coach Marco Rose plenty to think about.

Kramming the midfield

Christoph Kramer sums up Gladbach at this point in time. He polarises fans, with some highlighting his lack of pace both on his feet and in progressing the ball. But his combative nature is valuable, and particularly when you’re plugging gaps in an injury-hit squad, characters like Kramer can get results when you’re below your best. Had Gladbach hung on, then Kramer would have summed up the team’s dogged spirit…

…but when the result doesn’t follow, then his unglamorous approach is harder for fans to tolerate.

Denis Zakaria is a big miss for Gladbach at the moment. His is an imposing figure who can protect the defence, start moving the ball forward and help Gladbach, in turn, impose themselves on the opposition.

Kramer is a different profile of player. Kramer is a scrapper. And sometimes when your backs are against the wall, you need to scrap. But that results in games that are invariably scrappy. Gladbach start to look scrappy. And it’s not a great look for fans of the attractive football Rose is meant to embody.

Eight for ten

When the Kramer/Neuhaus pivot isn’t working as well as it might be, then it’s easy to think of ways to reformat the team to try and improve things. One approach could be to add another midfielder. But with so many injuries already, dropping captain Lars Stindl does not appeal, and nor does he deserve to be dropped. From his number ten position on Saturday, his clipped first-time lofted through ball for Thuram’s chance in the tenth minute summed up the creativity that he offers. For much of that half, Neuhaus in particular was able to shine, and with Kramer, the duo offer some stability against Wolfsburg’s three, suggesting that the double pivot can prosper even in Zakaria’s absence.

But Gladbach never looked as fluid as against Köln. Up front Breel Embolo perhaps lacked a little match fitness, and with Alassane Pléa out after becoming a father, he was unable to reprise his false-nine role, where he had worked so well with Stindl in Cologne to penetrate the defence. Embolo enjoys operating deeper and would perhaps would have preferred to play in place of Stindl rather than with him here. While Stindl retains his cute touch and eye for a pass, Embolo as a ten has the pace and physicality, along with the technique, to help Kramer and Neuhaus control games more.

Should he wish to put another midfielder in there, Marco Rose has spoken about how he expects Rocco Reitz to get gametime this year after the youngster impressed in pre-season. But while playing the 18-year-old alongside – or even instead of – Kramer might excite the fans, it is an awful lot to put on a kid who was barely expected to figure in Rose’s plans this year. If Neuhaus was injured rather than Zakaria, then Reitz might have more of a shout of playing. Zakaria can offer the defensive security to cover for the youngster, while Reitz acclimatises and learns to pick his passes in the way he loves to at Bundesliga level, filling the Neuhaus role in the team. But when Neuhaus is playing, Kramer’s seasoned maturity helps instil grit in the midfield. Though Reitz shows tenacity in the tackle, he is a long way off being able to play that role. Kramer brings grit and determination to this team. It’s understandable that fans want more than that, but when the injuries are mounting and things aren’t going your way, there are worse traits to have.

A little postscript on the injuries: Stefan Lainer and Thuram both went off early after picking up knocks. Ramy Bensebaini didn’t start, and Embolo lacked some sharpness in his first start of the season. Hopefully Rose’s substitutions reflected an abundance of caution ahead of the Champions League game against Inter on Wednesday, and that no-one involved against Wolfsburg will have to miss out at the San Siro. Gladbach already have enough injuries, and they don’t need the task at hand to get any harder.

Köln 1-3 Mönchengladbach: off and running in the derby

Köln: (3-5-2) T. Horn; Czichos, Bornauw, Sørensen; J. Horn, Rexhbecaj, Skhiri, Duda, Ehizibue; Drexler, Andersson

Gladbach: (4-2-3-1) Sommer; Bensebaini, Ginter, Elvedi, Lainer; Kramer, Neuhaus; Thuram, Stindl, Hofmann; Pléa

In short

Borussia Mönchengladbach came out flying in the Rheinderby, racing to a 2-0 lead in the first twenty minutes and restricting Köln’s opportunities thereafter. Once again Marcus Thuram and Alassane Pléa looked a class above for Gladbach, but, unlike against Union last time out, Gladbach were able to put the game beyond Köln before taking them off.

Gladbach opened the scoring when Jonas Hofmann ran in behind the Köln defence. Having spurned a golden opportunity minutes earlier, his ball for Pléa was not, truth be told, the best, but though he was pushed back and wide, Pléa’s strike from the edge of the box was unerring, bending into the bottom corner to Timo Horn’s left. Hofmann’s corner a few minutes later was also not a classic, but Stevie Lainer somehow angled the ball with a glancing header well outside the line of the near post, which caught Horn out. An unlikely goal – Understat assigned the chance an xG of 0.01 – which put Gladbach in total control of the game.

