Pre-season Game 3: 2-0 vs Paderborn

MOTM: Rocco Reitz

Honorable mentions: Lainer, Wolf

In Short

Paderborn posed the sternest test so far of the pre-season, but it was a match that Die Fohlen navigated with another clean sheet. The trend of playing better in the second half – and playing better when Hannes Wolf and Stefan Lainer are on the pitch – continued, as the Austrians got the goals here.

Highlights
What We Learned
Reitz on time

Discussing Gladbach’s transfers this summer, sporting director Max Eberl made an interesting comment:

In Fabian Johnson, Tobias Strobl and Raffael, we have lost three players who provided us with plenty of depth. By bringing in Hannes Wolf and Valentino Lazaro we have covered these losses and increased the competition for places

His point – that during a pandemic a club should not be unduly profligate after having asked the players already there to cut their wages – was both logical and laudable. But his maths seemed a little off. Wolf replaces Raffael’s creativity and potency from deep attacker. Lazaro replaces Johnson’s versatility on the wings. But there is a third player, Strobl, with no obvious replacement coming in. Even if Eberl says Lazaro can play as a six or an eight, he can’t be everywhere at all times.

A more logical solution for depth in the middle of the park is from within. Eberl may well have thought that two players could replace the three departures, because the third new player is already at the club.

Enter Rocco Reitz. Yet again he played in the centre of midfield in a second half that Gladbach dominated. Yet again his range of passing and intelligence on the ball was demonstrated, as he provided a glorious assist for Lainer’s goal.

Reitz is by no means the same exact profile of footballer as Strobl, but if anything is more suited to Marco Rose’s style of play, and the extra cover that Strobl could provide in defence will also be provided by Louis Beyer. Even if the loans for Wolf and Lazaro represent the extent of Borussia’s incomings this summer, it would be wrong to think that the squad as a whole has lost depth if it gives opportunities to the likes of Reitz.

Playing up the Lainer

In scoring his second goal in three games (plus with his involvement in the first goal), right-back Stefan Lainer underlined his importance to Gladbach’s attack. Here, Lainer was playing as a right wing-back. While Rose likes his wide defenders to push on regardless of whether he plays two or three central defenders, it is possible that the extent to the coach is using a three man defence in this pre-season is with a view of giving Lainer more attacking licence without leaving the defence overly exposed, as they could be versus Bundesliga opposition. Certainly, having Michael Lang backing him up versus Paderborn meant Lainer could attack in a more carefree manner.

Lazaro has spoken about how much he enjoys play with Lainer, which poses an interesting question. Lazaro would seem to suit a wing-back system, but will that limit his ability to combine with Lainer? Presumably, if Lazaro and Lainer play in the same system, they will either be wing-backs on opposite flanks, or they will be RB and RM in a system using four-man defence. It will be very interesting to see how they work together. Lazaro could play at RW, ahead of a RWB Lainer in a 3-4-3, but that would entail Rose dropping a more attacking forward and would seem overly conservative for him, especially how many great options he has in such positions.

If Rose is looking to release Lainer going forward, and wants three central defenders to provide cover, then it could mean sacrificing the possible combinations with Lazaro on the right-wing. However, if Lainer plays in a four man defence, it is possible Lazaro himself can provide the cover Rose needs from the wing, by dropping in when Lainer pushes on. The understanding they have might not be purely attacking, and Lazaro’s defensive instincts compared to other wing options could mean that Rose gets the extra cover he needs to unleash Lainer’s attacking impulses, without resorting to a back three.

Lazaro was not used in Saturday’s friendly, and it will be exciting to see where he slots in when he is available.

Raising Lazaro’s attacking output

How Marco Rose could resurrect the career of Valentino Lazaro

Valentino Lazaro has signed for Borussia Mönchengladbach, on loan (with a reported option to buy) from Inter. Here’s how the deal could pan out for both player and team.

The Foal Train view, in short:

The Lazaro deal poses little risk and the possibility of a great deal of reward. He gives depth across a range of positions and provides flexibility to play in different formations. However, his underlying numbers don’t obviously suggest that he should be considered an automatic starter. He seems best suited to play wing-back but should certainly not replace either full-back. If coach Marco Rose can help him to improve his attacking output, however, then maybe he can make a midfield role on the wing his own.

