Football is a game of perspectives. Your team’s attack is the opposition’s defence. Your left is their right. A last minute collapse is also a stirring comeback. And for Borussia Mönchengladbach, one point gained against record European Champions Real Madrid was also two points dropped, at home, for a side winning 2-0 with three minutes to go.
There was a lot to process after Tuesday night’s game, and the 2-2 draw against Real Madrid had many of the same attributes of the game against Inter. On chances created, Gladbach’s opponents would probably feel hard done by not to have won, let alone if they had lost. On the other, Marco Rose’s Foals again blew a late lead. Whatever your perspective, it’s another game where no-one really goes home happy.
Both sides of the story were told on one side of the pitch. When the teamsheets landed, one thing immediately jumped out from a Real perspective. With Dani Carvajal and Nacho Fernandez both out, Ferland Mendy on the left and Marcelo on the bench. Lucas Vazquez was playing right-back. Naturally a winger, Vazquez was going to be tasked with containing Thuram, which is a hard task for anyone. Thuram’s quick feet and ability to get into the box has already drawn penalties against both Inter and Wolfsburg, and the idea of pitching him against a non-specialist gave fans reasons to hope. However, Vazquez himself can offer a winger’s quality in attack. With Karim Benzema instructing left back Ferland Mendy not to pass to left-winger Vinicius Junior, it was clear on which flank this game was going to be defined: Gladbach’s left, Real’s right.
Attack vs attack
In the first minute, Ramos sprays the ball over the Vazquez, who has got up ahead of Thuram. Though Thuram recovers his position initially, in the second image you can see that he gets drawn to the ball, allowing Vazquez to run on again, eventually resulting in a harmless cross from Karim Benzema.
That set a pattern of play for the game. The match-up was even more interesting as Vazquez looked to give Madrid width (left-footer Marco Asensio cutting inside ahead of him) while Thuram looked to drift infield himself. Here you can see in the first image, Stevie Lainer makes a good interception and Thuram is in a lot of space. But by the second, the play has broken down again, Real have regained the ball and Ramy Bensebaini is having to close down Vazquez, drawing him up the pitch…
…and leaving space in behind. Interestingly, it is once more the nominally central striker Benzema who makes the run to exploit the space. Elvedi covers him well Bensebaini drops back centrally, giving Gladbach a bit more shape defensively. But it is Vazquez who provides the overlap and the overload, getting a cross in which eventually results in a Toni Kroos shot that is well saved by Yann Sommer.
Obviously, while Thuram did not track Vazquez in that example, the Spaniard’s own defensive deficiencies – and Thuram’s ability to exploit them – counted for more in the first half. Here we see Hofmann win the ball back in a similar position to Lainer earlier, and Vazquez is wider than Thuram. Credit to the makeshift right-back, he realises he has to cover Thuram and tucks in accordingly, as the ball pinballs around the midfield somewhat.
However, while he is trying to do his defensive duties, his overall lack of awareness lets him down. Vazquez actually overcompensates, and gets caught too narrow. Thuram uncharacteristically makes a run on his outside, and Vazquez, caught watching the ball, can’t get close enough to either Pléa’s magical pass or to the ball, and Thuram finishes magnificently. It’s a brilliant goal that should be treated as such, but one wonders whether Carvajal, say, would have let such a thing happen.
Before the half was out, good play between Vazquez and Valverde created a chance for Asensio. Thuram was helping out defensively, but it was just another example of how having a winger playing right back (whose offensive awareness is greater than his defensive acumen) can help create overloads.
For his part, within a minute of the second half starting, Thuram picked the ball up in his own half, ran at and beat Vazquez one-on-one before just overrunning the ball before he could centre. Both sides therefore backed their attackers on Gladbach’s left, or Real’s right.
For Thuram’s second, he picked up the ball in his own half and drove centrally, spreading the ball to Lainer. Responsibility for this goal lies with the other fullback Mendy – firstly, for not closing down Lainer cross, but more criminally, not pushing back out. Although Vazquez with his centre-backs was statuesque when the rebound popped to Thuram, the thought that he was probably offside was a reasonable one, were in not for Mendy’s laziness.
When Thuram was withdrawn after the 70th minute, Jonas Hofmann came to his side in a bid to secure that flank against Vazquez, and to let Patrick Herrmann play in his natural position on the right-hand side. But as the game went on, he was drawn deeper and narrower. For the first goal, there is an element of luck for Real Madrid. The ball comes in from the right after play between Modric, Rodrygo, and yes, Vazquez, but the cross from Valverde when it comes looks mishit, and so nearly drifts out of play before Casemiro knocks it back across for Benzema to score.
With one goal back, all Gladbach fans feared the worse. The replacements for Lars Stindl and Alassane Pléa – Breel Embolo but especially Hannes Wolf – were unable to retain the ball high up the pitch and take pressure off their team, and with Sergio Ramos playing as an auxiliary striker, there was a sense of inevitability to the goal. But at this stage, it wasn’t only Ramos playing as an extra attacker. It was the natural forward at right-back, Vazquez, too. As Gladbach were offering ever less of a threat down the left hand side, he could push on with greater impunity. In the scenario below, Vazquez faces Hofmann up, Embolo thinks he’s helping by joining him to close down, but in fact, it leaves Modric free to play the ball in, for Sergio Ramos to knock it back to Casemiro to turn in an almost carbon copy goal.
In the end, playing an attacker at right-back gave Real the extra man they needed to create the overloads which got them back into the game.
Gladbach took a seemingly commanding lead thanks to the situation on their left flank. But they lost because of what was happening on Real’s right.