The Indomitable Rise of Marco Reus

Nowadays one cannot escape the myriad of talent lacing the Bundesliga. There is an unrivaled number of up-and-coming and established young talent just about everywhere you look. Whether it is Thomas Müller, Toni Kroos, Jerome Boateng, Holget Badstuber at Bayern Munich, Mario Götze, Kevin Grosskreutz, Shinji Kagawa, Mats Hummels, Moritz Leitner, Sven Bender, Ilkay Gündogan, Ivan Perisic and Robert Lewandowski at Borussia Dortmund or Lars Bender, Sidney Sam and Andre Schürrle at Leverkusen and Lewis Holtby, Benedikt Höwedes and Julian Draxler at Schalke, there is simply no shortage of talent in the Bundesliga. One can claim with a good degree of certainty that they have all displayed the potential to become true World Class stars and many of them have already established themselves as regular internationals with others continuing to challenge for their spots.

This new generation of talent has continued to flourish into the new season and add to the league’s burgeoning young and talent-laden reputation. The last two seasons have seen the rise of some of Europe’s finest. 2009/10 saw Mesut Özil take the next step and distinguish himself while last season it was Mario Götze who made his mark as a player to watch. This year is no different and as the Hinrunde is coming to a close several of those young players have continued to distinguished from all others but one player has stood above the rest and is increasingly becoming this year’s hot property, namely, Marco Reus. The Borussia Mönchengladbach star’s rise is not an unexpected one – rather it has been in the making for nearly two years now. What makes Reus a special player is quite different than what set Götze and Özil apart. Quite simply, there is nobody else in the league who can play the role Reus does or have the combined abilities he does. Whereas the influx of playmakers, central midfielders and wide-forwards in the league has been excellent, Marco Reus stands out as the most unique of all.

Reus on the rise

To understand Reus’ ascent we also have to understand the trajectory of his clubs. Originally from Dortmund, Reus played for hometown side Post SV Dortmund before making the jump to the Borussia Dortmund youth side where he played until he left for Rot-Wiess Ahlen’s U-19. It was there where he would first make a name for himself as a professional footballer. Originally played as an attacking midfielder and then later placed out wide he worked his way up to the first team until impressive displays in the 2. Bundesliga in 2008/2009 got him a four year contract with Borussia Mönchengladbach. There it took just three matches for him to get his first goal for the club in an amazing 50+ meter solo run. Under Michael Frontzeck he wasused as a winger but he showed a clear nose for goal finishing the 2009/2010 season with 11 goals and 4 assists. Gladbach meanwhile finished in 12th place.

Halfway through the following season though the club found itself in the precarious position of battling the drop. Frontzeck was dismissed and it was up to new coach Lucien Favre to turn the fortunes of the club around. With only 16 points from 22 matches he had a seemingly impossible task, one that was never matched in the history of the league. But the Swiss coach managed the greatest escape in Bundesliga history. In the remaining fourteen matches the club picked up twenty points including winning three of their last four matches against the likes of Hannover and Borussia Dortmund, consequently finishing in 16th place which sent them to the relegation play-off against 2.Bundesliga side Bochum. Favre put his faith in Reus when he most needed him and that trust was repaid ten times over. He excelled under this extreme pressure,scoring four times in the last six matches as well as the decisive goal that saw Gladbach beat Bochum and retain a position in the Bundesliga. Reus finished the season as one of the league’s best players with 12 goals and 10 assists, all while largely playing as a winger for a side fighting relegation.

Favre’s importance to Gladbach cannot be understated but neither can Reus’s importance.
Since taking on the job, Favre instilled a strong defensive approach without sacrificing any of the attacking play. He encouraged Reus to play out wide but gave him carte blanche to cut in and take part in Gladbach’s scoring. This season Favre went a step further. He re-structured the side around Reus and has instructed him to play centrally. This is where Reus truly began to shine and it is a strong testament to just how versatile and gifted a player he is. So far this season with just 13 matches gone he has already amassed 11 goals and 4 assists.


Reus the False 9 and the False 10

Trends in football come and go. Apropos now is the 4-2-3-1 where specialized players have evolved to suit the formation. One such position is something akin to the ‘False 10’ role typified last summer by the likes of Holland’s Wesley Sneijder or Germany’s Mesut Özil. Players who are instinctively playmakers but play extremely close to the strikers, almost assupporting strikers but not quite. Other formations including Barcelona’s 4-3-3 have yielded ‘False 9’s’ – strikers who really don’t fit the mold of traditional forwards and are equally creative as well as excellent scorers. Messi and Rooney are players who have played in this position in recent years.

