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.
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’ 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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