The Full View

Lazaro is one of the more intriguing players floating around European football at the moment. Debuting in the Austrian Bundesliga in 2012 for Red Bull Salzburg as a 16 year old, he has signed for Borussia Mönchengladbach after stints at Hertha Berlin, Inter Milan and Newcastle, and is still only 24. No-one seems to know his best position, and he seems to have lost his way a little. Even though he struggled to establish himself in the first team at Newcastle, he did appear in at least some capacity in every single game after the pandemic break, and they seem to have been keen on re-signing him before Gladbach secured his signature.

He generally plays out wide in defence or midfield, and, looking at the numbers, he seems to be best suited to a wing-back position. That’s what will have made him attractive to Antonio Conte’s Inter, and to Newcastle United in January, but while it didn’t quite work out for him last season, he is not the first player to have issues settling at those clubs.

The structure of the Lazaro deal is the most attractive thing for Gladbach. A loan with an option to buy gives Rose a risk-free chance to link Lazaro up with former RB Salzburg players like Stefan Lainer and Hannes Wolf. Like Wolf, Lazaro has tremendous potential but is not yet the finished article. Rose (a Salzburg youth coach while Lazaro was breaking into the first team) will be delighted at the chance to coach these talents once again and aim to get more out of them, and the additional squad depth is key for a strong league and European campaign. And while Lazaro has a great chance to reboot his career at Gladbach, there is little risk to the club if it doesn’t work out.

Here is a bit more detail on the statistical break-down of Lazaro’s game, and how he fits into the squad.

Statistically speaking

Let’s analyse Lazaro’s performance so far across the last two seasons at Hertha, Inter and Newcastle, using stats provided by Football Slices. The sample size is already a bit small so breaking it down further by club is inadvisable (for instance, he happened to get two assists at Inter, and two goals at Newcastle, so his propensity to get goals and assists is skewed vastly if you look at only one stint). In the graphics, Lazaro will be the colourful wedges, while established Borussia players will, appropriately, be the bold black lines and white wedges.

Football Slices lets you categorise players and compare to people of the same position, but the ambiguity over Lazaro’s starting position makes his underlying numbers hard to analyse. For instance, looking at how often he is dispossessed per 90 minutes, his number of 0.91 is stellar for a winger, but much less good compared to full-backs in Europe’s top five leagues. His xA (expected assists) per 90 of 0.18 is brilliant for a full-back, but average for a winger. He spent some of 2018/2019 playing as a full-back for Hertha, but in general, you would expect his assist stats to surpass the average full-back, given the time he spends playing wing-back.

So where should he fit in? Let’s consider whether Rose should use Lazaro as a full-back, reformat the team to play him at wing-back or use him as a winger/wide midfielder.

Drop a full-back? Indefensible

First thing to note is: the numbers suggest that he should not replace Ramy Bensebaini or Lainer at full-back. Given the options Rose has in the wide areas of attack/midfield, and the assumption he will continue to use a back four, some have suggested that Lazaro should slot in at full-back. This should not happen. It is noteworthy how both Lainer and Bensebaini have basically the same number of successful dribbles as Lazaro, and higher dribble success rates. Obviously Lazaro will be attempting riskier dribbles higher up the pitch, but that Bensebaini and Lainer can basically match him for total number of dribbles anyway in fewer attempts shows how good they are. They are also better passers and much better defensively. They should not be dropped for Lazaro.

The defensive stat which Lazaro is best at is successful pressures. That will be one Rose values highly, and is also very compatible with a role a bit higher up the pitch (especially given his weakness across other defensive metrics).

Space on the wing

Switching to a comparison to other wingers, the other stand-out stat, along with the times dispossessed mentioned above, is progressive distance. It makes sense that Lazaro does better at progressing the ball with passes or dribbles, given his average starting position is much deeper than most attacking midfielders or wingers he is being compared with. He will be under less pressure when he receives the ball, for one thing, as well as there being simply more of the pitch ahead of him. But as a strength it should not be discounted, particularly given his apparent weaknesses when it comes to passes into the box, shot-creating actions and his low xG numbers will also be influenced by that deeper starting position.

