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
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.
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.