Recruitment analysis 2019/20: Borussia Mönchengladbach
We will start with probably my favourite player in the Bundesliga at the moment, thanks to his playing style- Stefan Lainer. In an analysis written on Lainer in early July, I predicted he could be one of the signings of the season and he has certainly lived up to that tag so far, as I will explain.
So how has he been so successful?
Let’s start offensively. Lainer has a pivotal role within Gladbach’s tactics and their offensive system which involves getting up and down the line and delivering crosses into the box. His accuracy of cross is exceptional, be it his signature ground-driven cross or lofted cross. Lainer is second in the Bundesliga for crosses so far this season with 41 and leads the Bundesliga in cross accuracy so far this season with a brilliant 51.2% accuracy. Compare this to Trent Alexander Arnold, who currently has an accuracy of 28%, and only averages just over one more cross than Lainer per game.
We can see an example of one of these low driven crosses below, which is delivered perfectly for Marcus Thuram to score from. The timing of his run to get into this position is also excellent to maximise the space he has to deliver the cross.
We can see another example of this kind of low driven cross again, where Lainer has the vision to pick out the run of the arriving midfielder, and has the quality to deliver the pass in front of the player to allow them to run onto the cross and shoot with their first touch. The pace on the ball, combined with direction and accuracy makes the shot much easier for the attacker, and harder to defend.
Lainer is also joint top in the Bundesliga in key passes (10) with Timo Werner and is 2nd in the league for expected assists on 2.31, suggesting that his current number of two assists is lower than it ought to be.
Perhaps my favourite attribute of Lainer’s is his aggression off the ball and his hunger to win the ball back. Lainer’s role within the press demands this as I have explained in detail in my player analysis linked above, and his pace combined with his aggression make him a horrible player to play against.
We can see a typical kind of challenge Lainer is required to make below. With the midfield diamond focused on preventing central play, Lainer is forced to deal with a 1v1 with a wide player, who he presses aggressively and tackles to win the ball and prevent Augsburg progressing. He is comfortable with going to ground and at times may often prefer it like Aaron Wan Bissaka, but he is still nevertheless successful, averaging a 56% rate in defensive duels, compared to Andy Robertson’s 61% who is involved in two less duels per game than Lainer. It will be interesting to see just how much Gladbach’s play suffers while Lainer is sidelined with an ankle injury. When you consider this deal only cost Gladbach eleven million pounds, you can see why I consider this such an excellent piece of recruitment.
Embolo has had a different kind of transition into Rose’s side from Lainer, in that his initial role within the side was unclear. Embolo’s first game against Schalke saw him struggle in the number ten role, with many fans initially calling for Raffael to replace him as a number ten. Since then however, Embolo has improved drastically and is performing on the whole excellently as a number ten within the side, although there is one slight concern in his game that Gladbach will be looking to improve.
His biggest strength within the side has been his ability to progress the ball and escape presses using his dribbling skills and physical attributes.
We can see an example of his dribbling skills here, where Embolo has the ability to dribble through the middle of two players at pace, before playing a through ball to set up a Gladbach goal. Embolo has so far this season been one of the best dribblers in the Bundesliga, possessing the 5th best dribbling success rate, 59%, from the 7th most 1v1 situations (44).
Embolo’s protection of the ball is particularly good, as we can see below. Embolo receives the ball in a typical number ten position and steps across his opponent to shield the ball. Embolo then uses his pace to explode away from his marker, and play a pass in behind.
Area for improvement?
An improvement in Embolo’s finishing could see Gladbach’s attack become even more successful than it has been this season. Embolo is in third place in the Bundesliga for xG on 4.17, having scored three goals this season. Although the differential is not too bad, that is only likely to increase as the season goes on, and Embolo is missing big chances in games.
We can see an example of one of these kinds of chances below, where Embolo is often hesitant and fails to commit to any kind of finish. These kinds of high-value xG chances are the ones that will stretch that differential over the season, and failure to capitalise on them in big moments may eventually cost Gladbach.
He has been particularly poor at finishing chances from outside of the box, which when acting as a number ten hasn’t been ideal for Gladbach. Situations like this one below involving a Lainer cut back often end up with a poor shot from Embolo, which goes high and wide of the goal, perhaps due to him leaning back too much and putting too much power on an already driven pass.
Marcus Thuram’s Gladbach career has jumped into action in recent weeks, with the Frenchman picking up his first three goals and two assists in the Bundesliga all within the last three weeks.
Thuram’s dribbling skills have allowed him to develop a good partnership with Alassane Pléa, with the pair leading the Bundesliga in xG and xA per game, with Pléa marginally leading with 0.96 per game. However, it is his offensive movement which I feel has been the biggest factor in his recent success.
We can see some good movement in transition below, where Thuram uses his speed to stay ahead of his man and times his run excellently. The finish is poor however and so no goal comes from it.
Here though, a similar situation arises and so when Lainer receives the ball, Thuram immediately begins to sprint to gain a good position to receive the cross, using his speed and strength to outmuscle the defender, before this time applying a good finish and scoring.
We are yet to see too much of Bensebaini, with the Algerian only making four appearances thus far for the Foals, however, Gladbach certainly won’t be disappointed by what they’ve seen, nor will they be blown away. Bensebaini has been solid, winning 62% of his defensive duels, but offensively is struggling to match his opposite full-back, which isn’t a surprise. Bensebaini has only completed one cross so far in his Gladbach career from eleven attempts, and while we certainly knew his strengths lied defensively, this is something he will have to improve upon. However, with four games under his belt in a new league, it’s too early to judge too much.
Gladbach and sporting director Max Eberl have once again recruited intelligently according to the needs of the coach. Gladbach’s full-backs at the beginning of the summer were not suitable players for how Rose wanted his side to play, and so they were replaced relatively cheaply and as this analysis shows, extremely effectively. Gladbach, in my opinion, have a better squad than last year and have only spent a net amount of around one million pounds, and Rose has a squad of players that complement his style of play and seem to have a good group dynamic free of players that don’t want to be there, and when the players are orientated this way, and complement a style of play which is so effective, success usually comes.
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