What all this reflects – in part – is the difficulty of assessing a wing-back by the criteria of full-backs or wingers. He is better defensively than your average winger, and he is a little better going forward than your average full-back. This is, almost self-evidently, good for a wing-back, and suggests his suitability for the role. Moreover, Rose has experimented with a back three and wing-backs in each of the opening pre-season games, implying he wants to be able to use that system at least on occasion. As mentioned before, Bensebaini could tuck in at LCB and Lazaro could play at LWB.

Lazaro could also play as a wide midfielder, and offer something different. On the right wing, the easiest comparison is with Patrick Herrmann, who is also right footed but provides many more goals per 90 mins that Lazaro – 0.33 non-penalty goals, compared to 0.1. But in some games, Rose may want more defensive solidity and higher pressing on the wing. And, more pertinently, if Lazaro is given a run at wing, with a full-back behind him (especially one as dynamic as Lainer) and more freedom to go forward, Rose might have identified traits in Lazaro which, with a bit of coaching, could easily mean he can improve his performance in and around the other team’s box.

It’s a shot to nothing, but thanks to the structure of the deal, Gladbach and Rose have little to lose.

Pre-season Game 2: 4-0 vs Duisburg

MOTM: Breel Embolo

Honorable mentions: Lainer, Wolf, Neuhaus, Reitz

In short

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a slow first half, an excellent second half, and plenty more to chew over as Marco Rose assesses different systems and players. Lainer(ish), Neuhaus, Embolo and Herrmann got the goals.

Highlights
What we learned

Same caveats as always with analysing pre-season football. That being said, here are a few observations from the Duisburg game.

The Breel Thing

Borussia came out for the second half with a sense of purpose and an attacking verve that had been pretty much absent in the first half. Breel Embolo was at the heart of it all. He is such an intelligent footballer, and was involved so much in Borussia’s most telling build-up play, that it almost felt as though the goal he was least involved in was the one he scored. His versatility, and his ability to drop deep and link up play, while at the same time providing a focal point, is an unusual skillset but means he can totally dominate games. While Duisburg weren’t the most testing opposition, they had held back Gladbach well enough in the first half. But Embolo best embodied the gulf between the teams after the break.

Second half success

Rose again used two different systems in the two halves, but the other way around to Wednesday. He tried a slightly different 3-4-3 in a goalless first half, and this time it was the second half where he deployed the 4-2-3-1. Gladbach have scored 7 of their 8 goals so far this pre-season in the second half, playing different formations. That suggests that the ability to tear away in the second half might be fitness or quality-based rather than because any particular system is working better than another.

There were some common threads to the two second halves, though. Ginter and Elvedi played in both, though they can’t account for the offensive production. Another defender, Stefan Lainer, has definitely been contributing on that front. His attacking prowess is just far too much for the third tier opposition, be it Verl or Duisburg, and he is just as happy attacking from right back as he is at right wing-back. He scored (despite Duisburg’s best efforts at a goalline clearance that might even constitute creating an own goal) and he has also shown good combination play with Hannes Wolf in both games. For the third goal, Lainer worked the ball to Wolf, who went on a lovely dribble before squaring to Embolo for a simple tap in. The early signs are that these two former RB Salzburg players have an excellent understanding, which Rose has been happy to utilise in both games.

There has been one other player who has played in both second halves where Gladbach have scored such a lot of goals: young Rocco Reitz. Against Duisburg, his vision, passing, and the stability he provided in a double pivot with Florian Neuhaus really stood out, and he was a very composed presence in midfield.

