Borussia Mönchengladbach have been drawn in Group B, and will play Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk and Internazionale in the Champions League Group Stage. This will be hard. Below is an initial assessment of each of the teams that Gladbach will face.
This team needs no introduction, especially in a Champions League setting. They have not started the La Liga season in a particularly convincing fashion, but that hasn’t stopped them winning three Champions League titles in a row before, so it shouldn’t worry them much heading into this campaign. After starting the season with a 0-0 draw against Real Sociedad, coach Zinedine Zidane has played Luka Jovic alongside Karim Benzema up front, formatting the midfield into a diamond, with Isco or Martin Ødegaard as a 10 behind them. It was with Isco in this role that Real Madrid last won a Champions League title in 2018, though the shape might need to change again if Jovic’s rumoured loan move to the Premier League comes off. Zidane might continue to tinker with things up top in order to try and get more goals in the team – Real scored just 70 goals last season as they won La Liga, compared to 94 when they finished only third in Ronaldo’s last season in 2018. Last year Benzema and penalty taker Sergio Ramos combined for 32 of those 70 goals, emphasising the need for secondary scoring. But with Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro in midfield, they of course have a formidable base to work from, and just know how to get it done in this competition.
The last time the sides met, in the 1985/86 UEFA Cup, Gladbach won 5-1… in the first leg. And then lost 4-0 and went out in the second leg. Madrid would go on to lift the cup. To read more about that game, click here. In their only European Cup meeting previously, Gladbach also lost on away goals, in the quarterfinals nearly ten years earlier in 1976.
Underestimate Shakhtar at your peril. The Ukrainian Premier League side are easily counted out by those who follow the Europe’s so-called big five leagues, but the fact that they were seeded in the second pot in this draw, above Europa League finalists Inter, demonstrates their consistent European performances and pedigree, all the more impressive for the fact that they have played “away” from home in Donbass for the last six years, due to the war in east Ukraine.
They held Manchester City to a draw in the away game last season, but their failure to beat Dinamo Zagreb or to hold back a resurgent Atalanta saw them finish third in their group – a very creditable performance that saw them qualify for the Europa League. They saw off Benfica and Wolfsburg before beating Basel 4-1, but then were crushed by Inter themselves 5-0 in the semi-final. So the Champions League rematch will have a particular spice to it.
Tactically, Junior Moraes leads the line with Marlos and Taison attacking from the flanks, while 20-year-old Marcos Antonio provides dynamism in the midfield alongside veterans Alan Patrick and Taras Stepanenko. The goalie is a question mark, with 36-year-old Andriy Pyatov and 19-year-old Anatoliy Trubin at opposite ends of their careers.
Gladbach have never played Shakhtar in official competition and this will be tough.
Antonio Conte’s Inter are either the challengers-elect to Juventus’ Serie A domination, or have been chronically let down by the many millions spent on the team’s construction, depending on what mood the manager is in. Conte may not always come over as the most contented but his team knows how to have fun (in a way that he maybe doesn’t), scoring 9 goals in their first two Serie A games. Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez constitute one of the finest strike partnerships anywhere in world football, and have hit the ground running this season too.
Conte’s set up is a familiar 3-5-2, sometimes with a central midfielder in a more advanced position. Christian Eriksen didn’t quite click into the system after signing from Tottenham in January, but they have made a deal for Alexis Sanchez permanent after last year’s loan, and both players offer the potential for a quality Plan B if Conte needs to change things. Arturo Vidal, a player Conte knows very well from his Juventus days, might fit his system – and prototype of an ideal midfielder – more smoothly. Having a Champions League winner in Ivan Perisic to re-integrate into the squad is a nice issue to have too.
Inter and Gladbach have met once before in the European Cup, in 1971. And what a meeting it was. A 7-1 first leg victory for Die Fohlen was annulled after Inter’s Roberto Boninsegna was hit by a Coca-Cola can. Inter won their home leg 4-2, and the replayed match in Mönchengladbach finished 0-0, with Inter heading through en route to the final. Read all about the Partita Della Lattina here.
“That day we played the game of our lives. No one would have stopped us. We would have beaten Inter, even if there had been no can and Boninsegna had remained on the field.”Günter Netzer told Corriere della Sera in 2002.
Gladbach will hope to channel the spirit of Hennes Weisweiler’s foals, because it will take some very good performances to get out of the group, or achieve Europa League qualification.