Along with the young players looking to establish a first-team role, sporting director Max Eberl brought in two new players to refresh the squad. With COVID-19 reducing revenues, an always prudent Gladbach was never going to spend big this summer, and the deals for Hannes Wolf and Valentino Lazaro reflect Eberl’s outlook: direct replacements for outgoing players on loan, who will represent good value if they work out and are made permanent, but are low risk if they flop. Both have histories at coach Marco Rose’s old club Red Bull Salzburg, and could prove savvy pieces of business
With iconic Gladbach attacker Raffael leaving at the end of last season, Eberl wasted no time in getting Wolf in from RB Leipzig. Like the Brazilian, he can operate in a second striker role, but Wolf is more versatile, and can cut in from the right flank on his left foot. He had a really excellent pre-season, scoring twice, showing creativity in build-up play and good chemistry with fellow RB Salzburg old-boy Stevie Lainer on the right.
Will he play?
While pre-season form doesn’t count for much, it should set Wolf in good stead for a debut against Borussia Dortmund on Saturday. Patrick Herrmann played up front in the last pre-season match and the first round of the cup, and although Alassane Pléa and Marcus Thuram set to be involved against Dortmund, they might not be ready to start. That leaves Wolf with the right-wing berth to lose, although that of course will depend on the system Rose chooses to deploy.
Lazaro’s arrival came with a lot of hype, reflecting his already storied career as the youngest ever Austrian Bundesliga player, with the 24-year old already enjoying spells in the Premier League, Serie A and German Bundesliga. Well not quite enjoying, as injuries and COVID-19 disrupted his season last year, split between Inter and Newcastle United, but linking up again with Rose seemed like to good an opportunity to miss for him to get his career back on track.
One key strength is his versatility: He has played out wide, as a winger, wing-back or a full-back, although Gladbach also believe he can play as a 6 or an 8. There is a fulsome discussion about the stats of his best position here. Lainer and Ramy Bensebaini have the full-back positions spoken for, but aside from that, he could be deployed most other places on the pitch.
Will he play?
Lazaro’s pre-season was sadly the opposite of Wolf’s. Arriving later in August, he then suffered a bad calf injury in his first pre-season game, a sad echo of the start of his Inter career. There were some conflicting reports about how long he’d be out: Rose said it would be 6-8 weeks, but Lazaro has said he expects to be back sooner.
If we’re looking for silver linings, then the extra time to bed in could be a blessing. Being thrown straight into a game against Dortmund when it is unclear what his best role is could’ve gone badly for him. Now, hopefully he can be eased into action with some appearances from the bench, build up his fitness slowly and be in peak form during the busy middle of the season, rather than rushing for a season debut he might not have been ready for.