Leverkusen to Augsburg: no rest for the weary

Gladbach’s performance in the 4-3 loss to Bayer Leverkusen on the Sunday before the international break was that of a team playing their seventh game in 22 days. A team that needed a break. They kept on taking the lead, but never really felt able to cope with Leon Bailey’s pace, directness and uncharacteristic effectiveness on the wing, and with Lucas Alario providing a focal point for Leverkusen’s attack, it was only a matter of time before they asserted themselves on a Gladbach team that looked somewhat spent. After such close games against Inter and Real Madrid, a win against RB Leipzig and the thrashing of Shakhtar, Gladbach felt due an off-day, and did well to eventually make the score as close as it was, courtesy of some magic from Valentino Lazaro. They were also due a rest.

Officially sexy goal

However, this is 2020, and there is no such thing as a refreshing break this year. Reigning player of the month Jonas Hofmann picked up a muscle injury with Germany which will rule him out until January, while Ramy Bensebaini helped Algeria qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations, and then tested positive for COVID-19. In a cruelly ironic twist, Alassane Pléa, who was overlooked by France for a call up, nevertheless contracted COVID at home, while Marcus Thuram, who had a tremendously successful international break by 2020 standards, featured in three games over the two weeks, which will contribute to his fatigue if nothing else. Shout-out to the Swiss contingent, though. Nico Elvedi thoughtfully got sent off against Spain, to save himself an extra game, though positive tests in the Ukraine game resulted in that one getting cancelled – an inevitable consequence of trying to keep international games going during a global pandemic, and they’ll have to try and find a time to play that game in the packed schedule that is 20/21.

All of which meant that the starting line-up against Augsburg was hardly full strength. Coach Marco Rose has made a bit of a theme of giving the likes of Hannes Wolf, Patrick Herrmann and Oscar Wendt game-time in the league, rotating players out to save the form Champions League football. With Shakhtar visiting on Wednesday again already, that will have been one motivating factor behind resting the likes of Thuram, but if Wendt, say, has to play twice a week while Bensebaini self-isolates, that could present issues for the 35-year-old. Rose will have held his breath when Caligiuri trod on Wendt’s foot in the first half.

While the injury list is piling up, at least the return of long-term absentees could provide welcome respite. Lazaro’s best contribution in a Gladbach shirt came in the final minute of the Leverkusen game, and he will presumably be called upon more now that Hofmann is out for the forseeable. Denis Zakaria was on the bench against Augsburg, making a brief appearance at the end, and will make a real difference when he’s back to full fitness. Laszlo Benes could contribute too.

For the meantime, the B Team (B for Bundesliga, of course) acquitted themselves well against Augsburg. The game was open, maybe too open for Rose’s liking, but Augsburg are no slouches, and given that fact, Florian Niederlechner was kept quiet. A fellow Florian, Neuhaus, did well to power home an opener after a bit of a broken play five minutes in, and his midfield partner Christoph Kramer did a fantastic job breaking up play. The story on the wings was a bit different. Herrmann looked rusty, while Wolf was unlucky not to get more freekicks for various times he was kicked, limiting Gladbach’s production from the wing.

Breel Embolo led the line with energy, and both could have done better in a one-on one on sixty minutes, and also was unlucky to see his effort barely saved onto the post. Embolo looked to be played in again but tripped by Raphael Framberger, who received a second yellow card just fifteen minutes after coming on. Augsburg, who had been offering less in the second half, nearly equalised when Rami Khedira was smartly stopped by Yann Sommer, but Gladbach increasingly dominated possession. A lovely team move set Embolo through again, but his chip was saved and somehow he put the rebound into the side-netting. That Rose could replace Lars Stindl and Herrmann with Thuram and Lazaro shows the depth there still is in the squad.

But then the sickener. A goalmouth scramble fell to Daniel Caligiuri, who caught the the volley well, it caught Wendt in the midriff, and wrong-footed Sommer. Union Berlin. Wolfsburg. Real Madrid. Another home game, another late equaliser conceded. The international break provided a pause in the club football calendar, but no respite, and unfortunately the chance for a Bundesliga reset came and went.

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