Germany’s general lack of tactical innovation (or unwillingness to make big alterations to their systems) always sees the league catch up to modern trends slightly late relative to other leagues. Most Bundesliga sides are more conservative in their approach, having just recently begun to utilize the standard 4-2-3-1 formations and others still sticking with the more traditional 4-4-2. With the recent restructuring of the academy system throughout the country and a greater focus on individual technique though, the Bundesliga has been and continues to produce more talent suited to the modern 4-2-3-1. Its’ central midfielders are more than just standard harassers and destroyers but have the necessary finesse and smarts to rival the best in the World. The Bender brothers, Holtby, Kroos, Gündogan, Leitner, and Sahin are all perfect examples. Its’ attacking wide players are just as impressive with the likes of Schürrle, Herrmann, and Müller all capable of playing out wide, scoring, cutting in, and interchanging fluently. Even Germany’s central defenders hold similar traits with regard to their overall game intelligence and versatility. What sets Reus apart from the rest however is not only that he encapsulates all the aforementioned traits but also represents the next stage in the evolution of the tactical game. He can be a wing-forward who can easily start out wide and perform its’ primary function. He can just as easily play off the striker as he has done for most of the season but more impressive is his ability to play in the ‘false nine’ role and it is in this regard that he is in a category all his own within the Bundesliga. No other players have the collective ability or have shown to be able to play this role to the extent Marco Reus has.

Borussia Mönchengladbach’s  Starting 4-2-3-1 Formation & Shape
Borussia Mönchengladbach’s 4-2-1-3 Formation & Shape During Match. 









Gladbach play with a loose 4-2-3-1 formation. Hanke spearheads the attack with Herrmann and Arrango as the two wide players and Reus just behind in the same role Özil occupies for the National Team. His role here is more advanced. Gladbach however change their shape throughout the course of a match. Hanke drops allowing Reus to push up. Meanwhile the two wide players have license to interchange and push forward as well. Both were instrumental in all the goals Gladbach scored against Bremen. Essentially what the shape becomes is more of a 4-2-1-3 in which there are three advanced players attacking the goal and one player behind them to orchestrate. Sometimes that’s Reus, sometimes Arango and sometimes even Hanke, depending on the opponent. It’s this interchangeability that has allowed Favre’s Gladbach to thrive and why it’s so difficult for opponents to deal with.

Like most false nines, Reus starts deeper with the synergy of the players around him, assumes the most advanced role as he pushes forward. In effect, Reus plays a dual role. When Hanke is the most advanced player, Reus is the playmaker or False 10 because he simultaneously sits outside the box and feeds the channels as well as pushes forward when there are gaps to get at the end of balls. When Hanke drops Reus plays a similar role to Messi, being the most advanced player but choosing his runs thus making it incredibly difficult for Bundesliga players to predict his movement let alone stop it.

Reus’ position for Gladbach’s second goal vs. Werder Bremen. Note how deep he picks up the ball before driving forward and finishing superbly


Reus picks up the ball deep in midfield, plays it out to Herrman and drives forward and received the ball for his second goal of the night
Reus as ‘False 10’. He picks up the ball in midfield and acts as decoy for remaining attackers
Reus’ heatmap after Bremen match indicates just how much ground he covers and how often his game centers around initially dropping deep and driving forward

Reus’ goal output has surely increased due to his new positional responsibilities but it is simply because it has always been an inherent part of his game – he is the complete attacking player. Like a Rooney or Messi, he is the ideal foil for wing-forwards who cut into the middle or look to play the channels that are created by Reus. Moreover he is the ideal player for an Özil or Götze who like to drop off and anticipate runs.

In the context of the National Team, his inclusion immediately begs the question whether it is entirely necessary to include a third striker to cover for Klose and Gomez, [in this case Cacau] when Reus is available and can readily assume that role. In a recent friendly Löw introduced Reus but played him on the right wing instead – perhaps an indicator of what the manager has in store for him. Suffice to say, Reus certainly gives Löw the option to experiment like he did in the Ukraine match which indicates that the manager may be more liberal in toying with his tactics than most think. More importantly if Reus continues his fine form, Löw won’t have a choice but to include him.

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Daniel is a New York-based Illustrator and Graphic Designer. In his spare time he is a passionate football fan with a particular love for everything German football. Daniel can be found on twitter @danielnyari


  1. Thank you Daniel for sparing your time to reply.
    Being a die hard fan all I hope for the Die Mannschaft is to leave an imprint in the history books 🙂

  2. Sid,

    That’s a poignant link. It highlights exactly why Oezil is so dangerous. Above his passing and general technique, his movement off the ball is his biggest strength. Nobody outside Barcelona players moves like he does.

    Still, what he does is so instrumental to slot him out wide and give him extra flank responsibility wouldn’t be the best move. Even Mourinho when he’s dropped him deeper this season has done so in the center because he simply is the perfect anchor, creative or otherwise that can dictate the pace of the game. This is just a minor structural issue because as we both agreed, the new crop of German youngsters have this innate ability to move around and not be inhibited by strict positioning. There is still a hierarchy or structure to follow and I feel Oezil in the center simply works best, especially because Mueller/Schuerrle on each flank is also quite ideal and plays to their strengths.

  3. Sorry for the late reply Daniel!

    As you had said ‘it doesn’t matter a great deal where each player starts as they understand how to move and interchange so well’. The tactical evolution under Löw are reminiscent of the bygone era of the Dutch total football, players switching positions fluidly, retaining their original formation, making it impossible for the opposition to predict the flow play. Ironically, the best example of this unfurled in the recent friendly against the Dutch!

