Having helped young midfielder Christoph Kramer into a Bundesliga star, leading to a spot in Germany’s World Cup-winning squad, Borussia Mönchengladbach now faces a number of tough decisions over the next few months with regard to how they can replace their defensive midfielder whose style of play has been so influential in how the club’s success over the past eighteen months without suffering a significant drop-off.
There are, of course, no hard and fast answers as to who should replace the Bayer Leverkusen loanee, but with a few months until Kramer leaves Borussia-Park for good, there is still time for Sporting Director Max Eberl to mull the club’s options and for Lucien Favre to create a new battle plan.
Perhaps the first, and most important, step will be to extend the service period of Granit Xhaka. There have been indications that Eberl has opened talks with the Swiss maestro regarding a new contract beyond the current deal with eighteen months remaining (with an optional extra year). Borussia can’t leave it late to retain one of their key performers in midfield, given the interest from outside parties from across the continent.
While Xhaka’s first year wasn’t the most impressive –as the teenager struggled to assert himself in Gladbach’s double pivot last season — his maturing play while working next to Kramer drew attention as a large part of Borussia’s push back into European competition. While question marks remain with regard to Xhaka’s discipline — he has gathered yellow and red cards at a higher-than-typical rate while at Gladbach — his talent become increasingly undeniable over the recently ended Hinrunde, particularly when his teammates looked devoid of ideas when Xhaka was absend. Dictating play from the hilt of Borussia’s midfield, Xhaka’s play more than deserves the sort of pay increase a new contract would likely entail. As one of Mönchengladbach’s most-influential men, a new deal would probably also make him one of the better paid in the club.
Alongside Xhaka is Håvard Nordtveit, the Norwegian defensive midfielder who has shown shown some glimpses of why he’s still highly regarded while not necessarily an automatic starter. Kramer’s departure could lead to more playing time for Nordtveit, whose talent isn’t far behind the likes of Xhaka or Kramer, but perhaps suffers from a less eye-catching playing style than his positional rivals. Nordtveit breaks up opposition play well, is a good passer, and has been a key part of Borussia’s success in some big spots.
However, Nordtveit also lacks the ability to change from defence to attack as effectively as Xhaka or to cover every blade of grass like Kramer can. Using Nordtveit alongside Xhaka may free up the Swiss midfielder to play a more adventurous role, but could also signify a lack of ambition, as there are certain to be available midfielders who could more seamlessly fit in with the current team and play than would Nordtveit.
Stindl, who could leave Hannover for just €3m in the summer thanks to a buy-out clause, has played a starring role at Hannover this season, captaining Tayfun Korkut’s men to a respectable upper mid-table position at the winter break. Borussia may not be alone in their interest in Stindl, as Schalke is also reportedly interested. While Stindl has been playing in an advanced midfield role, he’d have to shift back to fit into the current Borussia system, with Raffael and Max Kruse holding down the advanced positions relatively tightly.
Junuzovic has been a leading light at Bremen this season in their bid to stave-off relegation and could leave on a free in the summer. His three goals this season have come largely from free kicks, an area of need for Mönchengladbach since the departure of Juan Arango. Junuzovic also has eight assists, showing the playmaking ability that could help replace the dynamism of Kramer. At 27 years old, though, Junuzovic is unlikely to develop beyond his current level, and might not be a long-term accompaniment to Xhaka in midfield. Even so, getting a proven Bundesliga player on a free seems a no-brainer.
Similarly to Junuzovic, Geis has really shone this season for Mainz, despite some relatively poor performances from his team. Since joining from Greuther Fürth a couple of years ago, Geis has gone from strength to strength, and, at just 21 years of age, has an incredibly bright future ahead. Geis would surely command a large fee right now, especially with his contract running into 2017. Mainz has no incentive to sell him, but with Leverkusen and Dortmund reportedly interested, the FSV might be willign to part with him for a handsome recompense.
One concern may be that Geis plays similarly to Xhaka, usually preferring to affect play from deep. They certainly could work together in the same midfield, but would perhaps have to adapt their games to work better in tandem. Signing Geis would signify ambition to push upwards to break into the Champions League places. There isn’t a great difference in quality between Geis and Kramer right now, and Geis also has a few years more to develop.
Mönchengladbach also have the option of promoting Mo Dahoud. Dahoud, who turned 19 on New Year’s Day, caught the attention of Borussia fans in the summer of 2013, with some strong displays against smaller clubs, leading to a starting slot for the Syrian born midfielder against Bayern München in the Telekom Cup. Lucien Favre appears to be easing Dahoud into first-team action. He has yet to debut in the Bundesliga, but has seen first-team action as a substitute in Europa League. Favre has remarked, “You can see that Mo has enormous quality.” Christoph Kramer has described his potential heir as simply “phenomenal.”
It’s only a matter of time until Dahoud gets his Bundesliga debut, but the club seem very confident that Dahoud could be the next player to make the breakthrough, following in the steps of Tony Jantschke, Patrick Herrmann and Julian Korb have shown the way from the youth ranks to the first team. Yet, Dahoud may not yet be ready to fully replace Kramer. Whenever it happens, Dahoud’s is a name with which Bundesliga fans will eventually get familiar. He should certainly be considered to be in the equation to replace at least some of Kramer’s minutes.
While there are tough decisions ahead, the future at Mönchengladbach, even without Kramer, remains bright. There are a number of credible options, from the short to long term. Equally, given Mönchengladbach’s recent record at replacing key squad members, it seems somewhat impertinent to even debate whether Eberl or Favre can make the correct decision again.