The Rise of Borussia Mönchengladbach
The Bundesliga has been owned by Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund over the past four years and in that time the top 4 has rotated with Munich winning the league twice and Dortmund winning the league in back to back campaigns in 2010 and 2011. Schalke has graced the top 4 three times in the last four years and Bayer Leverkusen has made two appearances in this group while Werder Bremen poked its head in during 2009, and Hannover 96 snuck it’s way into fourth in 2010.
In 2011, Borussia Mönchengladbach made a rare top 4 finish, which they hadn’t achieved since 1995. Currently Mönchengladbach sits in fourth place with 31 points and is behind Borussia Dortmund only on goal difference. With 33 goals scored, they’ve scored the fourth most goals in the league behind Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Hoffenheim. With 17 goals allowed in 16 matches they have the fourth least goals allowed in the league. A deeper look at the makeup of this team reveals just why they’re doing so well this year and every player has been contributing and putting in great performances that are part of Die Fohlen’s revival.
Mönchengladbach were a powerhouse in the 70’s and became the first team to win three consecutive titles, but since that golden decade they’ve been far from the high-flying, pace infused side that ruled the disco era. Die Fohlen experienced the pain of relegation in 2006, but clawed their way back into the Bundesliga the following season. In 2010 they were almost relegated again, but managed to stay afloat and in 2011 they finished in fourth place after a strong campaign and brilliant performances from Marco Reus and Marc-André ter Stegen.
This year they’re at it again and are beginning to resemble the side that garnered so many plaudits. Their recent success starts at the back with their keeper Marc-André ter Stegen, who has been the club’s keeper since 2011. The 21-year-old German international kept 9 clean sheets in 34 caps last season and in 15 matches this year he’s already recorded 6 clean sheets, which is second only to Manuel Neuer’s nine clean sheets. The confident young keeper has great positional awareness, controls his box well and is capable of making acrobatic saves. His performances have attracted the attention of major clubs and he is likely to leave Mönchengladbach for Barcelona within the next year, but as of now he provides a great last line of defense for Die Fohlen. Although he’s put on brilliant performances in the Bundesliga, it should be noted that in his 3 starts for the German national side he conceded 12 goals and lost all three matches so he really needs to strengthen his game if he wants to be considered as a viable second option in place of Neuer.
In front of ter Stegen are a handful of defenders who have been efficiently navigating the defensive channels of a very physical style of play in the Bundesliga. The likes of Swedish left back Oscar Wendt, German right back Tony Jantschke, Spanish centreback Álvaro Domínguez and Austrian centreback Martin Stranzl have been fantastic. The entire back line are adept passers and are completing 83%, 90%, 91% and 90% of their passes respectively. They all have great concentration, hold onto the ball extremely well, have superb vision and are defensively sound. They are competent with short passes and have the awareness to clear the ball when necessary, as many defenders hold onto the ball too long these defenders are very rarely subject to that gripe. In fact the four of them have only been dispossessed a total of 8 times, which shows just how careful with the ball they are. With that back line in front of a rising star in ter Stegen it’s no wonder that they’ve conceded the 4th fewest goals in the league.
In front of that solid back line are some very talented midfielders that are beginning to attract a lot of attention in their own right. Christoph Kramer has been excellent in central midfield as a holding midfielder. At 189 cm and 82kg the on-loan 22-year-old German poses a threat in all aspects of play. He’s winning 2.7 headers per game, is completing 91% of his passes, is making 3 tackles per game, is dribbling past 2 opponents per game, is making 2 interceptions per game and has recorded a goal and an assist in his 15 caps. He plays his role to the tee and his strengths in passing, winning headers; interceptions, tackling and layoffs make him a perfect central midfielder that is capable of breaking up play and starting the counter attack. Next to him is 21-year-old Swiss international Granit Xhaka, who also fills that central midfield role extraordinarily well for such a young player. He is similar in stature and production to Kramer, which is a big reason for Mönchengladbach’s possession stats. They currently average 56.3% of possession in their games, which is second only to Bayern’s whopping 71.1%. Xhaka has been superb in central midfield like his counterpart, Kramer, and has been completing 88% of his passes, is winning 1.8 headers per game, is making 2.5 tackles per game as well as making 2.3 interceptions per game and 2.4 effective clearances per game.
