A masterful first half performance from Gladbach ensures they remain unbeaten in 2012 and leap over Schalke into third place in the standings. Three goals in 30 minutes courtesy of Reus, Hanke and Arango silenced a lackluster Schalke who are now five points behind league leaders and rivals Dortmund. Gladbach continue to impress, having lost only one of their last 13 matches in all competitions. Schalke’s tactics meanwhile will again come into question after once again underperforming in the first half.
Line ups and Tactics
Favre fielded the same eleven players that beat Hertha Berlin midweek in the Cup, continuing to trust in the consistency of his line up, Brouwers still filling in for the injured Stranzl. Stevens shied away from last week’s 4-4-2 but to everyone’s surprise, changed formations yet again. This time he fielded a 4-1-4-1. Farfan and Jurado replaced Marica and Draxler after their good showing last week. Jurado was Steven’s key man here. His was supposed to add an extra attacking dimension and be the link between defense and attack but his defensive indiscipline would prove to be detrimental.
Gladbach butcher a disorganized Schalke
You won’t see many better first half performances than this one this year. Lucien Favre’s system was at its absolute best in the opening 45 minutes, from the link up, the combination play to the execution, the defending, etc. Everything clicked for Gladbach and Schalke were the unlucky ones on the receiving end. It too just under two minutes for Gladbach to strike. Herrmann crossed in from the right and Reus controlled the ball effortlessly, dragged the ball past Höwedes and tucked the ball into the far corner. It was the first of many times in the match that Jurado’s careless positioning would cost Schalke, the Spaniard a mere spectator to the opening goal and beaten far too easily.
The early goal rattled the visitor’s nerves and Unnerstall nearly gifted Gladbach the second three minutes later after mishandling a cross. Luckily for him it was cleared. The avalanche continued and on eight minutes, Dante met a corner and headed the ball just wide. Schalke escaped again but their luck wouldn’t last and on 15 minutes Gladbach combined for one of the best team goals of the year. Hanke picked up the ball on the left and combined beautifully with Arango whose one-two with the striker beat Schalke’s backline and put Gladbach’s forward one-on-one with Unnerstall. Hanke kept his composure and finished into the top right corner from six meters out. Gladbach were in full swing and unplayable. Shortly after the half hour mark Juan Arango topped off their performance with a sublime free kick into the top left corner from 22 meters.
Gladbach did everything right in the first half. Schalke on the other hand lacked organization, determination and a clear game plan. Jurado was meant to be the link between attack and defense but the Spaniard misplaced more passes than any other Schalke player in the first half and essentially left Matip and the backline on their own against the buzzing Gladbach front four. In fact, Jurado only won his first challenge after they had already been down 3-0. Schalke captain Benedikt Höwedes summed it up best, “We were poor in our challenges in the first half and failed to execute our tactical responsibilities. The gaps were simply too great and Gladbach were doing what they wished.”
Gladbach’s interchanging front four and the deep defensive work of their attacking players are problematic enough for opponents and it was exacerbated by a clearly disjointed and disorganized Schalke side. The visitors basically presented Gladbach the space to slowly cut them apart. Reus, Herrmann and Arango were all to happy to use all the holes left by Schalke and their quick combination play and runs never elicited an answer. Gladbach won 60% of the challenges in this game and Hanke, Reus, Arango and Herrmann were allowed to make a combined 217 runs.
Second Half a formality
With the match all but wrapped up, the second half was rather anti climactic. Considering that Schalke have scored a league high 32 goals in the second half one might have expected more from the visitors but Gladbach have conceded the least amount of goals in the second half this season (6), so it is no surprise that they held on as well as they did. In a reverse of last week’s half time changes, Stevens pulled Jurado and Farfan and brought on Draxler and Marica but it did little to get Schalke back in the match. Gladbach were comfortable in the lead and focused on keeping a clean sheet. Metzelder was brought on and Höwedes pushed out wide with Höger stepping into the midfield. While it made Schalke more secure defensively it added next to nothing offensively, leaving one to think that Stevens was more concerned with avoiding goals rather than scoring them.
Schalke had to commit players forward to get goals, which inevitably left them exposed on the counter so there was a hesitation throughout the second half to do that too readily. Gladbach meanwhile happily passed the ball around in their own half (completing 513 passes in this game) waiting to hit Schalke on the break when possible but there was no rush to do that. The final whistle was an elation after a desolate Schalke performance.
Ironically enough, Favre’s first game in charge in February 2011 was against Schalke. It was his first and only win against them in the league until this match. The progress made in that year has been nothing short of remarkable. Roman Neustädter put it best after the match, “It is unbelievable what is happening with this club and this team. We all pull together, we try every day to further develop and implement what we work on in training during the week. It looks easy from the outside but behind it lies a lot of hard work every single day, be it our technique, first touch, movement with the ball, link up, positioning, etc. Everyone knows where to run.”
Schalke missed out on equalling a club record of six successive wins but they remain in the title race despite the five point gap between them and Dortmund. That said, for the third week running Schalke stuttered in the first half. Only this time they failed to make up for it in the second. Their contrasting record in both halves this season is worrying for a club with title ambitions. Stevens’s tone after the match very much echoed this sentiment, “Our organization was completely off today. We knew how Gladbach would play and if that is how we respond then there will be problems. And reading the players body language I have to ask myself, what these guys are doing at Schalke.”