On Monday nights, I am treated to the weekend’s Bundesliga action thanks to ITV and their excellent highlights show. 2014/15 saw the likes of Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Schalke, Mainz and surprise packages Augsburg entertain me on a weekly basis, but it was one team that truly captured my imagination – Borussia Monchengladbach. Lucien Favre’s side were strong, cohesive and determined, yet so talented, quick and skilful going forward. A delight to watch.
After finishing third in what was an excellent campaign, ‘Gladbach were widely tipped to build on their success under Favre. However, much to the surprise of those associated with Die Fohlen (The Foals), they got off to a horrendous start, losing each of their first five matches which lead to the resignation of their beloved Swiss manager. After a day which ‘shook the club to the core’ according to sporting director Max Eberl, Andre Schubert, manager of the U23 side was appointed as manager.
Schubert was seen as little more than a stop-gap. The front runner for the job seemed to be Guingamp’s Jocelyn Gourvennec, but there were even ambitious calls from the Borussia-Park faithful for club legend Jupp Heynckes and even the unemployed Jurgen Klopp, who was on sabbatical at the time to take over. But here we are in December and Gourvennec is still at Guingamp, Heynckes is enjoying his retirement on the golf courses of Dubai whilst Klopp embarks on a new challenge at Anfield, with who in charge of the club from North Rhine-Westphalia? Schubert.
This season, ‘Gladbach have played primarily with a 4-4-2 formation, but the 3-4-3 has also been used on occasion in Europe when a different style of play has been needed. Both formations suit the side’s willingness to attack down the wings, as well as allowing their quick counter attacking system to flourish.
In spite of their preference to play on the break, ‘Gladbach tend to dominate the ball in most matches, averaging 55% possession this season with an 82% passing accuracy which are both the fourth highest percentages in the league.
Nobody symbolises the change in ‘Gladbach’s fortunes more than Raffael. At the beginning of the season, the Brazilian looked lethargic and unable to find that spark which had enabled him to score 27 goals and assist nine times in the previous two Bundesliga campaigns. Schubert’s appointment has breathed new life into the 30 year-old, and he has now accrued eight goals and six assists in the league to this day.
Not only is Raffael having a positive influence on the team, but the likes of Granit Xhaka, Lars Stindl, Ibrahima Traore and Fabian Johnson have all looked revitalised under their new boss.
Xhaka, one of the most exciting talents in the Bundesliga has matured immeasurably this season, controlling the middle of the park every game with his inch perfect passing and natural strength. The all action 23 year-old is sometimes guilty of letting his discipline slide with seven yellow and two red cards to his name already, but is undoubtedly the heartbeat of the side and is often a source of perseverance even when things aren’t quite going his or the teams way.
Stindl has also been a standout performer this season, coming in on a free transfer from Hannover 96 this summer. Having adapted his game slightly to play as one of the two up front, he is almost given a free role to drift wide, drop deep and even get on the end of crosses that fly into the box. With four goals and three assists, the German has proven to be a shrewd piece of business already. Not to mention the duo out on the wings, Traore and Johnson, who regularly trouble defenders with their pace and willingness to cut inside onto their stronger foot.
Schubert has also been keen to give the younger players an opportunity to impress, and the likes of Andreas Christensen (19), Julian Korb (23) and Mahmoud Dahoud (19) have done just that. Christensen, currently on loan from Chelsea, has impressed with his ability to play out from the back in addition to his willingness to put his body on the line on any occasion, while Korb encapsulates everything that a modern full back should be with his constant rampaging up and down the right hand side.
Without a doubt, Dahoud has been the most impressive youngster of them all, taking to first team football like a duck to water. His metronomic style keeps ‘Gladbach ticking along nicely, showing an eye for goal with his excellent long range shooting and even an eye for a pass with some clever through balls into the channels. His midfield partnership with Xhaka is well-balanced, allowing them both to excel in what they are good at – providing the wide men tuck in and support them when on the back foot as they can be prone to becoming outnumbered. A habit that Schubert has drilled into his players so well.
After winning his first three games as ‘Gladbach boss Andre Schubert said, “Football’s a simple game.” Well, the 44-year-old is certainly making it look that way, and after defeating Bayern Munich 3-1 last weekend, maybe it is simple after all? After taking the helm at Gladbach in a time of turmoil, in a time of tarnish, Schubert has turned the tide, and a Gladbach side that had looked out of ideas at the start of the season are back to their effervescent best again.