Borussia Mönchengladbach had a sensational season that culminated in a fourth place finish with the prospect of Champions League football next season. Under Lucien Favre they played some of the most, if not the most, exciting football in the Bundesliga. Their game was characterized by blistering speed, sensational one touch passing and an uncanny ability to rapidly interchange positions. To call their style of play counter attacking doesn’t seem quite right, since the dominance of possession was one of their most noticeable traits. It could be better described as a possession based counter attacking hybrid with a particular emphasis on quick transitions.
Sustaining this style of football over a few seasons depends heavily on the club’s ability to hang on to their players. Very much like Italian side Napoli’s ever reliable and sensational Three Tenors, Gladbach’s too relied on certain key players. One of those key players was German starlet Marco Reus. During the winter transfer window, speculation was rife about a summer departure of Reus with Bayern looking like his most likely destination.
Surprisingly, the 22-year-old declined the offer from Bayern and signed with his home town club Borussia Dortmund (for a reported 17.5 million Euros). Although this signing was a huge coup for BVB, Die Fohlen were dealt a massive blow. The importance of Reus can be seen from his eighteen goals and nine assists last season. Each of those unique traits that describe Gladbach’s style of play is so prominent mainly because of the presence of Reus. An outright replacement for Reus seems impossible to find, but somebody with his positional versatility will indeed be a useful replacement and a blueprint for reconstruction.
To add to Gladbach’s summer woes, two other key players decided to leave Borussia-Park – Roman Neustädter and Dante. Neustädter has been a workhorse in Gladbach’s two man central midfield and has been ever present for the Foals last season. He featured in 33 of Gladbach’s 34 games this season, showing the world his immense fitness and durability. Along with Håvard Nordtveit, Neustädter formed one of the league’s most formidable central midfield duos by shielding the back four and assisting in most attacks.
Unlike Marco Reus, Neustädter seems replaceable though. There is no doubt about his talent, but he was always more of a role player than a difference maker. The one problem with Neustädter’s transfer is that Gladbach will not be getting a single penny as Schalke managed to grab the 24-year-old on a free transfer. With Gladbach not known for their great financial resources, the loss of such a player accompanied by an absence of inflowing could hurt the Foals in their plans to rebuild.
Dante has been their latest loss, with Bayern Munich the culprits on this occasion (for a rumored 5 million Euros). His improved performances this season were a big reason for Gladbach’s solid defense. Good on the ball and astute in his reading of the game, the void that he will leave behind at Gladbach will be hard to fill in.
Obtaining perfect replacements for these three departees seems an almost impossible task, but Gladbach have already signed two players who will most surely be a part of Favre’s regular starting lineup. Coming into their midfield will be Granit Xhaka from Basel, while Peniel Mlapa’s arrival could make Favre tweak his current system.
The Swiss Starlet
Prior to this season’s Champions League campaign, Granit Xhaka was not a common name in the football world. Basel’s incredible upset of Manchester United was the stepping stone to fame for two of Switzerland’s rising stars, one of which was Xhaka, the other being the Bayern bound Shaqiri. At the ripe age of 19 Xhaka has managed to catch the eye of a number of top clubs across Europe and Gladbach must thank lady luck for having been able to sign this wonderkid, albeit for a hefty amount of 8.5 million Euros.
Although not an exact replica of Neustädter, Xhaka will surely slot in and be used in Favre’s two man central midfield. One huge disadvantage with Xhaka will be his physique compared to that of Neustädter, something that at his age is still developing. Fighting for the ball in midfield could become a lot harder for his partner, Nordtveit, owing to Xhaka’s smallish stature.
The one massive advantage that Xhaka does have over Neustädter though is his inclination for going forward and ability to read the game. Better dribbling, passing and pace give Xhaka the one up over Neustädter when moving forward, but whether this can compensate for his defensive shortcomings remains to be seen. Given Favre’s current style of play, Xhaka should be able to fit in fairly well. The arrival of the 19-year-old could also help boost Gladbach’s goal tally next season. All in all, a really bright signing for the Borrusians.
Unproven, but cheap
Peniel Mlapa is a young player with Bundesliga experience and huge potential. – Max Eberl
Gladbach’s second signing of the summer, Peniel Mlapa, is far from a star in Germany. The 21 year old striker has been at Hoffenheim for the past two seasons, but goal scoring has never been his forte, leaving him fairly unnoticed duting this tenure. In fact, he has managed just a meager total of five goals in the last two seasons.
To expect Mlapa to immediately fill in for Reus would be naive, but given the right amount of time and support it could prove a shrewd move. The upside to this transfer was that Gladbach managed to get Mlapa for a relatively small amount of three million Euros. There has been talk of Mlapa coming in as just a squad player but Favre’s ability to get the best out of players could change that. From Mlapa’s showings in the Bundesliga so far, it does look like he will be brought into the squad as a striker and will occupy a role very similar to that of De Camargo or Mike Hanke.
The arrival of a player like Mlapa could also mean that Favre will start using two strikers up front in a more conventional sense rather than the lone striker system that he did last season. If he does revert to this system, Mlapa could start alongside Hanke while Arango and Herrmann retain their places on either flank. Mlapa has played out wide before though in his time at Hoffenheim which only supplies Favre with more options in his attempt to maintain the same dynamism and style of play.
Gladbach’s losses s far in the transfer market far surpass their gains. In terms of ability, Mlapa and Xhaka in no way compensate for the departing trio of Reus, Neustädter and Dante. The current situation seems somewhat bleak in that regard but a couple more sensible signings could have Gladbach fighting for a European spot again. It does depend on how Favre adapts to the losses though, what replacements he brings in and how he chooses to integrate them. Interesting times certainly lie ahead for the Foals and Lucien Favre.
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