With all the money being thrown around in football these days, the signing of Max Kruse for Borussia Mönchengladbach for a mere 2.5m€ is an incredibly shrewd piece of business, especially considering that he’s a striker and has come in as the team’s star signing. Kruse was instrumental to Freiburg’s surprise success last year, not only with his 12 goals but with his constant threat to the opposition, which is why the small fee that Gladbach paid for him came as a bit of a surprise (he is valued at 5m€ by transfermarkt.de).
After losing Marco Reus, Gladbach replaced the Dortmund-bound attacker with Luuk de Jong, who came in from FC Twente for a club record 12m€. Combined with the disappointment of early Champions League exit to Dynamo Kyiv, Gladbach’s season did not have the shine they predicted in pre-season and de Jong’s 8 goals in 28 matches left a lot to be desired. It says a lot about Max Kruse that he can come in for a fee a lot lower than 12m€ and walk straight into the team into de Jong’s place. It’s a clear statement by Gladbach saying “we need a goalscorer to score goals and we need him now”.
Max Kruse fits the bill as Gladbach’s striker for many reasons. Whereas Luuk de Jong is a striker who survives on service, Max Kruse is a striker who can easily live on his own up front and still create the chances. Gladbach’s attacking midfielders this term, Juan Arango, Raffael and Patrick Herrmann, are not 10-goal-a-season players but will be close to that mark in terms of assists. The relationship between the striker and these players will be key to Gladbach’s success and this quartet has the potential to be the best outside the big two.
One of Kruse’s greatest strengths is his hold-up play, his vision when bringing attacking midfielders into play. Usually hanging just on the edge of the area, Kruse draws defenders in and creates space for other players who come into play from anterior lines. Last season, Gladbach were the joint-bottom team in the Bundesliga in number of crosses per game with an average of 15, tied with Greuther Fürth; Bayern and Werder Bremen were top with 26. This indicates that Gladbach mostly attack through the middle and enjoy combinations between players in attack, with 4th highest in short passing average last season. With Kruse’s hold up play and ability with one-twos, it played straight into his hands (or feet). By contrast, de Jong is a player who excels with his head and in aerial play, but how is he supposed to shine if the team doesn’t play to his strengths?
Kruse’s versatility is another of his main strengths. At St Pauli, Kruse played mostly out wide on either wing or behind the striker and still managed to score 13 goals and 6 assists in 2011/2012. Having so many possible attacking combinations, Lucien Favre should be able to make his attack less horizontal and predictable, as players can drift in and out of their positions and unsettle defences a bit more. Kruse enjoys dropping into the channels often, mostly the right one, where he can pick up the ball, run along the edge of the area and shoot with his preferred left foot. This will definitely be one of the plays that we will see the most for Gladbach this season and this will allow Patrick Herrmann to drift further into the middle and inside the area, where he is undoubtedly more dangerous than out wide.
As mentioned, one of Kruse’s signature moves is shooting from distance. This is one of the main differences with Luuk de Jong, as he is an area striker who needs the ball inside the area to create any sort of trouble for the opposition. That contrast in play plays hugely into Gladbach’s favour if they opt for Kruse; Gladbach are a team that like to shoot from outside the box, which is perhaps why de Jong was not a key part of the team as much as he’d have wanted to: last season, Gladbach were 4th highest in the league shooting from outside the area with 46% of shots (Mainz were #1 with 48%) and were 17th when shooting inside the box with 47% of shots (Schalke were #1 with 58%). All in all, when you have your striker who can also shoot from distance and does not need the ball in a place where the team hardly plays it, accompanied by skillful players like Arango and Raffael who can place the ball at will, that only enhances the team’s chances of scoring.
Kruse also enjoys counterattacks and perhaps this is the area where we’ll see most of his goals coming from this season. Gladbach were the #1 team last season of playing most of the time in their own half with 30% (Bayern bottom with 23%), which indicates that it’s a team that, when in attacking positions, likes to move fast. Again, with players with such vision as Arango and Raffael, Kruse will be trying to get between the defenders on the last line and run onto that killer through ball that will set him up one-on-one with the goalkeeper. It was a tactic used a lot by Freiburg last year and which was highly successful, mostly thanks to Kruse’s movements, so with much better service this time around, the likelihood of it happening should be enhanced by a considerable margin. With the Venezuelan and the Brazilian having vision that could rival some of the top players in Europe, their skill would be lost with a striker like de Jong in this kind of situation and it was quite apparent last season when Gladbach only scored 3 goals from this type of play (17th overall). That number is expected to increase this season considerably if Favre opts for Kruse as his main striking option.
Another of Kruse’s main strengths is the ability to take set pieces; whether they are corners or free-kicks, the former Freiburg man can deliver an excellent ball in. The unquestionable master of set-pieces at Borussia Park is, undoubtedly, Juan Arango but he struggles with free-kicks that are of under 20 yards out, as he needs the space for the ball to be lifted and to drop. Kruse can provide an alternative here as he puts more power into his deliveries, whether it’s an assist or a shot on goal, and this may even increase Gladbach’s effectiveness in this aspect. Set pieces are a huge part of Gladbach’s play, as 16 goals out of their 48 goals last season (33%) came from set pieces. With Raffael now also being able to deliver them in positions more suited to right-footed players, they will have more variety and will be less predictable, not having to always rely on a left-footed player to deliver and with three different types of deliveries available.
Lastly, Kruse’s mentality is the right one for a striker; he is resilient, wants the ball at all times, doesn’t shy away from play and his head never drops, always wanting to be an integral part of his team’s attack whether they are 3-0 up or 3-0 down. There is no doubt that he is an excellent addition for a team who wants to be in the top European places again. Kruse will score goals, will assist, will cause trouble for the opposition, will put in an excellent work rate and run plenty (12th highest last season in kilometres covered running, highest ranked striker) and will fit in perfectly with the quality players in the squad. He is expected to replicate his form for Freiburg last year and even improve on it given the improved quality he has around him. The expectations are high with Kruse, which is not usually the case nowadays with a player who comes in for 2.5m€.
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