Bundesliga 2019/20- Koln vs Borussia Monchengladbach – tactical analysis
This weekend saw the return of a much-anticipated fixture in Western Germany: the derby between Borussia Mönchengladbach and Köln. In what was a high-intensity game, it was Mönchengladbach who came out on top and perhaps will have believed they should have done so in a more dominant manner thanks to the chances they had in the game- something which is becoming a bit of a theme so far this season. Köln were looking to pick up where they left off last gameweek in the Bundesliga, while Mönchengladbach were looking to get back on track after a disappointing result against RB Leipzig. In this tactical analysis, we will look at how both teams’ build-up saw one side come out on top, and look at one interesting issue Köln had in the game.
Gladbach unsurprisingly lined up with their usual diamond, with Christoph Kramer starting and Breel Embolo starting in the ten. New signing Ramy Bensebaini also started for the Foals. Köln started with a 4-4-2, which was aggressive in its pressing (sometimes inefficiently), as I will touch on in this analysis.
Köln’s build-up struggles
Köln’s 4-4-2 struggled against Gladbach’s press, which often resulted in them playing long balls up to the two strikers and looking to build from there. Firstly, we’ll have a look at why they couldn’t build up from the back initially, or in some cases chose not to.
We can see Gladbach’s press outlined below, no different from their usual tactics in previous games. The strikers press the centre-backs, leaving the full-backs open and cutting off central options. Köln’s full-backs are then pressed by the widest players in Gladbach’s central midfield diamond, and the opposition winger is pressed by Gladbach’s full-back.
This leaves both sides in this kind of rough shape when Köln have possession. Gladbach’s midfield diamond can overload any team that is forced to play through the centre, and when it is a formation that in essence involves two central midfielders against four, one team will be more successful.
Here’s an in-game image of that shape, where Bensebaini is able to win a throw-in for Gladbach by staying tight to the winger.
I would presume Köln were aware of this and that Achim Beierlorzer wanted his side to build not through short passes but through long ones, and so this was a key part of their game. Almost 20% of Köln’s passes were long passes, in part thanks to Gladbach’s aggression off the ball, where they allowed only 5.8 passes per defensive action.
Köln, however, do have players up front in the form of Jhon Córdoba and Anthony Modeste who are capable of winning aerial duels, but Nico Elvedi and Matthias Ginter were both excellent and aggressive, a key feature of Rose’s side, which meant that Köln struggled to hold any real meaningful possession of the ball.
We can see an example of this below, with only Ginter and Elvedi back as the home side look to attack quickly and directly, but Ginter wins the aerial duel against Modeste. Initially, Modeste looked to stay on Elvedi and receive the ball as Elvedi is usually weaker in the air, but found little success in vital situations like the one below, and so Köln struggled.
Gladbach’s effective build-up and Embolo
Although Köln had slightly more possession in the game, Gladbach were able to be more effective in their build-up and were often able to lure and escape the presses of Köln. A massive part in their build-up was Embolo, who was excellent and extremely press resistant in the game, which allowed him to maintain possession of the ball.
Embolo uses good technique to drop his shoulder back towards the byline, which makes the pressuring player behind him shift his weight towards the wing. With a good touch and a burst of pace, Embolo is then able to go the other way and spread the ball into the channels where there is space, as Gladbach’s central overload has forced the home side into a narrow pressing shape.
This image also shows the tactical flexibility of the diamond, with Kramer dropped into the backline and Embolo dropping much deeper, leaving some central space for Florian Neuhaus (out of picture).
We can see a very similar situation below involving Embolo, where again space is left occupied by a player pressing Embolo. This, of course, has to happen for pressing to occur and isn’t a problem as long as this space isn’t exploited, but again Embolo protects the ball and manages to play a pass into the wide areas. A little more constraint from Köln to delay Embolo, rather than constantly try to tackle, would have allowed them to use cover shadows more effectively to win the ball back.
We can see some more poor pressing/counter-pressing from Köln here. Upon losing the ball, one long ball from Gladbach is able to take out seven Köln players. Thuram’s movement out wide attracts a press from one of Köln’s centre-backs, with no other players available to counter-press. Again, with the ball in the air clearly not winnable, the defender dives in and leaves a large space in behind rather than delaying and allowing for some of the cluster of payers highlighted to track back.
This happened on more than one occasion and led to massive chances for Gladbach which they didn’t execute well, such as the one below. This is a combination of poor counter-pressing to allow the long ball in the first place, and poor pressing and defending to exacerbate the space in behind Köln.
Köln’s second ball issues
Köln struggled to deal with second balls from Gladbach’s passes up to their centre forwards, with Gladbach achieving a number of chances as a result of their good technical abilities in this area. In this example below, Köln win the first ball and the second ball lands at the feet of Kramer. The only player who is in a position to make an impact on Kramer is the player in front, but again he doesn’t protect the space behind him well and dives in and the ball is played over him. He, of course, isn’t helped by the poor structure of the midfield, as ideally the central midfielder highlighted would be closer to Kramer and in a position to press effectively.
Here, with the team in a better position defensively, they are in a better position to press Embolo, but again Embolo manages to make them dive in and gets a run directly at the defence.
In one final example here, we see again some poor structure with one of the central midfielders leaving a huge space for the second ball to be received in. One of the other midfield players who has not pushed higher, such as the right-sided player highlighted, has to recognise this space as dangerous and react. Again, the central defender wins the ball, but the ball falls into this central space and Gladbach create a good chance with a free run at the defence and two strikers making runs.
Overall, Gladbach deserved the three points and looked the better side in the game, but lacked the ability to be clinical for some moments to put the game to bed when they had the chances. It was a standard game against a Marco Rose side for Köln, but with a game that they were not greatly expected to win, Köln won’t be too disheartened.
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