Borussia Mönchengladbach nearly pulled off the impossible and nearly came from behind in Kyiv to advance to the group stage of the Champions League. Alas, their 2-1 win in the Ukraine was not enough after losing 3-1 in the first leg and will have to find consolation in the Europa League. Despite an admirable comeback the tie showed that Gladbach are not ready for the Champions League just yet but the experience can be an invaluable one for Favre and the team.
Lineups and Tactics
Dynamo coach Yuri Semin made only two changes from the team that was victorious in Germany, replacing Kranjcar and Mychalyk with Gusiev and Khacheridi. The three away goals gave Dynamo a lot of breathing room and the opportunity to play a bit more conservatively. As it turned out, that’s exactly the approach they chose and for the most part it worked rather well.
Going into the game, Favre said a comeback is not impossible but admitted it would be difficult. Simply put, they needed goals and after his disappointment with his strikers in the first leg he gave Mike Hanke the start this time alongside De Jong in place of De Camargo. Dominguez and Ring also sat out in favor of Brouwers and Herrmann. It was no secret that Gladbach would attack from the start but how would they cope defensively needing to chase the game?
As expected, Gladbach attacked from kickoff and immediately created their first chance when Arango slipped in a beautiful ball behind the Dynamo defense in the second minute but Herrmann’s touch put the ball just wide. It was a positive opening but Gladbach’s proactive attacking approach also left them vulnerable on the counter and quickly a pattern began to emerge. Dynamo were content to let Gladbach have the ball, knowing that they could just send in long balls to the strong and fast Ideye. It was a calculated decision but also one that became pretty effective as Brouwers and Stranzl struggled to deal with the pace of the striker as well as the quick through balls played out of Dynamo’s half. Every turnover seemingly became a Dynamo threat and as early as five minutes into the game Ideye was put in one on one with Ter Stegen but Stranzl’s last ditch tackle spared their blushes. Hanke, Herrmann and De Jong all had a go at goal before the break but none found the back of the net.
So it went for the remainder of the match. Arango was Gladbach’s danger man and his delivery was of his usual high quality but for the most part both Hanke and De Jong struggled to do anything with it. In all fairness, it was not easy against six or seven Dynamo defenders. Favre eventually replaced Hanke in the second half with Hrgota and was also forced to bring on Ring for Herrmann due to an injury. Things weren’t exactly going Gladbach’s way but they persisted admirably and were rewarded in the 70th minute when Arango again sent in a fantastic ball from the right only for Khacheridi to direct into his own net. They had a lifeline. Eight minutes later Gladbach believed again when Arango doubled the lead when he headed in the ball following a corner.
They were now just a goal away from doing the impossible and following in the footsteps of the great 1970’s Gladbach side who eliminated Dynamo in the 76/77 season, also following a first leg defeat. It was not to be though as Gladbach were again caught on the counter, this time Ideye beating the offside trap and chipping the ball over a stranded Ter Stegen. A disappointing result despite the improved performance that will no doubt bring up questions about what could have been had they done better in the first leg.
So why did Borussia Mönchengladbach come up short? Inexperience may be part of it but they alsowere also never able to play their natural game during both legs. The nature of the Champions League, or international football for that matter, greatly deviates from that played domestically, particularly that of the Bundesliga. In Europe, the field is condensed, there is less space to work with and teams never play with the kinds of high backlines so common in the Bundesliga. Favre’s 4-4-2 works well in the Bundesliga because of the league’s open style of play and teams propensity to play more attack minded. It plays perfectly into Gladbach’s ability to strike quickly on the counter but that is rarely the case in the Champions League anymore where teams play more compact and usually play with three in midfield.
Gladbach’s midfield and attack were too disconnected at time. The transitions were too slow and resulted in too many turnovers as a result. Arango, Hanke and Herrmann misplaced over thirty passes combined and the play out of the back was especially sloppy, all this from a team known for their passing ability. Again, the differences between Europe and the Bundesliga were quite evident. After the first leg, Favre admitted that his strikers (De Camargo and De Jong) were too similar. Neither De Camargo or De Jong did were able to replicate Reus’ work outside the box or his clever runs and link up. Starting Hanke in the second leg helped to an extent but there were still visible issues with their build up play and De Jong presents Hanke with a different partner to what he was accustomed to last year. Their partnership may take time to flourish but in this game they simply weren’t on the same page.
That’s not to say that Gladbach were totally flat. They were able to create chances and were the more dangerous side of the two in both legs but every Dynamo attack could have resulted in a goal and that perpetual vulnerability and Gladbach’s discomfort throughout the tie was the crux of their failure to advance. Dynamo were happy to keep nine players in their half in the second leg and feed balls to Ideye to hold up and get in behind Stranzl and Brouwers without worrying too much about Gladbach’s attacks. Semin may have handed Gladbach the bulk of possession but with a 3-1 lead it was more important to keep them out and there he made the right tactical choice. Time and time again, Dynamo played balls out of their own half in behind Stranzl and Brouwers. Besides the lack of pace of their center backs they were also poor in utilizing the offside trap, Jantschke keeping Ideye on for their goal at the end of the game.
In the end, the Champions League was just a step too high for Gladbach at the moment but an invaluable learning experience for Favre who readily admitted their evident shortcomings. Favre also lacked options off the bench it has to be said and injuries to Herrmann certainly didn’t help either. The experience and the eventuality of the Europa League may just persuade Favre to switch things up a bit though and perhaps alter his formation. In Juan Arango he has an ideal playmaker for a 4-2-3-1 and a great player to play behind De Jong. The tactical switch may come at Hanke’s expense but it would patch things up in the center. Gladbach were probably the better side over two legs but spirit and determination do not compensate for lapses in concentration and tactical naivete. That said, Gladbach supporters should be optimistic because it is a great experience to build on.
Header courtesy of uefa.com
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