Wingbacking it

Even though Gladbach lacked attacking bite in the first half vs Duisburg, the combinations between the back three and midfield four looked solid. It was good to see Louis Beyer get gametime as a RCB and Ramy Bensebaini play as a LCB. If Rose does decide to use a back three in the coming season, both players could excel in these positions. Against Verl Bensebaini played as a LWB, but while he can do so, if he plays at centreback, it opens up up a spot for a natural wingback. That becomes particularly interesting when you consider Gladbach have been linked to Inter’s Valentino Lazaro. His versatility means he could slot on to the right wing ahead of Lainer, deepening the Salzburg connection, if Gladbach play a back four. But he also provides the ability to play on either flank at wingback too. With Oscar Wendt now 34, the lack of depth at LWB would seem to be the main knock against playing with a back three at the moment. There are reservations about gambling on a highly-paid Inter flop who struggled to make an impact at Newcastle. But Rose, youth coach at RB Salzburg while Lazaro was busy becoming the youngest player ever to play in the Austrian Bundesliga, could be the man to help resurrect his career now.

Pre-season Game 1: 4-0 vs SC Verl

MOTM: Famana Quizera

Honorable mentions: Wolf, Embolo, Müsel, Borngard

In short

A slightly sleepy start, a slightly shaky defence, but an ultimately comfortable win that gave new signings and youngsters a chance to show what they can do, with Embolo, Quizera, Wolf and Villalba getting the goals

Highlights
What we learned

All lessons from any pre-season game come with the caveat that it is only pre-season. Fitness is the priority, teams are always experimental and the opposition is not the highest quality. But here are a few observations from the Verl game.

Magic Quizera

Famana Quizera looks like the perfect prospect for a Gladbach team. In a number ten role in the second half, he showed the ability to drop deep into midfield but also run beyond the strikers ahead of him. He possesses fabulous technique and plenty of energy.

Plus, he scored a glorious goal.

There were two special things about Quizera’s strike. Firstly, it comes from his high pressing, harrying the goalie into a mistake in a way that will please coach Marco Rose as much as the shot itself. And then, when he’s in position to to take the chance, the lob is perfectly executed. The cliché is that lobs like that are audacious, cheeky, outlandish. But Quizera’s shot was simple, rational, inevitable. He did what was required to score from the position he was in, and, as the ball drifted over the goalie and into the net, it was clear he had turned what had seemed an implausible way to score into the most straightforward-looking thing in the world.

Four becomes three

Let’s talk formations. Not only did the entire playing eleven change between first and second half, but so did the system. Rose deployed a familiar 4-2-3-1 in the first half, with exceptionally attacking fullbacks when in possession. Breel Embolo generally played through the middle – sometimes drifting wide to switch with Ibrahima Traoré, sometimes dropping deep – and took his goal well, even if Verl defenders were falling over themselves, quite literally, to let his shot trickle in.

The system in the second half was like a strange premonition – not necessarily of what Rose will use this season, but of another team playing later on Wednesday. Theoretically a back five, Ramy Bensebaini and Stefan Lainer pushed so high from wing-back (as the fullbacks did in the first half) that it was a 3-4-1-2, with more than a shade of the system Atalanta would deploy against PSG in the champions league. However, while Papu Gomez will drift wide into pockets of space for the Italian side, forward Hannes Wolf was the one who was happy to pull wide on the right. The number 10, Quizera, also ran beyond Lars Stindl, who was, as ever, happy to drop deep and turn provider. That Stindl laid on Wolf for his goal on the left hand side of the box shows the fluidity that the system provides in attack.

Attack vs Defence

Gladbach looked a lot better in attack than in defence. That’s not a particular problem at this stage of pre-season. It’s much harder to fling together a set of defenders with a goalie and get them co-ordinated than it is to ask a set of attackers to score goals against third tier opposition. It’s not shown in the highlights above, but Zlatko Janjić had an unbelievable miss for Verl early in the second half, and with first half chances too, they could have had a few goals. Janjić miss aside, the back three of Michael Lang, Nico Elvedi and Matthias Ginter did give some extra solidity compared to the first half’s line-up. A few Gladbach defenders could be well suited to a back three. Whether Lang has a future at the club is a bit ambiguous, but surely he has a better chance getting in the team at right-sided centre-back than as a right-back, where Lainer is the clear first choice. It could also give openings for Gladbach’s young defenders who would struggle to break into a settled Bensebaini-Elvedi-Ginter-Lainer backline.

