On the one hand there is a team that shows up in important situations with a proper performance level. On the other hand we see players who struggle to reach their top-level and play poorly until the demand rises. To take three points home from Borussia Park back to Munich, the first one might be necessary.
Borussia Mönchengladbach has gone through some changes under their new coach Dieter Hecking. The team displays characteristics of a typical Bundesliga-side, playing the all too familiar 4-4-2, which tends to be boring from a tactical point of view.
But being boring isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Hecking does know very well how to stabilize a squad. No experiments, no variations, and no innovative ideas. His teams work perfectly as long as the individual quality is available to play successfully. That sums up Borussia Mönchnegladbach right now.
Their pressing approach, starting from midfield, works most of the times and even the offence is back on track. In 14 games they managed to win eight, with only three losses. Scoring 26 goals with 15 goals conceded are decent numbers, but there is still some room for improvement.
It seems like the board did the right thing by changing the manager, although there were quite a few doubters at first. Due to his experience Hecking made good decisions which resulted in some promising first few weeks.
If he can be the long-term solution for Borussia remains to be seen. He is not a coach who is known for development and often too dependent on his star players. This last point could be an issue at Gladbach, due to the fact Borussia had to suffer quality-wise from transfers in the near past.
But all that we will see in the future. Right now, they might be an even stronger opponent than in the first matchup this season. It will be interesting to see whether Hecking changes to an early- pressing approach or sticks to the current well-working midfield-pressing.
We expect him change only very little. He had remarkable success in previous meetings with Wolfsburg against FC Bayern with this kind of approach. You will probably remember the 4-1 defeat after the winter break in 2015. So Gladbach is likely to act the same way on Sunday.
In a 4-4-2 formation, closing gaps in the centre and trying to outnumber FC Bayern on the wings. After intercepting the ball they will try to surprise Bayern’s defence. With Wolfsburg this worked quite well from time to time. However Bayern needs to have a bad day in order to implement this plan successfully.
With Stindl, Raffael, Kramer and Dahoud, Gladbach has players who could cause some danger. If they reach their top-level performance-wise the whole team gains structure and is able to deal with well executed pressing situations as well. It will be essential to maintain the power over the centre. Especially Lars Stindl had an outstanding form over the past few weeks, however he is listed questionable for the game on Sunday.
Bayern needs to create a game in which Gladbach has no access whatsoever. Thiago as usual is the key player for that. The Spaniard should enable a decent passing-play, create triangles and decrease pressure from the wings.
FC Bayern – a counter attacking team?
Another interesting thing about the game on Sunday will be the issue with Thomas Müller. His performance against Frankfurt was not that convincing – again. Against Gladbach he might be an even bigger issue. A midfield with Thiago, Vidal (who is suspended) and Alonso would be much more suitable. In the future it will be key to determine the roles much clearer, than for example in London against Arsenal.
At first the whole game-plan did not work at all due to the fact that Alonso was pressuring offensively so that Vidal had no access to the game in a more defensive position. Together with Thiago as a pressing-line, Vidal becomes a deadly weapon.
We mentioned this several times over the past few weeks and the statistics prove us right. Both, Thiago and Vidal, are one of the best midfielders without possession in comparison to Europe’s elite.
Midfielders in Europe measured by goals/key passes (X axis), tackles/interceptions (Y axis) and possession score (dot size). pic.twitter.com/Yayw8LZUQH
— First 11 (@FlRST11) 15. März 2017
It’s not surprising that those two are some of the best in the Bundesliga as well in case of tacklings and interceptions. Thiago wins 59% of his duels (Vidal 55%) and 56% in the Champions League (Vidal 54%). Quite often they intercept the ball high in the opponent’s half, which creates gaps for their teammates. Those cannot be created with long-time possession.
Under Pep Guardiola this worked already great and will be important to find solutions against well prepared opponents. It is possible to compensate weaknesses in positional-play, so that closing gaps with tiring movement becomes irrelevant. Because of their instinctive positioning, Thiago and Vidal, are often in the perfect position. The following graphic shows this quite well.
Looking ahead, Sebastian Rudy is another player of interest. He is outstanding without the ball, but also offensively gifted. It will be exciting to see how he is able to adapt at FC Bayern and which role he is able to play. Additionally he has some qualities pressing-wise that fit perfectly to the FC Bayern approach.
Back to the present there is the question whether Müller or Kimmich will be starting instead of Vidal.
The Bavarians are often underestimated regarding their abilities on the counter, especially since Guardiola took over. The counter-pressing approach should not be avoided in the future. It can be a weapon, which is quite risky, to win close games even without the top-performance level. The perfect example might be the 2nd leg against Juventus Turin last season. The success was due the high number of duels won by Vidal in counter-pressing situations.
Those moments can be very valuable for FC Bayern. The qualities are spread from a dominant team when in possession to a counter attacking team that is able to danger their opponents in two ways. Being able to bring those qualities to the table on Sunday means almost job done. If Hecking’s team has no time to breathe and think properly the chance of winning increases massively.
Five bold predictions
- Lewandowski scores at least once.
- Gladbach scores as well.
- Bayern will win (but shows the Bundesliga-away-face).
- There will be at least three yellow cards given out.
- At least three goals in total will be scored.
Three correct predictions from the Frankfurt preview. Overall: 85/160.