Bundesliga 2019/20: Eintracht Frankfurt vs Borussia Mönchengladbach – tactical analysis
The return of the Bundesliga on Saturday was completed by the clash between Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Mönchengladbach. While Gladbach were in 4th place before the game and still fighting for a Champions League spot, Frankfurt were only 12th after losing the last three matches before the suspension. Both teams are, in general, known for their intense and vertical style of play, which should make it one of the most interesting matchups of Matchday 26.
The lineups on both sides provided few surprises. Adi Hütter went for a 4-1-4-1 formation, which saw Bas Dost as the target man up front in the absence of Gonçalo Paciência.
The guests had to cope without one of their key players Denis Zakaria, who is out for another four weeks. Gladbach coach Marco Rose deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation and replaced him with Tobias Strobl as the pivot next to Florian Neuhaus.
Dominant and efficient Gladbach
Flexibility. If you want to describe Gladbach’s approach in possession in one word, flexibility would probably be suitable. There was not the one clear structure in Gladbach’s game, it was much more a very dynamic process with constant adjustments and rotations. However, there were a few things against Frankfurt that were constantly applied in possession: The defensive centre before the last line was occupied; both half-spaces were occupied, width on both sides was ensured mostly by the full-backs, and depth was given by at least one player. Very basic on paper, yet very effective in the way Gladbach executed it.
Their build-up always started with the two centre-backs Ginter and Elvedi, who were able to move the ball freely due to the lack of pressure while the full-backs usually pushed higher up the pitch. The double-pivot of Strobl and Neuhaus rarely played next to each other in possession. Especially in the first half, Strobl often dropped deep between the centre backs to build a back three. Consequently, Neuhaus occupied the space before them, so that a 3-1 staggering occurred. This allowed the centre-backs to move wider and push higher to use the half-spaces between Frankfurt’s striker and the winger, which played a key role in the creation of the second goal.
The second goal was interesting in many ways. Defensively, one can see the 3:1 staggering with Strobl between the centre-backs. The wingers, Thuram and Hofmann, are occupying depth while Embolo moved into the left half-space and Pléa dropped into the centre. As soon as Strobl played the lateral pass to Ginter, Thuram started his curved run behind the opponent’s last line between the full-back and centre-back. It’s important to note that he started his run from a wider position, therefore, pulling Frankfurt’s RB inwards, which opens the space for Bensebaini on the left side. Ginter played a perfect long-range pass and even if the goal only occurred due to an individual error in Frankfurt’s defense: The set-up was executed very well.
It was just a little detail, but still interesting to observe that once Strobl played the pass to Ginter, all three Gladbach midfielders who were in central positions (Neuhaus, Embolo, and Pléa) scanned their environment and it seemed like they were expecting this play.
As already indicated, there were flexible structures in Gladbach’s build-up, mostly several in one sequence. The basic requirements were always the occupation of the zones/positions mentioned and the formation of numerous triangles so that the ball-carrier always had options. If Strobl didn’t drop between the centre-backs, he was usually positioned behind Frankfurt’s first pressing line while Neuhaus pushed higher into the half-space. When, subsequently, Hofmann dropped into the other half-space with Embolo in the 10-space, a diamond-shape formed. This allowed Gladbach to create numerous triangles and diagonal passing angles.
When the pivots acted next to each other, one could also observe a trapezoid due to the occupation of the half-spaces. This, however, could quickly morph into a diamond-shape again.
Another interesting aspect of Gladbach’s football were the roles of the attackers. Both Hofmann and Pléa were constantly involved when it came to progressing the ball and regularly took up deeper positions. Even though it’s well known that Pléa does that, it is always worth mentioning as he was the nominal striker. The frequency of who dropped was always relative to the positioning of the teammates. I already mentioned one instance above when it came to the formation of the diamond. Another instance would be that Neuhaus occupied the right half-space, Embolo the left, and Pléa dropped into the 10-space.
Interestingly, Gladbach’s play had a strong tendency towards the right half-space/side. There are several reasons for that. For one, right centre-back Ginter is one of the best ball-playing central defenders in the Bundesliga, not least proven by the second goal. The most striking reason, though, is probably the role of Marcus Thuram who is, in fact, more a striker than a typical winger. Hoffmann, on the other side, rotates a lot more and is frequently involved when Gladbach tries to progress the ball. Occasionally, one could even observe him dropping next to Matthias Ginter into the last line to support the build-up.
Eintracht Frankfurt were quite overwhelmed at the beginning of the match. They lost decisive defensive duels and often appeared unfocused in many situations. Gladbach’s first goal where Hinteregger was positioned too deep as the only one and thereby preventing offside, is a good example. However, Frankfurt did not only have significant problems defensively, but also to build up and progress the ball into higher areas of the pitch. Their play in possession was characterized by a great lack of imagination, which led to many long balls, especially in the beginning. During the first 15 minutes, they played almost as many long balls as during the rest of the match.
Adi Hütter’s side mostly started their build-up in a 3-2-4-1 formation with one of the central midfielders dropping between the centre-backs. Oftentimes, this was done by one of the 8s instead of the pivot as Stefan Ilsanker is not the most prolific ball progressor. The nominal wing players Kamada and Kostic tucked inside and occupied the half-spaces, which allowed the full-backs to advance into higher positions.
Gladbach attacked this scheme early on in a 4-3-3-formation with Hofmann in the second line. However, Hofmann often pushed out of the second line to prevent Frankfurt from playing through their preferred left side. Due to this set-up, Gladbach pressed Frankfurt’s back three build-up man-oriented and barely allowed them any time on the ball. Frankfurt did often not even try to overplay the first pressing line of Gladbach, which led to the aforementioned long-balls. Only when Gladbach sat a bit deeper towards the end of the first half, Frankfurt were able to progress the ball vertically.
