Pre-season Game 5: 4-0 vs VVV Venlo

MOTM: Ramy Bensebaini

Honorable mentions: Stindl, Müsel, Sippel, Reitz

In Short

With many first team regulars off on international duty, it was a good time for the veterans and youngsters to step up and deliver arguably the best display of the the pre-season in its last game, and certainly the most well-rounded 90 minutes. Goalie Tobias Sippel certainly had to work for his clean sheet, but all-in-all, it was a morale boosting win against Black and Yellow opposition ahead of an eagerly anticipated Bundesliga opener in two weeks time. Lars Stindl, Ramy Bensebaini from the spot, Torben Müsel and Patrick Herrmann got the goals.

What We Learned

With a whole XI absent either through international call-ups or injury, the team which made light work of VVV Venlo likely won’t resemble the side that will open the season in the DFB-Pokal next weekend, let alone the one which will play Borussia Dortmund in the league. But it was a good opportunity to see which squad players might be able to contribute, and try out some new tactical ideas.

Veteran presence

Lars Stindl and Patrick Herrmann led the attack in this game, with Christoph Kramer starting in central midfield. As noted in our season preview, it’s a bit doubtful whether any three of these veterans would get into a full strength 11, but all three are clearly hugely valuable squad players who will be called on extensively in this unique challenging season, with domestic and continental fixtures crammed in to a shortened calendar.

As you can see, the core of the squad is a young one, full of players approaching or in their prime, as these stats from FBref show:

It is a very healthy that the transition from the Stindl/Herrmann/Kramer generation is more or less assured. Compare that to clubs all over Europe, whose core is ageing but can’t sign quality, younger back-ups, as such players want to be playing each week. A team where the veterans are backing up the youth seems a more sustainable way to develop a squad. But it doesn’t mean the veterans don’t have an invaluable role to play.

Of this trio, Stindl may be the oldest but also has perhaps the strongest claim to a starting berth. After a tough time fracturing his tibia in April 2019, he might have lost his starting spot, but he was hugely important in the run-in and the key in securing Champions League qualification. Kicker ranked him only behind Thomas Müller and Kai Havertz as the best attacking midfielders in the league this week. He took his goal well, and his assist for Müsel was even neater.

The man known as Flaco gets a lot of flack for his finishing, and it felt somehow typical that in a game where he missed presentable one-on-one chances, Patrick Herrmann scored a world class strike on the run which commentators compared to Marco Van Basten. His finishing needs to be more consistent to be a striker in a 4-4-2, the role he played here, but his lively run to win the penalty suggests he still has the spark to play regularly at right-wing, especially while Valentino Lazaro is out injured.

With Marcus Thuram and Alassane Pléa also not featuring yet in pre-season, there should be more than enough opportunity for Stindl and Herrmann to get game time at the start of this season.

Müsel memory

At the other end of the age spectrum, Torben Müsel will be keen to show that he could also stake a claim for some of those attacking spots vacated by injury. He is young, but not that young, and at 21, you sense it is now or never for Müsel, especially with a contract expiring in 2021. He has had, on balance, a good pre-season, with impressive displays since game one vs SC Verl. In the great Gladbach tradition of central attackers who are comfortable dropping deeper, he played as a 10 here in the second half, behind Stindl and Herrmann. Getting the goal will have done him a lot of good, and perhaps he will be even more pleased that it was a header. He seems like a good blend as a profile of attacker that should fit coach Marco Rose’s system well, with extra assets, such as his height, that give him a different dimension.

Hopefully he gets opportunities, and takes them, this season. He seems to be ahead of Julio Villalba in Rose’s thinking, and this season, with its crammed schedule and already extensive injury list, gives him that chance to make an impression. It would seem unlikely that sporting director Max Eberl will try and shift him before his contract is up. But there is no real shame if he still cannot break into the Gladbach side when everyone is fit. Some fans seem keen to write him off completely, but even if his contract is not renewed, there is every chance he will make it as a Bundesliga player. It might not be at Gladbach, and it might be best for all parties if he moves on at the end of the year, but he’s made a good go of getting into Rose’s thoughts in pre-season and he deserves credit for that.

Tactical tinkering

Rose used the absence of key players to try out personnel in different positions. Bensebaini played the first half in central midfield, and looked brilliant. He sprayed a ball to Oscar Wendt to square for Stindl’s opener, and Stindl wasted a good position from the other side after a similarly incisive Bensebaini ball. He is a player who must be getting close to being the first name on the team sheet, and that he can play left-back, centre-back and now seemingly centre midfield only increases his value.

The first half was a 4-4-2, and the second seemed to be broadly a 3-4-1-2, although Stindl dropped deeper as the half went on and sometimes it looked more like a 3-4-2-1. Kramer still played alongside Bensebaini, as both dropped from midfield to defence for the second half. Rocco Reitz picked up another assist, providing the lovely ball for the Herrmann volley. He has been a revelation of the pre-season, and at 18 has plenty of time to grow in to a top footballer. On this form, he might not need much time at all.

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