The start of the Bundesliga season has arrived. Strangely, Bayern Munich fancy their chances against Schalke, so opted not to delay the start of their season after their Champions League exploits. But while Borussia Dortmund vs Borussia Mönchengladbach may no longer be the curtain raiser for the season as a whole, it certainly looks like the stand-out game of the league’s first round of games, as well as one of the defining games of the season for Gladbach fans.
First game focus
The Bundesliga certainly has secured a mouth-watering match-up for the first game of the season. How Gladbach fare against sides like Dortmund will determine their aspirations for the season, and whether they can consider themselves mere Champions League hopefuls, or serious contenders to mix it up at the top of the table. For Dortmund too, a lot rides on the game in terms of their own aspirations for a title.
This game will tell us a even more about Gladbach though, because they come into it in such adverse circumstances. Just look at the injury list, as outlined by coach Marco Rose in the pre-match press conference:
Marcus Thuram and Alassane Plea will be an option for Saturday, but aren’t 100 per cent yet. The game in Dortmund will still be too soon for Denis Zakaria. I don’t think that we’ll be able to expect him to return before the next international break. Breel Embolo (ankle injury), Valentino Lazaro (calf muscle injury), László Bénes (ankle ligament injury), Andreas Poulsen (shoulder operation) and Julio Villalba (muscle problems) will also all be unavailable for Saturday’s game.Marco Rose
It’s never ideal to play a potentially season-defining game right at the start of the season, but one of the upsides would usually be that at least the injuries and suspensions are yet to pile up. But Rose has had no such luck, with players lost to injury at the end of last season like Zakaria, Pléa and Thuram yet to fully return and the additional losses of Embolo and Lazaro on international duty and in pre-season respectively. They also face an incredibly settled Dortmund squad, who, like Gladbach, have kept their team together, also adding young English talent Jude Bellingham. Dortmund have a couple of injury question-marks, but no where near as many as Gladbach, and, in the unlikely event that Jadon Sancho is to leave this transfer window, it certainly won’t be before Saturday’s game, presenting another headache for Rose.
We have highlighted the depth in the Gladbach squad as one of their strengths, and it will be tested straight away. Rose can certainly field a strong team, even if not a full strength team. With an optimistic spin on the circumstances, the adversity facing Gladbach takes the pressure off. They can have a shot to nothing in this game, with the possibility for the perfect start of the season against a fierce rival if all goes well, but also the knowledge that, should the result disappoint, key players returning in the coming weeks will give reason to hope for improvement in the coming weeks.
We have noted on the blog that Rose has experimented with the team’s shape, often switching between a back 4 and back 3 in pre-season matches to get players comfortable playing different systems. The DFB-Pokal thrashing of Oberneuland saw Rose go for a 4-2-3-1, and he might be have been wishing to give the players a run-out in the shape he expects to face Dortmund, to increase their chemistry and match fitness, even against lower league opposition. That would see Patrick Herrmann lead the line, Lars Stindl play as a 10, and Hannes Wolf and Jonas Hofmann on the wings.
But there is no certainty he will stick with that shape. Obviously the cup tie was no proper rehearsal for the Dortmund game, and BVB last year played a system with a 3 man defence, which Rose may seek to match. That would give Dortmund coach Lucien Favre an unexpected challenge and might also help Rose make the most of his limited personnel.
One tactical caveat on this, though. Rose has largely used a 3-4-1-2 in pre-season when not played a back four. If we use the Marco Bielsa “spare defender” philosophy, where a team always want one more centre back than central attacker you are facing, then matching Favre’s 3-4-3 with this formation could backfire. Gladbach’s two central strikers could be marked by the BVB centre backs, with the spare man able to handle the number 10, while Rose’s own central defenders would be occupying one man, likely Erling Haaland, and be vulnerable to raids from out wide thanks to Sancho and friends. A lot would come down to whether Gladbach’s wing-backs could pin back Dortmund’s wingbacks – a hard job if they are also containing Sancho and the other winger. For this reason, Rose might consider a 3-4-3 for his own team, to help reinforce the wings and match up Favre’s line-up completely.
It would be remiss not to mention Favre specifically, as the man who last led Gladbach into a Champions League spot and enjoyed a successful spell at the club between 2011-2015. His reign ended, as many coaching reigns tend to end, with a disastrous run of form, and 5 straight losses to start the 2015-16 season abruptly curtailed his Gladbach career before he could even finish the Champions League group stage that he had qualified them for. With Gladbach back at the top table of European football, opening the season with a match against Favre’s side feels like a nice touch for the sentimentalists. Even if there are doubts over his fit at Dortmund, and even if he had an ignominious end at Gladbach, Die Fohlen fans still have a lot of reasons to be grateful to him. Maybe a poor display from Dortmund in their season opener would provide the Gladbach faithful with one more.
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