Gladbach: (4-2-3-1) Sommer; Wendt, Ginter, Elvedi, Lainer; Kramer, Neuhaus; Thuram, Stindl, Hofmann; Embolo
Wolfsburg: (4-3-3) Casteels; Baku, Lacroix, Brooks, Roussillon; Schlager, Guilavogui Arnold; Mehmedi, Weghorst, Brekalo
After the heartening derby win before the international break, a slightly flat Borussia Mönchengladbach performance saw them draw 1-1 at home once more. A draw against Wolfsburg is respectable, and the result was fair, but there are two reasons why it is a little disappointing. Firstly, Gladbach created the much better chances in the first half, with Marcus Thuram hitting the side-netting and Florian Neuhaus heading against the post, but were unable to take the lead. Secondly, having taken the lead, Gladbach were unable to see the game out. Gladbach’s goal came against the run of play, and Yann Sommer had to weather an assault on his goal as the tide turned in Wolfsburg’s favour after the break. But after Thuram earned a penalty on the counter-attack, which was converted by Jonas Hofmann, Gladbach once again failed to hold on, and Bote Baku somehow ghosted the ball into an unmarked Wout Weghorst for him to sweep home. For Gladbach to establish themselves as Champions League regulars, they don’t need to be brilliant week in, week out. They do, however, need to be able to see out a 1-0 win at home even when they’re not at their best. And the late, sloppy equalisers conceded to Union Berlin and now Wolfsburg will give coach Marco Rose plenty to think about.
Kramming the midfield
Christoph Kramer sums up Gladbach at this point in time. He polarises fans, with some highlighting his lack of pace both on his feet and in progressing the ball. But his combative nature is valuable, and particularly when you’re plugging gaps in an injury-hit squad, characters like Kramer can get results when you’re below your best. Had Gladbach hung on, then Kramer would have summed up the team’s dogged spirit…
…but when the result doesn’t follow, then his unglamorous approach is harder for fans to tolerate.
Denis Zakaria is a big miss for Gladbach at the moment. His is an imposing figure who can protect the defence, start moving the ball forward and help Gladbach, in turn, impose themselves on the opposition.
Kramer is a different profile of player. Kramer is a scrapper. And sometimes when your backs are against the wall, you need to scrap. But that results in games that are invariably scrappy. Gladbach start to look scrappy. And it’s not a great look for fans of the attractive football Rose is meant to embody.
Eight for ten
When the Kramer/Neuhaus pivot isn’t working as well as it might be, then it’s easy to think of ways to reformat the team to try and improve things. One approach could be to add another midfielder. But with so many injuries already, dropping captain Lars Stindl does not appeal, and nor does he deserve to be dropped. From his number ten position on Saturday, his clipped first-time lofted through ball for Thuram’s chance in the tenth minute summed up the creativity that he offers. For much of that half, Neuhaus in particular was able to shine, and with Kramer, the duo offer some stability against Wolfsburg’s three, suggesting that the double pivot can prosper even in Zakaria’s absence.
But Gladbach never looked as fluid as against Köln. Up front Breel Embolo perhaps lacked a little match fitness, and with Alassane Pléa out after becoming a father, he was unable to reprise his false-nine role, where he had worked so well with Stindl in Cologne to penetrate the defence. Embolo enjoys operating deeper and would perhaps would have preferred to play in place of Stindl rather than with him here. While Stindl retains his cute touch and eye for a pass, Embolo as a ten has the pace and physicality, along with the technique, to help Kramer and Neuhaus control games more.
Should he wish to put another midfielder in there, Marco Rose has spoken about how he expects Rocco Reitz to get gametime this year after the youngster impressed in pre-season. But while playing the 18-year-old alongside – or even instead of – Kramer might excite the fans, it is an awful lot to put on a kid who was barely expected to figure in Rose’s plans this year. If Neuhaus was injured rather than Zakaria, then Reitz might have more of a shout of playing. Zakaria can offer the defensive security to cover for the youngster, while Reitz acclimatises and learns to pick his passes in the way he loves to at Bundesliga level, filling the Neuhaus role in the team. But when Neuhaus is playing, Kramer’s seasoned maturity helps instil grit in the midfield. Though Reitz shows tenacity in the tackle, he is a long way off being able to play that role. Kramer brings grit and determination to this team. It’s understandable that fans want more than that, but when the injuries are mounting and things aren’t going your way, there are worse traits to have.
A little postscript on the injuries: Stefan Lainer and Thuram both went off early after picking up knocks. Ramy Bensebaini didn’t start, and Embolo lacked some sharpness in his first start of the season. Hopefully Rose’s substitutions reflected an abundance of caution ahead of the Champions League game against Inter on Wednesday, and that no-one involved against Wolfsburg will have to miss out at the San Siro. Gladbach already have enough injuries, and they don’t need the task at hand to get any harder.