Shakhtar Donetsk : (4-2-3-1) Trubin; Kornilenko, Khocholava, Bondar, Dodo; Marcos Antonio, Barberan; Solomon, Marlos, Tete; Taison
Gladbach: (4-2-3-1) Sommer; Bensebaini, Ginter, Elvedi, Lainer; Kramer, Neuhaus; Thuram, Stindl, Hofmann; Pléa
This was a phenomenal performance and a historic night for Gladbach. It was only their third win of the Champions League era in the competition, but what a win it was to leapfrog the group leaders and take charge of Group B. One view is that a depleted Shakhtar side made life easy for Gladbach, and they did, but this team beat Real and held Inter with similar numbers of second-stringers in their line-up, so it doesn’t quite explain how well Gladbach played. BMG started brilliantly, with intensity both in attack and in the press when they lost the ball, and they only went from strength to strength from there.
Marco Rose went with the starting line-up that impressed against Real, and things started to click in attack straight away. Florian Neuhaus had plenty of time to find Stevie Lainer in acres of space down the right, who centred for Alassane Pléa to make it 1-0. There were similar gaps on the left, exploited by Pléa to lay the groundwork for the second goal. It wasn’t rushed: his intelligent hold up play helped to work the ball to Kramer, whose deflected shot squirmed past Trubin in goal.
Good work by Thuram and Stindl on the left led to an almost carbon copy chance for Pléa, and the Frenchman’s strike was a lot sweeter than Kramer’s, flying into the top corner for the third of the night. Ramy Bensebaini scrambled in a fourth from a corner – all before half time.
Shakhtar didn’t commit a foul in the first half and Khocholava got a yellow within a minute of the second, illustrating the message that coach Luis Castro had imparted on his players during the break. But, though the intensity let up a little, Gladbach kept winning the ball up the pitch, and Stindl got in on the act with a smartly taken finish. Pléa nabbed his third, and Gladbach’s sixth, and Shakhtar had nothing left. By the time Marco Rose sent on the B team for the last ten minutes, Gladbach had already made a massive statement and secured a huge win to take them top of the group.
Pléa of the match
An utterly fantastic display from Alassane Pléa here, of course, and one which demonstrated his full range of strengths. The first goal was in one sense a classic poacher’s finish but with a special Lasso twist – his run was not one of a striker leading the line in the traditional sense, but one from the deeper areas that he so loves to operate in. The second goal showed why he loves to drop deep, because he is a top-class finisher with a underrated ability to score from distance.
A very nifty flick from Lasso provided the assist for the Lars Stindl, who made it five, and Pléa rounded off the scoring by completing his hat-trick. He showed great awareness as a striker who can indeed lead a line in a conventional sense, doing brilliantly to check his initial run and somehow stay onside to finish. He seemed to think he was offside, but professionally finished the chance anyway, and a quick VAR review handed him the match ball.
Pléa is both a very intelligent forward who can drop into space and link with the midfield, and also just a brilliant finisher. Sometimes the fact that he does all the other things so well distracts from how well he can finish, but not tonight, as he bagged Gladbach’s first hat-trick in Europe’s top competition since Jupp Heynckes in 1975.
Full-back to front
Shakhtar played with the deadly combination of a high line and zero pressure on the ball which was fatal for their chances in this game. A screen grab of every single time Gladbach were able to get in behind on the flanks would crash my computer, so will leave it at just the one.
A big part of Gladbach’s system is very attacking full-backs, who look to get forward where possible. Stevie Lainer and Bensebaini have brilliant work-rates, meaning they can join the attack with abandon without necessarily sacrificing too much the other way. That was on display on Tuesday night, as was poor positional play from their opposite numbers.
Shakhtar left-back Kornilenko tended to tuck in, leaving so much room on his outside for Gladbach to exploit. Jonas Hofmann at right wing often looked to stretch the play, but so did Lainer. For the first goal, Hofmann drifts inside, which might explain why Kornilenko stays narrow, but Donetsk had other players central so there is no excuse for the space he gives Lainer. Maybe he thinks he has the run on Lainer in a foot-race, but if he thinks that, he’s mistaken.
There is no pressure at all on Neuhaus when he makes the pass to Lainer on the right, no pressure on Lainer as he crosses, and no pressure on Pléa when he slots home. Another aspect of Hofmann’s run is that he is the most advanced player in the centre, helping to create space for Pléa’s late run.
The space in behind for the second goal was created because – not only is the line high, but Dodo is such an attacking fullback, he has pushed on further, and is caught out on the turnover, which lets Pléa bring the ball forward and work it via Stindl to Kramer. For the third goal, again Thuram needs to be patient, owing to Dodo’s recovery pace, but that Gladbach not only got in behind, but could then reset and attack in a more considered way when the pace of the game had slowed, is really encouraging.
Bensebaini’s role is different to Lainer – he can overlap when needed, but he can also tuck in to be an option in possession, especially when Thuram is the one stretching the play. Given the counter threat Dodo theoretically posed, Bensebaini did not need to show all his attacking range once Gladbach took a commanding lead, but he tackled well and his overall performance was rewarded with a goal.
This game will go down in history for all the right reasons for Gladbach. After spurning late leads against Inter and Real, it was easy to go into this game seeing the cup as being half-empty, even if draws against those two teams are more than respectable as results. Now, the cup is not just half-full, it’s overflowing, and Gladbach are in an unbelievable situation half-way through the group stage, heading up the Group of Death.