Back in August 2015, at the start of Bundesliga season, Borussia Mönchengladbach started with central defensive pairing of Andréas Christensen and Marvin Schulz, who were aged just nineteen and twenty. Gladbach got thrashed 4:0 and eventually lost four matches in a row, thus making it five losses on the trot to start the season, which also forced Lucien Favre to resign.
What was the reason for this streak of losses?
Well, critics say it was Borussia’s defense which saw two inexperienced defenders getting hammered at the highest level of football, but if you look closely you would find that Coach Lucien Favre tried five different pairing in five different games. So you can’t say Favre didn’t try.
What these losing results did reflect, however, was that Borussia’s defense was in trouble. With 2014/15 season’s hot defensive pairing of Tony Jantschke and Martin Stranzl not clicking due to frequent injuries, Favre didn’t really know what the best centre back pairing was for Borussia Mönchengladbach. Therefore, he tried five different combinations, but none of them worked and they ended up conceding 13 goals from the first five matches.
Let’s just ignore defense
Fortunately for Gladbach though, after Favre’s resignation, they had found a totally attacking minded successor in André Schubert. He didn’t really focused much on defense and turned Gladbach into a rather attacking minded team, who would outscore the opponents. And Schubert executed this strategy brilliantly.
But it’s obvious that every team has to be defensively sound no matter how attacking-minded they are. Just like Thomas Tuchel’s Borussia Dortmund. Although BVB were offensively amazing during the Hinrunde, they struggled somewhat defensively, managing no clean sheets in November and December, which is why Tuchel took his foot off the gas slightly and reshaped Dortmund to play more sensibly. The Effect? It shows! Dortmund have kept seven clean sheets in nine Bundesliga games of the Rückrunde and are the only unbeaten team in the Bundesliga Rückrunde 2015/16.
Right now, André Schubert might have to do something like this unless of course he is happy with his attack minded approach. Borussia Mönchengladbach have conceded the most number of goals in the top half of the Bundesliga table with 42 goals, fifth most in the Bundesliga.
How are the Foals letting them in?
So how is Gladbach’s defense conceding so many goals? Short Explanation:
The seemingly attacking movements of the fullbacks Oscar Wendt and Julian Korb, which leaves Gladbach open at the back, makes Havard Nordtveit’s job as a defensive midfielder more important if the Foals played a 4-4-2 formation or a three at the back formation. Also, Wendt (105) and Korb (62) has a combined defensive action 167, the third least defensive work by a fullback duo after Bayern and Dortmund.
For example, this heatmap shows Oscar Wendt in Gladbach’s 4:0 win over VfB Stuttgart on 2nd March. His attacking positioning seems pretty effective when you see the scoreline, but what’s more important is that Gladbach have kept a clean sheet and that’s where Nordtveit comes into play. In this match, Nordtveit enjoyed one of his best games this season with a Squawka rating of 58.
There are other reasons for Gladbach’s inability to keep goals out, such as their inability to find an effective backline pairing. This season, Borussia Mönchengladbach have tried 13 (!) different defensive pairings, most by any team:
This hilarious amount rotation has imbalanced the co-ordination between two centre backs in particular.
Let’s take Ingolstadt for example, the pair of Benjamin Hübner and Marvin Matip has been a blessing for them. They have started 23 games together at defence in which they have conceded just 22 goals even Ingolstadt haven’t kept a clean sheet when one of these two players were absent from the starting XI.
Now, some might say that Ingolstadt are a well-drilled defensive team while Gladbach are an attacking force but the ever-intact combination of Hübner and Matip still has a lot to do with their incredible defensive performance this season. Even Gladbach also found relative success when Christensen was paired alongside Alvaro Dominguez five times in Schubert’s first ten games in which they had conceded four goals in those five matches.
Shift that attitude
In my opinion, Coach André Schubert must think about his defense no matter how many goals they score, because cause Borussia Mönchengladbach are a team who deserve to be in the Champions League scene and to play in the champions league, one way or another you will have to face the big guns like Barcelona, Real Madrid or PSG and just at that time your defensive scheme comes into play. Maybe this was the reason for Gladbach failing against clubs like Barcelona, Sevilla and Juventus in this season’s Champions League. Although no one can deny that it was the toughest group that they could expected and they still performed well but at the end of the day it just wasn’t enough.
Had it not been for the impressive performance of their young defenders, the remainder of the defense would have been a threadbare. To be more precise, it’s mainly because of Andréas Christensen and Nico Elvedi. The former, Christensen was loaned from Chelsea for two years and the latter is a Swiss teenager who came in from FC Zurich at the start of the season.
The young Danish defender has been the mainstay of Gladbach’s defense this season. Despite being a centre back, Christensen is good on the ball and has a wide set of skills. He has completed 1,142 passes this season 72% of which were forward passes while having an impressive 87% of pass completion rate, which reflects his ability of ball distribution. Christensen also has a good anticipation as he has made 59 interceptions this season and taken 162 defensive actions, way more than any Gladbach player.
But not just that, Christensen is a smart chap as well, he always has a second thought before making a tackle, winning 55% of his tackles this season while receiving just one yellow card in 22 matches so far, a really impressive for a player at his age. The fact that he has a performance score of 579 by Squawka(3rd best in the team) says the whole story of Andréas Christensen this season.
Others aren’t too bad
While we keep giving the plaudits to Andreas Christensen for being the main man in defense, it might be an understatement to other young defenders in the team because they have been quite good too providing the helping hand.
One of them is Swiss talent Nico Elvedi. With key defender Alvaro Dominguez out for the rest of the season, Nico Elvedi has been very able replacement of Dominguez. It all started when he staggeringly started his first Bundesliga game against none other than Bayern in November and ended starring in a three man defensive role on an imposing 3:1 win over Bayern.
Since then, Elvedi has featured in eight Bundesliga matches and Twelve Bundesliga games over the whole season. Stats are quite impressive too. Elvedi takes 7.18 defensive actions per 90mins that’s better than all other Gladbach defenders except Christensen(7.36). Overall he has already made 62 defensive actions despite taking part in just 12 games.
And Martin Hinteregger, another young defender who has been brought in to replace the retiring Martin Stranzl can also play a huge part in the remainder of the matches or perhaps next season.
Well, we have to say that even with the seemingly injury woes to seniors like Alvaro Dominguez, Tony Jantschke and the aging veterans like Roel Brouwers and Martin Stranzl constantly struggling, the young guns of Borussia Mönchengladbach has done a sensational job of keeping the defense intact. U-23 prospects like Andreas Christensen(20), Nico Elvedi(19), Martin Hinteregger(23) and Marvin Schulz(21) all have a bright future who will serve as important figures in the club’s future.
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