A miscontrol from Yann Sommer in goal handed Köln’s Sebastian Andersson a chance, which he put against the post, but otherwise it was all Gladbach. Kingsley Ehizibue tripped Thuram ten minutes into the second half, allowing Lars Stindl to make it three from the penalty spot, and Gladbach continued to dominate, with Florian Neuhaus and Patrick Herrmann among those going close as Die Fohlen looked for more. Defensively, it’s a small disappointment that Gladbach conceded in the last 10 minutes, Elvis Rexhbecaj burying a long range shot low through the hands of Sommer after a sloppy pass by Neuhaus. But the consolation strike was scarcely deserved, and Gladbach can be satisfied with a good win in the best performance of the Bundesliga season so far, and will hope to kick on after a slightly indifferent first two games.


Gladbach set up in a straight-forward enough looking 4-2-3-1, with Stindl behind Pléa upfront, Thuram starting on the left, and Hofmann on the right. But Gladbach don’t really do traditional Number 9s these days, and the fluidity this front four have caused Köln no end of problems. Sometimes Thuram would push up on the left and Pléa come to the right, leaving Stindl as a sort of false nine between them.

But for the most part, it was Pléa’s ability and willingness to drop deep that created the biggest issues for Köln. He sometimes switched positions with Stindl, but often both players occupied spots in between the lines, leaving Thuram and Hofmann to run beyond. This created gaps in Köln’s back line and pulled their back three out of shape.

This started early. Here, Pléa drops to receive the ball near halfway, and, with centre-back Rafael Czichos tight to him, he plays it back to Neuhaus…

…who finds Stindl in a classic number ten position, being closed by another centre-back, Sebastiaan Bornauw.

If Pléa or Stindl were adopting regular centre-forward positions, one centre-back getting tight to each would not create problems for Köln. But because Gladbach’s central attackers have dropped deep, Hofmann has all the space in the world in the right channel, and should do much better with his chance, which is saved by Timo Horn.

The three Köln outfield players in the box in when Hofmann takes the shot are centre-back Frederik Sørensen and wing-backs Ehizibue and Jannes Horn. They are desperately trying to cover for Sørensen’s missing centre-back colleagues, but both are always playing catch-up and are the wrong side of runners Hofmann and Thuram.

Gladbach repeatedly exploited Köln’s poor defensive shape in the first-half. In this example, Neuhaus has just played the ball into Stindl, prompting centre-back Sørensen to rush out from defence to close him down. The ref gets in the way and Gladbach are given a drop ball. Pléa is circled, deeper than even Stindl here.

Thuram and Hofmann are again the most advanced Gladbach players, a fact which is again relevant in what follows. Stindl quickly lays the ball back to Elvedi from the restart, who plays an intelligent and pinpoint ball over the top to Hofmann, who has made a diagonal run. The three centre-backs, who had stepped up, are now rushing to recover…

…and are all drawn to the ball, resulting in a defensive line that is quite comically out of shape.

Enter Pléa. Although Hofmann’s ball to him is overhit, complicating the chance, it’s clear that Gladbach’s unorthodox attacking shape has suddenly created oceans of space in what should have been a compact three (or five) man defence.

Even though Pléa is pushed back to the edge of the box by the pass, his finishing ability ensures the chance doesn’t go to waste, and Gladbach take the lead.

Köln would’ve liked nothing more than to have had Stindl and Pléa stand up against their centre-backs, but they did not play into Köln’s hands in this way – so much so that Köln coach Markus Gisdol took centre-back Czichos off at half time, replacing him with midfielder Marius Wolf and going to a back four.

All-around Pléa

Pléa’s outstanding finishing ability, means he is likely the most natural goalscorer Gladbach have, but it can distract from other strengths of his game if you only consider him as an out-and-out striker, and discount his other traits.

In the build-up to the third goal, Pléa demonstrated his strengths in link-up play once more. He comes short for a throw in and sprays out an excellent pass to Lainer on the wing.

As Lainer moves up the pitch, Pléa supports the attack, but again other options are ahead of him, with Köln defenders still unsure who to pick up.

After an exchange of passes, Lainer floats the ball over to Thuram, circled in yellow, who takes on his man and earns a penalty.

From a situation of having no focal point to pick up initially, the Köln defenders now have a man each in a four on four situation, so it is little wonder Thuram is able to isolate Ehizibue one-on-one and earn the penalty.

Out injured at the start of the season, Pléa and Thuram were long thought to be the key to Gladbach regaining their attacking verve, and now they are proving it.