UEFA Champions League 2020/21: Borussia Monchengladbach vs Inter- tactical analysis
The most exciting group in the UEFA Champions League this season got back underway on Tuesday night, as Borussia Monchengladbach hosted Inter in game five of Group B. Both sides were looking for vital wins, as a win for Gladbach would take them through the group while Inter were just looking for a win to stay in the competition. The reverse fixture saw the sides draw 2-2 in Milan, and the game was a similarly entertaining affair on this occasion, with Inter Milan claiming a vital 3-2 away win. The match was a fairly even one, with both sides fluid build-up structures looking to break down one another’s defensive systems. In the end, it was Inter’s fluid build-up system which performed the best, and despite Marco Rose’s adjustments in the game, Gladbach were unable to progress the ball consistently past Inter’s press. In this tactical analysis, I will examine the pressing structures and fluid build-up systems used by both teams, showing how Inter’s defensive and offensive tactics got the better of Gladbach.
A depleted looking Borussia Monchengladbach lined up in a 4-2-3-1, with this system changing often throughout the match due to their fluid build-up. Inter went with a familiar 5-3-2, with Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez starting up front.
Inter’s defensive structure
Inter lined up in a 5-3-2 and pressed in the same way. The general aim behind the press was for the central midfielders to press the full-backs, with the wing-back often remaining pinned deeper by a Gladbach winger. The two far central midfielders would tuck across to cover the centre and half-space, while the widest centre back zonal man-oriented around the half-space, and so would press outwards if a player dropped into this area. They weren’t man-oriented, as it didn’t seem to matter who occupied this zone.
Gladbach’s fluid build-up was prepared for, and so if Gladbach dropped a central midfielder to form a back three, the central midfielder would still push forward and press the back line.
When this kind of situation did occur, Gladbach were rarely able to cause problems for Inter, with their poor offensive movement being something I will discuss later. We can see for example here Gladbach are in a back three again and play the ball out to the wing-back. The Inter wing-back presses in, while a centre back stays high and presses the player on the inside.
We can see an example below with Gladbach now in their 4-2-3-1 shape. Inter’s nearest central midfielder can push from inside to out to press the full-back, while the wing-back is pinned by Marcus Thuram on the wing. The only nearby option for Gladbach here is Alassane Pléa in the half-space, and the central midfielder and centre back for Inter are able to press the Frenchman in this area. Therefore it became vital for Gladbach that they were able to either create overloads on the pitch or make dismarking movements to escape pressure.
By the central midfielder pressing from inside to out (centre to wing), he was able to cut off much of the central lane, and so Gladbach struggled to access their pivots throughout the game, who are vital in creating overloads. We can see also here that the Inter strikers are on the same lines as the two Gladbach central midfielders here, and so they cannot be accessed.
We can see another example below, with the wing-back here not pinned by a winger, and so he is able to push higher and press the wing-back. The widest central midfielder blocks the central lane, and prepares to press the wide centre back when the ball goes backwards. The centre back moves higher again and prepares to press Lazaro, and so Inter are in a stable structure and Gladbach can’t create any overloads in their current positions.
Gladbach’s build-up struggles, apart from when it doesn’t…
Because of this solid structure from Inter, Gladbach generally struggled to create chances and progress the ball often. Their use of a back four particularly struggled, and we can see an example below of this occurring. Again Inter press in their 5-3-2, with the widest central midfielder pressing the full-back in possession. Because the central midfielder can press the full-back, the wing-back can remain deeper and mark a forward. The centre is shut off again and Gladbach do little to try and open it, and so there they struggle to create a potential central overload. The half-space is occupied by a striker here, who is isolated, and so when he receives the pass he can do little with it. Oscar Wendt plays the ball to him anyway, and Gladbach lose possession.
The use of a back three helped them massively, as it allowed them to create overloads such as the one seen below. Now, the central midfielder had to press higher against a wide centre back. As a result, the wing-back has to press higher against Gladbach’s wing-back. We can see in this situation, the Inter wing-back is already occupied by a winger, and so when the Inter player pushes higher to press, a centre back must mark the player they leave behind. This wide centre back is already occupied though by the number ten (Stindl), and so Gladbach can create a 2v1 on this player if their structure is good.
Their structure was rarely optimal though, and we can see an example here of this being the case. Neuhaus is in possession in a deeper half-space area, and so Oscar Wendt can quite easily push to become a wing-back. The aim of this is to engage Inter in that wing-back on wing-back press, which opens the space in the middle. If Wendt pushes higher here, he can occupy the Inter wing-back, and this movement would allow Marcus Thuram to look to get behind. The space in behind is created by Lars Stindl dropping deeper and being followed by a centre back, but once this space is vacated nobody else occupies it.
In this example here, after Gladbach drop into a three, they are able to access the central space with Neuhaus on the ball. The central midfielder presses, while Stindl drops deeper and occupies the wider central midfielder. As a result, the far wide lane opens, and there is potential for Lazaro to drop deeper and create an overload, where Lainer could then try to overlap and cross the ball. Instead, Lazaro tries to make a run in behind, which Inter can easily track.