Young Foals

It wasn’t just Quizera who impressed. Torben Müsel was a bright spark in a otherwise sleepy first half: combining nicely with Traoré, showing deft touches in midfield, and sometimes rotating with Embolo up top. Defender Louis Beyer had one bad turnover which led to a Verl chance, but probably would prefer a chance playing alongside the aforementioned first-choice defenders. Both he and Jordi Borngard could thrive in a back three, and Borngard, in a ten minute cameo coming on for Lang, showed adventurousness, composure and his skill on the ball in stepping out of defence and going on a mazy run to set up Villalba’s goal. With lots of first-teamers still missing, Kaan Kurt, Jan Olschowsky, Rocco Reitz and Conor Noss all also featured, and it will be fun to see more of them in the rest of pre-season.

Borussia Mönchengladbach and 2019/20: good season, great season

We mentioned the Champions League as a goal at some point and that’s what we’re being measured by now. We have to show a different mentality on the day in the last three games. 

Borussia Mönchengladbach coach Marco Rose on June 15, two days after losing to 2-1 Bayern München.

Borussia Mönchengladbach’s 2019/2020 season was undeniably a success. The only reasonable domestic target – qualification for the Champions League – was achieved, for the first time since 2016.

Gladbach even topped the table for a month from the end of October, causing some to wonder whether they could even mount a title challenge. But their drop-off from that lofty position shouldn’t be a source of regret.

The greater disappointment might be that from being in control of their Champions League qualification before the season’s break, defeats to Freiburg, Bayern and, crucially, Champions League qualification rivals Bayer Leverkusen, saw them cede the initiative in that battle, and made for a nervous final few gameweeks.

However, given the unprecedented disruption to the Bundesliga, combined with the injuries he had to deal with, coach Marco Rose deserves a lot of credit for calmly guiding the team to three straight wins to finish the season, enough to overtake Bayer and deny them the Champions League spot that they had won the previous season. Given the form of talisman Kai Havertz, and much a easier ride with injuries, the fact Bayer fell short where Gladbach triumphed is perhaps the greater surprise, and Rose has, if anything, overachieved. And if the early season form set expectations that Gladbach would mount a title challenge, then that is just a testament to how quickly Rose has brought this team forward in his first season as coach, rather than reflecting any realistic hope of Bundesliga glory. 

So it was a good season, and possibly a great one. How history will judge it depends on what happens next. If the club can keep this squad together and strengthen it, if Die Fohlen kick on in Rose’s second season, then maybe Gladbach can re-establish themselves as the presumptive fourth best team in Germany, and plausibly start setting their sights on overtaking those ahead of them.

But it will be tough. With big teams behind them (admittedly in varying states of disarray), it would be easy for them to slip out of the top four, and then maybe 2019-2020 will be seen as a great season, where they achieved the exception of Champions League qualification rather than making it a rule.

With all the talk of a “new normal” in life more generally, Gladbach should believe that achievements of 2019-20 can set the standard for the future, and use it as a platform to build on. On this site we will assess the prospects for the year ahead, making the case that Gladbach is well-placed in comparison to those around them. We’ll also take a look at their signings, preview their return to the Champions League and examine the domestic fixture list, which starts with a mouthwatering game against the other Borussia, Dortmund. 2019-2020 was good, but we reckon there are greater things to come.

Welcome to Foal Train

Stolzer Blick zurück – volle Kraft nach vorn.

Looking back with pride – full speed ahead.

Die Seele Brennt The Soul Burns – Gladbach fan song

No one who follows Borussia Mönchengladbach can do so without feeling the power of nostalgia once in a while. With the club’s last Bundesliga title 43 years ago, one can forgive a fanbase for sometimes digging out the old videos from the archives, and generally wishing the 1970s never ended.

But with an exciting team, the return of Champions League football and one of the most gifted young coaches in European football, Foal Train is founded in a summer where BMG fans should be optimistic for the future.

Whether you are an avid follower of the team or just curious about the German Bundesliga, this is the place for tactics, transfers and everything in between, so long as it’s black, white and green.

Retro design vibes aside, it’s time to look forward. Welcome to Foal Train. Full speed ahead. Thanks for reading, and hope you enjoy the site.