Borussia Monchengladbach and Mainz 05 met this weekend with two friends in each dugout. Marco Rose and Sandro Schwarz, who are well-known friends and played together at Mainz, both arrived looking for their first Bundesliga win of the season, and it was Rose who came away with the three points. In truth, Schwarz will probably be largely happy with the performance of his side, who looked the better side for much of the game, but eventually, Gladbach’s quality shone through. In this tactical analysis, I’ll look at how Mainz largely hindered Gladbach and use analysis to look at how Mainz set up a guideline for other teams on how to play against Borussia.
Through looking at the lineups of the teams we can straight away see one of the key tactical features of this game. Both sides used a 4-4-2 diamond formation and used very similar pressing schemes in order to limit each other’s build-up. Therefore for much of the game what we saw was two sides cancelling each other out, with both teams technically poor offensively and struggling to win offensive duels.
Mainz the more successful pressers?
Mainz’s press was more successful than Gladbach’s on the day, something which teams who play against Marco Rose sides can’t say too often. As said, both sides employed a largely similar pressing strategy, which we can see below.
This pressing strategy involves this shape with the midfield diamond just behind two central strikers. The two central strikers cover the centre backs, while the ten in the diamond covers the defensive midfielder. This leaves space out wide for the full-backs, who can then be pressed by the widest midfield players in the diamond. Rose uses this structure, as I showed in my analysis of their win over Schalke.
So why were Mainz’s more successful initially? Both sides were fairly successful in pressing each other but the difference-maker was one particular part of the press, which Gladbach struggled to overcome and Mainz used to evade the press.
We can see below where Mainz slightly edged Gladbach offensively. When the ball is played wide by the centre backs or goalkeeper, the widest central midfielder moves to press. The diamond of the pressing team then adjusts, cutting off the central options and forcing a ball down the line, where the full-back can then press.
So Gladbach’s press was effective in this regard, but Mainz found some success on second balls, as we can see below. Instead of coming short and playing down the line, Mainz instead chose to play over the press into a target man in the wide area. This wide area would usually be vacated by a full back, but one of Mainz’s players drops with a diversion run and is followed by Oscar Wendt. Therefore, if the centre back doesn’t win the duel against the striker, there is a space to play in which we can see below. Wendt, as a result, enters a footrace to try and win the second ball, and he rarely was able to get to the ball effectively. This is how Mainz enjoyed more success initially.
We can see the same thing happening below, where again Mainz win the duel and look to capitalise on the second ball, where again Wendt fails to win the second ball and Mainz gain possession and have some space to exploit.
It’s important to note this isn’t something that is new to Rose and it is a known way to evade the system, but because it relies on winning second balls and aerial duels it is difficult to do. Therefore what Rose will have seen on Saturday will not concern him deeply, but Gladbach will have to improve their ability to win these duels and the second balls, perhaps by deploying a slightly deeper press to reduce the spaces highlighted below. Teams with target men such as Wolfsburg and Leipzig may look to use this strategy to evade the press, and if better quality players are allowed to operate in such space, larger problems may ensue.
Gladbach were less successful in winning duels offensively and relied largely on Marcus Thuram to win the ball and play into his teammates. Thuram however, looked poor through the game, and won as many offensive duels (three) as Embolo did, despite Embolo replacing him 32 minutes from the end.
Gladbach’s diamond struggles
Currently suffering from some injuries to midfield players, Rose opted to use Fabian Johnson as a central midfielder, a role he struggled with. In general, Gladbach’s diamond seemed to struggle somewhat.
The first example of this comes below where Mainz are able to evade the press of the wide central midfielder (Fabian Johnson) and play through the diamond. This initially isn’t a problem, as long as László Bénes applies pressure to the player receiving the ball to stop a forward pass.
However, as we can see in the next image, no pressure is applied to the midfielder, and so they have an open pass through the diamond and towards the defence. There’s no reason for Bénes to not press here, as he would do a better job of cutting any passing lanes wide by being closer to the player, and would also prevent any forward pass.
We can see in the image below again Johnson allows the full-back past him, due to a poor pressing technique. Due to the nature of the diamond, the distance between the widest central midfielder and the opposition full-back is quite large and therefore Johnson has to sprint aggressively to get close to the full-back. However, the direction and speed of his run isn’t executed too well.
Johnson sprints quickly but doesn’t slow down enough before getting close to the full-back, therefore when the player changes direction quickly, Johnson is unable to adjust. Johnson also shows the full-back inside slightly, when if he had shown him wide, a pass down the line would have been pressed by Gladbach’s full-back.
We can see this for a final time again below from Johnson, where his cover shadow is poor and he allows passes through the diamond, and for subsequent crosses to be played into the box. Johnson doesn’t recognise the angle of the pass his opponent is playing and his positioning allows the whole midfield to be bypassed easily.
Embolo quickly decides the game
I mentioned earlier how Embolo had an identical offensive duels record to Thuram in this game, and these three offensive duels had a massive impact on the game for Gladbach. Thuram in the game managed no progressive dribbles, and Embolo managed the vital one which led to the go-ahead goal for Gladbach and without this change by Rose, it would have been difficult for Gladbach to find a way through.
We can see Embolo’s aggression on the ball here, where he receives the ball and turns quickly to beat two players in a tight space, before being fouled on the edge of the box.
This image below shows Gladbach beating the press in the way Mainz had done in the game at times. However, with Mainz caught so high, Embolo can use his pace after receiving and playing the ball to drive into space and help create Gladbach’s final goal.
In a cagey game of clashing tactics, Rose will be pleased with his side’s quality in the final third and will be particularly pleased with Breel Embolo who saved the game for Gladbach. There is still however lots of work to be done on the midfield diamond, and I’m sure personnel will play a part in this. However, in only his third competitive game Rose can’t complain too much. Schwarz will be disappointed his side were unable to cap off a good performance, and should they add a little more offensive quality to their side, they could cause problems to the top half of the Bundesliga.
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