Gladbach: (4-2-3-1) Sommer; Bensebaini, Ginter, Elvedi, Lainer; Hofmann, Neuhaus; Wolf, Embolo, Herrmann; Pléa
RB Leipzig : (4-2-2-2) Gulácsi; Angelino, Upamecano, Orban, Heinrichs; Kampl, Sabitzer; Samardžić, Olmo; Sørloth, Poulsen
There was a lot of anticipation ahead of this one, and an extra frisson given that Borussia Mönchengladbach have never beaten RB Leipzig, at home or otherwise, and given, well, it’s RB Leipzig. Perhaps it was no surprise that this was the home game where Gladbach wheeled out their 120 anniversary kit, in a not-so-subtle dig at their opponents.
The game didn’t quite live up to it, and definitely had the vibe of two teams stung by the events of the midweek in the Champions League, wanting to compose themselves ahead of next week in the Champions League, and needing a bit of a moment of respite in between, which the fixture list didn’t provide. The first half was scrappy with few goalscoring chances, though Leipzig’s very flexible shape, with Sabitzer moving up on the right to create a 4-1-3-2, was interesting to keep an eye on.
With both teams rotating key personnel, any result here was going to have to be ground out through attritional play. Fans of narrative will enjoy that Hannes Wolf – on loan from RB Leipzig – got the go ahead goal, and this time Gladbach showed a resolute defence to actually defend a late lead. Though sometimes Gladbach’s best performances haven’t been rewarded with full points, this felt like a statement game of the team’s ability to go toe to toe with anyone in the Bundesliga and get a win, even with a heavily rotated team and some stars, like Marcus Thuram, benched. Exactly the right result at exactly the right time for Marco Rose.
Wolf at the door
What a rollercoaster week for Hannes Wolf. Having contributed in a small way to the comeback against Mainz last weekend, he contributed in a bigger way to the last minute collapse against Real Madrid, and it seemed that his integration into the team had hit another roadblock. Credit then to coach Rose, who perhaps sensed that throwing Wolf on for 10 minutes here and there isn’t going to be the way to build up a players confidence. So the decision to start him in an unfamiliar berth out wide on the left was a bold one, and one for which Rose was rewarded.
Wolf won’t get everything all right all of the time, but he is the sort of player who tries things. When those things are silly flicks to no-one in the final stages versus Real Madrid, that can cause frustration. But he really offers something different in the Gladbach attack, a subtle touch which prospers better when it has more time and space to operate, and more minutes of a game to work in. So even though there was an early chance where he tried to beat an extra man rather than taking the shot, he got his chance at redemption just before the hour-mark, where he slotted home from Herrmann’s clever layoff, on his weaker right foot.
Something else that was notable about his performance was his work rate. He has a slightly odd, upright running style, which can make him look stilted in the press, but he did a very good job of getting into Leipzig’s faces on Saturday. Not only is that essential for Rose’s system, but it makes any turnovers more forgiveable if he’s prepared to work to get the ball back. And when he tries something and it does come off, boy that makes for a special moment.
With Thuram rested but Rose switching back to a back four (compared to last league game against Mainz, where Thuram also didn’t start but there were wingbacks), it posed the puzzle of – who would play on the left. It turned out to be Wolf who, as discussed, did very well. He was very happy to drift infield and let Ramy Bensebaini overlap, suiting both their games.
Sometimes, especially in the second half, Alassane Pléa would pull over to the left, a channel he likes to operate in and perhaps has more experience of compared to Wolf. After such a stodgy first half, this helped Pléa get into the game, and indeed, it was such movement which let him put in the initial ball for Wolf’s goal – the Austrian having of course taken up the central position. Pléa’s connection when shooting wasn’t always there but he looked good and the one shot he did get hold of, he was unlucky to see it bounce off the woodwork.
Wolf likes to cut in from wide positions, normally as an inverted winger from the right. But if he as this understanding with Pléa, giving them the flexibility to form a more fluid frontline, as if he actually has a right foot, as he proved on the goal, then he might be able to provide an effective rotation option for Thuram, given that the right wing is already packed with depth. The ability to play left, right or centre will only help him get game time and further match rhythm.
A clean sheet! A clean sheet. A one goal lead defended in the final seconds. This will be music to any Gladbach fans ears, and all the more welcome – and unexpected – given Nico Elvedi went off at half time with a muscle issue. Elvedi and Matthias Ginter have not gotten the reward they deserve for individually impressive performances that have somehow managed to translate into a collectively leaky defence for Gladbach so far this season. Bensebaini was impressive in replacing Elvedi in the centre of defence, and that gives Rose options in terms of how to format the side if Elvedi is going to miss any amount of time.
RB Leipzig had fifteen shots to Gladbach’s five but only three on target, the same as Gladbach, and only edged Gladbach on the xG by 0.70 to 0.62. That speaks to a resolute collective defensive effort from the front back by BMG, and one which restricted Leipzig’s ability to create clear chances – their highest xG shot was just 0.12 by understat.com metrics. It always feels good when hard work is rewarded, and that made Saturday a very satisfying night for Marco Rose and the Foals.