These kinds of situations happened often in the game, where Gladbach would work the ball wide but wouldn’t really know how to progress the ball or create an overload. An easy ball here would be to use the central midfielder, who would occupy the opposition central midfielders and create space elsewhere.
Here again, Gladbach can’t quite work out how to create an overload and so Inter are able to remain stable. The centre back is drawn out, and so either Stindl or Plea could make a movement in behind to take advantage of this space. A central midfielder could move forward and Gladbach could potentially go backwards to then access the centre, and this would force Stindl’s marker to go and press, therefore creating the overload. Again though, Gladbach struggle. It is of course much easier for me to show how to create an overload from a nice angle and on a replay, rather than actually playing in the game.
When they did use dismarking movements and try to create overloads, they were successful, and that’s exactly where their first goal came from. We see a wide centre back is in possession and is not under too much pressure, which may partially be down to Christoph Kramer positioning himself close to the pressing player. In the half-space, Lazaro moves deeper to engage his centre back, and he makes a nice dismarking movement to go forward and then backwards to get in behind his marker. The ball is lofted towards Stindl, who is able to control in a central position due to his overload of the central centre back with Pléa. Stindl knocks it into Lazaro, who crosses for Pléa to score. A perfect example of what they were looking to do in the game.
Gladbach would later switch to a more permanent back three in the game when pushing for a second equaliser, and this helped them to progress the ball, but Inter still defended well before creating their third goal to win the game.
Inter’s fluid build-up
Inter built up a similarly fluid way to Gladbach, with their use of a back three and four at times allowing them to progress the ball well. Inter lined up in a 5-3-2/3-5-2 in possession, but they would often still create a back four before then dropping a central midfielder deeper in the half-space to form more of a back three. This had the same aim as the Gladbach build-up, in that it wanted a higher player to press Inter’s first line, so that they could engage the full-back directly high up the pitch. We can see an example below where Gladbach press in their 4-2-3-1, and right-winger Valentino Lazaro is forced to press the deeper central midfielder. This means that the wing-back has to be pressed by Gladbach’s full-back, which is not an ideal situation for Gladbach due to them not having much cover with only three players on the last line.
Gladbach’s 4-2-3-1 would often move into a 4-4-2 in order to apply more pressure to the back line, and so this offered Inter the opportunity to create a midfield overload at times, and this was often achieved through Marcelo Brozović dropping deeper and more centrally in order to escape the attention of the two deeper Gladbach players. We can see an example here where Inter are able to access Brozović well, and so he is not pressured, giving Inter a free pass and a way out of the pressure.
Inter’s third goal came from a similar situation, albeit now against a Gladbach side in a back five. Brozović again drops deeper and is able to receive, while former Manchester United man Alexis Sánchez drops deeper between the lines to receive centrally. Gladbach lose some central compactness because of the required pressure on Brozović, and Inter get in behind from the wings and cross to Lukaku for a goal.
In another example of their fluid build-up here, Inter commit a midfielder into the back line on the right side, and so Milan Škriniar moves wider into a wing-back role. Inter switch play to the other side, and another central midfielder makes a very quick movement into the wing-back role, which has been vacated by the actual wing-back. This rotation between the wing-back and the central midfielder allows the midfielder to receive freely and allows the wing-back to pin Gladbach’s full-back higher.
In this example, Škriniar moves wider again and acts as more of a full-back, with Inter now in a 4-4-2. This matches up with Gladbach so little success could be found, but even in these kinds of situations where Gladbach seemed stable, Inter could play more directly to Lukaku, who was excellent all game at linking play and holding the ball.
When Gladbach moved into a back five in the second half, Inter faced a similar task to the one Gladbach were faced with in build-up, and Inter’s movements around these areas were generally better than Gladbach’s. We can see an example of a nice dismarking movement made by Martinez here, who looks to get in behind initially. Again though, Inter have the benefit of a direct threat like Lukaku, and so they play the ball directly to Lukaku who brought it down for Martinez to shoot, with Martinez’s striker hitting the post.
In this example from the first half, Inter’s central midfielders stay more central, while a wide centre back plays the ball through the half-space. Inter have formed more of a 3-4-3, which allows them to create an overload in the wide area. This wasn’t a common occurrence but was just a nice idea and variation by Inter that I felt was worth including.
Overall it was probably a deserved win for Inter, with their defensive structure largely getting the best of Gladbach’s build-up, as this analysis has shown. Gladbach were limited to 1.0xG in the game, and their starting eleven certainly wasn’t their strongest, with key players who would aid in the build-up such as Nico Elvedi and Ramy Bensebaini both missing. Neither side is certain of their fate going into the final game, and group D is by far the closest group, with all four teams capable of going through to the next round now. Gladbach face a very tricky game against a Real Madrid side fighting to save their manager’s job, while Inter simply have to win against Shaktar and hope other results go their way, which as Real Madrid have demonstrated, is easier said than done.