Passing is certainly a strong suit of this exciting team and Xhaka is no exception. While he fouls often he is adept at breaking up play and makes 10 accurate long balls per game, which helps to fuel the counter and allows his attacking players to get into space. His recent form has drawn attention from Liverpool, who are looking at “young Einstein” as a potential long term replacement for their talisman Steven Gerrard. Xhaka is a special player for sure and can play anywhere in the midfield, as he has a tireless work rate, excellent positioning and tackling skills and passes very well. Though he’s been utilized as more of a holding or defensive midfielder he shows the capability of playing as an advanced playmaker or deep lying playmaker, as he’s made an assist and 10 key passes in his 14 caps.
Outside of Xhaka and Kramer are Juan Arango and Patrick Herrmann who play in left and right midfield respectively. At 33 years of age the Venezuelan attacking midfielder, Juan Arango, is widely regarded as the best player Venezuela has ever produced and he brings a huge threat to Mönchengladbach, who he has been with since 2009. In 2012 he scored the Bundesliga goal of the season with a ferocious left-footed volley against Wolfsburg. This year he’s been an integral part to the squad with his trademark left footed free kicks, long passing and venomous shots. In 15 appearances he’s scored 4 goals and recorded two assists while completing 74% of his passes and making a key pass per game. He poses an immense threat from set piece situations, wins 3.7 headers per game and his great vision allows him to supply his teammates with well time passes. He is dangerous from all areas of the pitch due to his awareness and powerful long strikes and he provides this relatively young side with a veteran presence that every team needs. Opposite of Arango is Patrick Herrmann, who at 22 years of age is certainly looking to emulate his wide counterpart. The young German has already made 100 appearances for Die Fohlen and has represented the German national team at every level of youth football from U16 to U21.
This year his partnership with Arango, Xhaka, Kramer and their forwards has been lucrative. In his 15 starts he’s scored 3 goals and assisted 5 while completing 82% of his passes, completing 2 dribbles per game and making 1.5 key passes per game. He passes with great accuracy, holds onto the ball very well and is a skilled dribbler. His pace on the right side of the pitch forces defenders to pay more attention to him, as he poses a threat on the counter and likes to engage in quick one touch passes to get up the field. Though he is a good passer of the ball he struggles with crosses, which takes away his ability to be a duel threat as a winger and an attacking midfielder. With his inability to whip in a dangerous cross it is up to Arango to pick up his slack and that limits their attacking options. His positional awareness is also lacking and because he likes to drift forward he sometimes finds himself alone in space with no help, though it is interesting to note that he has only been caught offsides three times in league competition.
Ahead of that versatile midfield are Die Fohlen ‘s joint top scorers Max Kruse and Raffael. The 28-year-old Brasilian forward, Raffael, has been in great form this season along with his 25-year-old German striker partner Max Kruse. Both of them have 8 goals and 4 assists in their 15 starts and are completing 85% and 83% of their passes respectively. Both forwards are weak in the air, but their skill on the ball and ability to pick out a key pass more than make up for their lack of aerial superiority. Raffael has been averaging 1.8 key passes per game while Kruse has been averaging 2.7 key passes per game so it’s quite clear that they have a good vision up front. What makes them even more dangerous is that fact that Raffael is right-footed and Kruse is left-footed, but they have scored with both feet so showing either forward onto their weaker foot wont make them shy away from taking a shot. With two forwards who are skilled dribblers, pose threats from set pieces, are proficient at picking out key passes and can finish with both feet it’s no wonder that their offensive production has been so high. Their 8 goals apiece are only 3 behind the league’s leading scorer Robert Lewandowski.
Overall this team has been performing exceptionally well this term. They’ve been holding onto the ball with great care, are second only to Bayern Munich in passing accuracy and possession and are second in interceptions per game behind Mainz 05. They also average the most dribbles per game and complete more long balls than any team in the league. They prefer to attack from the left so it’s usually Arango and Xhaka who are creating for Die Fohlen, but if any team thinks that they can ignore the right side then they’ll be punished by Raffael, Herrmann and Jantschke who have combined for 11 goals and 10 assists. When a team plays possession football correctly it is often a joy to watch and Mönchengladbach have been that this season. They’re comfortable controlling possession in their own half and when they get the lead it’s very rare that they give it up. With Schalke and Dortmund underperforming there is a great chance that Mönchengladbach will finish in the top 4 this term and they could push even higher if things go their way. They’re definitely a team to watch out for this year, as they’re only 5 points behind Bayer Leverkusen and are level with Borussia Dortmund on points.
Editor’s note: For the latest German news, analysis and opinion, visit the Bundesliga page.