    This was an article that caught my attention:

    Suffice it to say, it is the very same observation that led me to accomodate Özil on the wing. Looking forward to hear from you.

  4. I savor Daniel Nyari analysis! Like a fine cup of coffee. My favorite current tactical-analytical footie writer on the web.

    Daniel, have you considered combining your pieces in a artsy text someday? (With Free Darko-esque visuals?)

  5. I definitely like that front four and I’ve solicited a similar formation in the past, as unlikely as that will be.

    It is difficult for me to drop Müller however just because he is such a workhorse and because he’s ben in this outfit for two years now and fits in seamlessly. Moreover I feel he is a better option on the right than Özil because his natural game lends itself better to this formation.

    Özil drifts wide yes but his inclination is always to play in the center. I really feel he is better there because it suits his strengths to sit deep and scope out spaces ahead of him, of which players like Reus, Müller, and Schürrle use perfectly.

    To be fair, it doesn’t matter a great deal where each player starts as they understand how to move and interchange so well. Whenever Schürrle and Götze were on in past games they linked up extremely well, namely Schürrle and Müller, constantly switching flanks and confusing the opposition. The real issue will be who Löw will prefer because essentially five of the mentioned talents will be competing for four spots.

    Of course there’s always the option of a 4-3-3


  6. The front four I would like to see are:


    Watching Mesut Ozil’s game for Real Madrid, I personally feel that he can be accommodated on the right wing from where he can cut towards the centre to pass or cross. Though he plays a central role in Madrid, most of his assists have come from wide locations. He has greatly improved his crossing and is a much better finisher than he was. His technique and trickery imparts a ‘Riberyesque’ quality to the game.

    Andre Schurrle’s explosive pace and dribbling is reminiscent of the mercurial Arjen Robben. And unlike the ‘Flying Dutchman’, Schurrle’s willingness to pass the ball makes him a complete team player. With Schurrle’s rapid development and the CL experience he will gain at Leverkusen, Prinz Poldi could soon find himself relegated to the bench.

    In fact, I believe that Ozil and Schurrle can be the ‘Robbery’ combination for Die Mannschaft, although, they must work on their upper body strength and the defensive aspect of their game to achieve the desired results.

    Mario Gotze, the shooting star of Dortmund can take the mantle of the central playmaker provided he continues his stellar ascent. Even at this age, his style of play resembles a much refined Ozil. Gotze, as opposed to Ozil is much more of a direct attacking threat. Moreover, his ball distribution is enhanced by his ambidexterity.

    Mario Gomez given his lack of pace and technique is simply not the option. His static play is not suited for Low’s system which lays emphasis on dynamism and work rate.

    Marco Reus’ awareness, technique and eye for pass may be more useful when playing behind a lone frontman but given his versatility, he can be converted into an efficient lone striker. He boasts excellent positional sense, work rate, clinical finishing and pace and could easily be the man to spearhead the German attack.

    They can rotate among themselves for devastating effects.

    This is my perspective about the future attacking quartet. Would love to see your views on it.

  7. Cheers Sid,

    They are similar in their adventurousness, boldness/daring, and all-rounded game but I would say the main difference between Reus and Müller would be their intrinsic tactical disposition. What this means is that Reus is very self-minded, independent in the way he opens himself up and makes things happen with moments of sheer brilliance. He will often take it upon himself to take charge of a match making those around him adjust to his game. Müller on the other hand is a perfect drone. He adapts better and is an ideal foil for the playmakers (Of course we know Reus has adapted to others and Müller is similarly capable of moments of magic but their dispositions are key to their character and it’s what made each experience the success they have so far)

    Müller at the moment just works better out wide because he is so unpredictable. He has a chaotic but driven manner in which he approaches the opposition and his workrate lends itself to run and cover ground. In order to play a central role, a more calculated and assured demeanor is necessary and Müller doesn’t express that as well as Reus does. The latter is ideal in the center because of his tendency to want to be in the middle of all his teams’ plays and his general comfort with holding the ball, not being afraid to take on up to three or four defenders at a time. He is likewise not afraid to just go by himself instead of retreat and lay it off.

    I would love if Löw tries something like this sometime in the future


    The interchangeability and high level of technique is unrivaled. There will also be no shortage of chances created and I’m sure as these young kids mature we will see an increase in efficiency in front of goal. Neither has been shy to have a go at goal. There might not be a need for a ‘striker’ as such.

    Still, I believe the mantle will fall to Gomez. Germany has always played with a striker and it’s in Löw’s DNA to continue that tradition. It’s a shame if there is no notable intent to even experiment with this formation down the road but the option is here and it symbolizes an important change in Germany.

  8. Brilliant analysis! Reus has been a revelation this season.
    How would you compare Reus to Muller? Both fit the bill of ‘attacking all rounders’, able to play anywhere in the offence. Who edges it in your opinion
    I personally believe that Reus could spearhead the attack once Miro Klose hangs up his boots. Whats your take on that?

  9. Hopefully Löw gives him enough time ahead of the EUROs to at least give him a platform to prove himself. Think the NT can really benefit from a player like him. Imagine Müller and Özil having a player like Reus around them in addition of Klose.

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