As Bundesliga gears up for a return to normalcy, we equip you with an in-depth view of everything about Borussia Monchengladbach and their season so far.
A team constantly on the rise in the last decade, Borussia Monchengladbach have taken the league by storm this season under a new coaching staff and with a refreshed squad. However, their story is far deeper than just a single season.
Founded in 1900, Gladbach (yes, Gladbach and Monchengladbach are the same club) appeared in the Bundesliga in only its third season in 1965 and quickly gained prominence because of their offence-heavy, aggressive style of football, a badge of honour they wear till this day.
However, a shaky defence let them down on several occasions, an aspect of their game they amended in the 1970s, taking them to their first league title ever. They went on to win five titles in eight years and became an absolute force in the game; so much so that Sir Matt Busby once said, “Nobody in the world would have won against this team today. That was football in the highest perfection.”
During the same period, Gladbach also won the UEFA Cup (now the Europa League) twice, finished runners up in the same competition twice and also lost the decider in the European Cup (now the Champions League) in 1976/77, when they were defeated by Liverpool in the final.
After their highs in the 1970s, the only way was down. They were never able to live up to that incredible decade of near perfection. The lowest of lows in this decline came in the 2006/07 season, when they were relegated on the final day of the season. Fortunately for the fans, this did not last long and they were promoted back the very next season. Since then, it’s only been positives for the Foals.
The Gladbach fans have a reputation to be loud, in sync and extremely passionate. Their home stadium, Borrusia Park has a capacity of over 50,000, but since fans are not allowed inside stadiums yet, the supporters have donated cardboard cutouts of themselves in an attempt to fill the stadium.
The Story So Far
Gladbach came within touching distance of Champions League football last season, but let go of out-of-contract head coach Dieter Hecking, who had failed to win a league game in the last two months of the season. Succeeding him was former Red Bull Salzburg coach Marco Rose.
Rose was a name big enough to lead Die Fohlen, but he had the pressure of replacing the man who had taken the club from midtable to European football. The 43-year-old has not only lived up to the expectations, but he also exceeded them immensely, making Gladbach a force to be reckoned with this season.
Gladbach have become one of the most exciting teams in Europe and they have the results to back that claim up. They started the season slowly, as most expected them to. However, they quickly capitalised on the messy onset of the objectively stronger teams like Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.
By the time Matchday 7 ended, Gladbach were on the top of the Bundesliga table, grabbing the attention of the world. They did lose to Dortmund the very next, but they were still holding on strong to first place.
Rose’s men stayed atop the league for seven more rounds of fixtures before they lost to Wolfsburg and were replaced by RB Leipzig, another team that is pushing for the Meisterschalle.
Currently, they are fourth on the table with 49 points, two clear of Bayer Leverkusen, who are knocking on the door looking for a Champions League spot. Meanwhile, post their defeat to Wolfsburg, things did not quite go as well for Gladbach, who kept dropping despite playing some exciting football.
Be that as it may, they have managed to hold themselves within the top four, scoring 49 goals and conceding only 30 in the league – the fourth-highest and the second-lowest tallies, respectively.
Despite their solid defensive record, Gladbach have amassed a total of 58 yellow cards, and two red cards, the third-highest total in the BuLi, which is surprising considering they have committed just over 12 fouls per game, which puts them mid-table in that category.
With their focus being largely on the Bundesliga, Gladbach missed out on the Europa League Round of 32 after they ended third in Group J below AS Roma and table toppers Basaksehir FK. They also fell short in the DFB Pokal after being toppled by Dortmund, with former star Thorgan Hazard running the show.
Post this, it was all about the league for Lars Stindl & co. and they proved this when they beat Bayern Munich in round 14. This was enough to send out a message to the entire league, that the Bavarian’s monopoly of the title might be coming to an end as this curtain call of this chaotic season beckons.
A brief intro to the squad
The Foals boast of one of the most exciting ensembles in the country, even though the average age of the squad is over 27.5. Despite that, they have youngsters like Marcus Thuram, Breel Embolo, Denis Zakaria, Florian Neuhaus and Nico Elvedi, among others, most (if not all) of whom may well be on their way to becoming world-beaters in a few years.