Frankfurt generally have a very vertical playing style based on an enormous number of crosses (second-most in the league) and a corresponding presence inside the box. And they also tried to implement this vertical style against Gladbach. Frequently, the first ball out of the last line was aimed at target man Bas Dost, who should lay the ball off for other midfielders between the lines. In fact, the occupation between the lines was decent sometimes with the two wingers tucking inside, acting in the half-spaces between the lines. Here, they were supported by one of the advancing 8s. This resulted in one or the other promising situation, especially after the 30thminute, but, ultimately, they were too rarely able to even get into these positions. That said, Gladbach also remained compact for most parts of the game and closed passing lanes very well while applying constant pressure on the opponent in possibly dangerous areas.
The idea of Frankfurt was to focus on the central zones of the pitch to isolate the advancing full-backs, who can put in dangerous crosses. Apart from progressing the ball into higher areas in the first place, another problem of Adi Hütter’s side was the clean execution in higher areas. Even small technical mistakes can allow the opponent to get back into their defensive set-up and Frankfurt had too many of these. This meant that the full-backs could rarely be deployed in such a way that they could cross without immediate pressure.
That said, especially N’Dicka, is also not really good at crossing the ball, which leads to another key aspect of Frankfurt’s inability to create anything in attack: the missing involvement of cross-monster Filip Kostic, normally their most creative and dangerous player. Due to his occupation of the left half-space, he was rarely able to make his dreaded runs down the flank and put in crosses over crosses. In many respects, he seemed to be a bit wasted in the more central position.
Frankfurt’s adjustments fizzle out
Adi Hütter could by no means be satisfied with the first half so that it did not surprise that he brought on André Silva instead of Djibril Sow while consequently switching to a 3-4-1-2. Within the new formation, the partially asymmetrical structure of the back three in possession was particularly interesting. While N’Dicka moved out very wide and almost played as a left-back, David Abraham, who was the right wide centre-back stayed rather narrow. Thus, the left vertical zone was mostly occupied by 2 Frankfurt players. Occasionally, this was already visible in the first half, but to a far lesser extent.
The idea behind this scheme was clear: Frankfurt finally wanted to break through the flanks and put in numerous crosses as they always do. This should also allow Filip Kostic to get more involved and make use of his strengths. And the start into the second half was quite decent. Already after three minutes in the second half, Frankfurt created one of their few really good plays thanks to an overload of the left side. Similar to the picture above, N’Dicka was positioned wide in the same zone as Kostic while Kamada, André Silva, and Ilsanker moved wide as well.
After a one-two between N’Dicka and Kostic, Frankfurt were easily able to break Gladbach’s press. The wide movement of André Silva pulled Ginter out of Gladbach’s last line and since Kamada evaded Strobl’s marking, he could receive the ball in the channel.
Even though this particular situation looked promising, Gladbach defended quite well in general. During the first 20-25 minutes of the second half, both teams neutralized each other, which was fine for the visitors. Gladbach also attacked earlier again than at the end of the first half, which made it more difficult for the home side to progress the ball cleanly.
Of course, Adi Hütter’s switch in formation also had consequences for the defensive set-up of his team. From then on, Frankfurt attacked higher and more aggressive. In addition to that, there were far more man-oriented duels instead of the zonal marking we saw in the first half. Gladbach seemed to be well prepared and reacted to this by a wider positioning of their wingers to stretch Frankurt’s last line. While it was more difficult to progress the ball in the first place, it was easier to create chances once the first line of pressing was overplayed. So, Frankfurt had to take a certain risk, thus allowing Gladbach to create possibilities for promising situations over and over again.
While Borussia Mönchengladbach had numerous good approaches in which the midfield was bridged quickly and very well, it was mostly the last pass that was played too imprecisely. In the example below, one can see Frankfurt’s man-oriented pressing, especially on the last line. Furthermore, there was a huge gap in the centre of the pitch, which was exploited as the ball was played into the centre, where Gladbach could create a 2 vs 1 situation. The counterattack eventually fizzled out as the last pass didn’t go through, sometimes combined with suboptimal movements of the attackers.
Decision followed by glimmer of hope
As the playing time increased, Frankfurt inevitably had to increase the risk, which in turn opened up even more spaces for Gladbach to counter. These spaces were then used more frequently and more effectively by the visitors, who were able to create some high-quality chances. One of these situations led to the penalty, which was converted by Bensebaini.
Here at the latest, it seemed that the game was decided. However, this attitude led to some inaccuracies and a lack of concentration on Marco Rose’s side, which allowed Frankfurt some glimmers of hope. In this way, Frankfurt’s goal occurred as they benefited from a simple mistake in Gladbach’s build-up by Lainer combined with a misjudgment of Nico Elvedi.
Also, Adi Hütter’s substitution of Timothy Chandler breathed some new life into his team as he finally offered some danger through the right flank. The American was immediately present and amassed five crosses, partially dangerous, after his substitution in the 74th minute.
The excitement among many football fans for the return of the Bundesliga was huge and at least the performance of Borussia Mönchengladbach should have not disappointed. As this tactical analysis has shown, Gladbach deserved the win and were the better team overall. With this result, Gladbach can look further up towards Dortmund, with the league being on the best way to the Champions League next year. It was certainly an impressive start by Marco Rose’s side, which brings confidence for the extremely important game against Leverkusen next Saturday. Eintracht Frankfurt, on the other side, have to take care to not get into any relegation trouble, currently being five points clear of Fortuna Düsseldorf. However, things are not getting easier next week when they are traveling to Munich. After the nasty clap in the Hinrunde, Bayern Munich may still have a score to settle…
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