Something that makes this group of youngsters more threatening on the pitch is their utility. Most of the troupe at Gladbach can play multiple positions, which makes every starting eleven from Rose very unpredictable.
In goal, Gladbach boast of one of the experienced custodians in the league in Yan Sommer. The Swiss international moved to Germany from Basel and instantly became the first-choice for then-coach Lucien Favre. Sommer has been impeccable since his arrival at Borussia Park, but he hass taken his game to the next level this season and has been arguably the best in the league till now.
Stefan Lainer, Matthias Ginter, Elvedi and Oscar Wendt make for the nub of the defence. However, this quartet is often joined by Zakaria, who slots in as the sweeper in a three-man backline and Ramy Bensebaini who makes for an excellent wing-back.
31-year-old Lars Stindl dons the captain’s armband for Die Borussen, but is not a starting face of the team. He often slots in the attacking midfield role behind Alassane Plea and Marcus Thuram.
Other times, Stindl is seen replacing one of the two aforementioned forwards to occupy the centre forward role. Despite his absence from starting roles, the German makes for an extremely able captain with immense knowledge about the game and a vocal approach on the pitch.
Marco Rose: A Conquistador in the Making
Marco Rose, much like other coaches in Germany, is a product of an ambitious youth coaching setup, managing Salzburg’s Under-19 team that went on to win the UEFA Youth League in 2016/17. He, along with his assistant, former tactics blogger, Rene Maric was promoted to the senior team of the Austrian club, where they gained audiences from around the continent for their exhilarating style.
The duo topped this achievement in the very next season when they led their team to the Semi-Finals of the Europa League before falling short against Olympique de Marseille, who knocked them out courtesy a 116th-minute winner by Rolando. On their way to the semis, Salzburg beat the likes of Dortmund, Real Sociedad and SS Lazio.
Rose considers Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp his mentor. Rose played under Klopp at Mainz for eight years in two different divisions. The Champions League winner is a fan of Rose, and in a conversation with Sky Sports, he spoke highly of Rose, saying, “I trust Marco in everything. Marco can have any job and could do any job too, he is the most hyped (coach) of all at the moment, everyone is asking about you.” Extremely high praise.
The 43-year-old was poached by Gladbach after there was a lot of speculation regarding his future in the Austrian Bundesliga, starting a new challenge in North-Rhine Westphalia.
Tactics & Style of Play
Rose, while at Salzburg, usually deployed a 4-3-1-2 formation that played through the centre, relying on quick transitions, vertical passing, and breaking lines through counter-attacks.
However, Bundesliga is a very tactically demanding league and so, the young manager has been experimenting with formations, most notably with the 4-3-3 (4-3-2-1 in essence), the 4-2-3-1, the 3-4-3/3-4-1-2 and the 4-3-1-2 depending on the opposition.
In defence, the backline looks to pass the ball among themselves, mostly between the centre-backs, until they find a penetrative option. Zakaria is often the last man in the midfield, and drops deep as an extra passing option and to recycle possession.
Gladbach like to move the ball upwards as quickly as possible, and this is where Ginter comes in. If the midfielders are marked out to halt continuous vertical build-up, the 26-year-old uses his exceptional passing range and vision to find one of the front three, that has stepped out of position between the lines. This causes the opposition marker to move as well, creating a gaping hole in defence that can be exploited after the said forward releases a pass to the attacking midfielder.
Another thing that allows Gladbach to attack vertically almost constantly is the compactness of their shape. The wingers tuck in closely with the attacking midfielder or the striker to create an overload in a particular space, which can then be used to play quick one-twos and lay-offs.
Gladbach look to constantly attack through the middle, making full use of their front four, who are constantly attacking the opposition’s box, which pins down their centre-backs. The attacking midfielder, any one of Embolo, Stindl, Neuhaus or Laszlo Benes (told you, insane versatility), is given the role to constantly exploit holes in half-spaces through lobbed passes and balls.
The Foals’ way of attack comes in handy for them when they are defending. Compactness in the centre means when they lose possession of the ball, they are always ready for counter-pressing the opposition, surrounding the ball-winner. But, their aggression also results in a lot of bookings for the defenders.
The only way Gladbach allow width in their structure is through their full-backs, who occupy high starting positions during an attack and keep pushing to outnumber the opponents in half-spaces. However, these full-backs do not cross as any conventional player would.
The first preference always to play a cut-back to the edge of the 18-yard-box, where players with great shooting range, like Stindl and Embolo can attack it.
Plea and Thuram are at the base of Rose and Maric’s quick offensive style. Moreover, Thuram has given us an extremely iconic celebration, which will definitely be overused by FIFA players. Looking at you, EA.
Plea has exceptional positional awareness, and often times his runs to perfection, either for himself or his fellow forwards drawing defenders out.
He also has an eye for a pass and is not afraid to play in through-balls to release other players. The Frenchman has a combined tally 15 goals and assists in the league – the highest for Gladbach, and 8th highest in the league.
The 27-year-old is also an exceptional finisher who gave us the most mind-boggling goal of the season when he scored a volley against Mainz with his standing foot while faking a shot from his other foot.
Thuram, on the other hand, relies on bursts of runs into empty spaces starting from deep positions. The 22-year-old is quite a physical specimen and is easily able to bully defenders to latch on to loose balls, crosses and layoffs.
This is particularly useful for the youngster, who can make space for himself in the box to finish a move, as we can see from this stat from back in November.
Marcus Thuram, Gladbach. Kaboom. pic.twitter.com/2v3y5znwwh
— StatsBomb (@StatsBomb) November 12, 2019
Marquee Player: Denis Zakaria
23-year-old Zakaria has had the world at his feet this season after some sensational performances in the league. Standing at 6 ft. 3 icnhes tall, the Swiss international is an absolute unit of a footballer; but, do not be fooled by his size, for he is one of the quickest central midfielders around.
Zakaria has participated in all but two games for Gladbach this season. He boasts of extremely accurate passing and robust tackling, registering an average of 87% passing rate and 2.1 successful tackles per game.
Due to his rise to prominence and a diverse skill set, the Swiss has been compared to the likes of Paul Pogba, Naby Keita and even with Zinedine Zidane by his teammate Sommer.
Apart from his impressive stats, evidence of his superb season is the fact he has already been linked with a move away from Germany, with the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United interested.
Zakaria will slot in with ease at either of those clubs or any other club in the Premier League because he is a complete midfielder.
One To Watch Out For: Laszlo Benes
Monchengladbach signed Benes from MSK Zilina for a mere €2 million when he was 19-years-old. The then-teenager was loaned out to Holstein Kiel almost immediately after signing and returned to North-Rhine Westphalia prior to the commencement of the 2019/20 season.
Since then, he has appeared 13 times in the league, out of which 10 are starts. In the 817 minutes the Slovakian has registered for Gladbach, he has set up 4 goals while scoring none.
An attacking midfielder by trait, Benes has mostly played as a central midfielder in a hybrid no. 8/10 role for Marco Rose. This is because the 22-year-old possesses extraordinary long passing accuracy, which can be best used in a slightly withdrawn role. He completes 2 long balls and 1.6 key passes per game.
As Stindl and Christoph Kramer enter the final phases of their career, Benes can be mentored to take over the role of either of the two Germans at the club.
Gladbach are, without question, one of the most exhilarating teams in Europe right now. That is what Marco Rose does to clubs. He makes them an absolute joy to watch while pushing them for the title. He has also helped nurture some of these players to become the best in their positions in the league, which includes Sommer, Zakaria, Embolo among others.
They face a tough test as soon as the Bundesliga returns to action as they travel to Eintracht Frankfurt this weekend, and then host Bayer Leverkusen next week. They are also yet to face Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena, and that might be their chance to cause an upset in the final few weeks of the season.
Gladbach had quickly gained a huge support base, including myself, among neutrals who desperately want to see the coveted Bundesliga shield in the hands of another club. That said, I don’t think they will be able to push for the Meisterschalle, even if 6 points separate them and Hansi Flick’s side. However, you must follow them in their tussle with Leverkusen for the last Champions League spot.