Analysis: The Differences Between Andre Schubert and Lucien Favre’s Borussia Mönchengladbach

Last season was a very successful year for Borussia Mönchengladbach. The club finished in third place in the Bundesliga, their best league placement since the 1986/87 campaign, with 66 points, their highest points tally in the top flight ever since the three-point rule system was put in place in Germany. This meant that they had qualified for the Champions League group stage for the first time since the competition was restructured in the early 1990s and it was the first time they had taken part in Europe’s premier club competition proper since 1977/78, when they went out to eventual champions Liverpool in the semifinals.

It was a stellar Ruckrunde that did the job for Gladbach where they won 12 of their 17 games and kept 10 clean sheets. Notable victories against Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen steered them on the way to a third place finish which not many believed they could achieve at the start of the season. They were now headed for Champions League football and with the young, talented squad they had, they looked destined to achieve more success in the years to come which was a real testament to the work that Coach Lucien Favre and the management put in to rebuild the squad following the sales of key players like Marco Reus, Dante, Roman Neustadter, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, and Juan Arango in recent history.

As a result of their achievement last term, Gladbach went into 2015/16 with plenty to look forward to with a chance to be in the spotlight amongst Europe’s elite, and they were considered to be among the candidates to finish in the top four again this year in the Bundesliga. Once more, they lost key men in the summer transfer window with Max Kruse moving to Wolfsburg and Christoph Kramer returning to Bayer Leverkusen upon the expiration of his loan deal, but once again the Gladbach management bought smartly to replace them.

Lars Stindl
Lars Stindl

In came one of the Bundesliga’s best players last season in the form of Lars Stindl for a small sum of 3M from Hannover, talented young defenders Nico Elvedi from Zurich for 4M, Nico Schulz from Hertha Berlin for the same fee, and Andreas Christensen on loan from Chelsea. They also made Thorgan Hazard’s stay at Borussia-Park permanent by signing him from Chelsea for 8M and also brought in Switzerland international Josip Drmic from Leverkusen for 10M, their largest transaction of the summer. The stage looked set for Gladbach to follow up last season’s good work with another strong campaign.

What transpired was far from expected. The club lost its first five league games of the new Bundesliga season and following the 1-0 defeat to Köln, Lucien Favre unceremoniously and shockingly handed in his resignation. The club was left rock bottom with zero points and in a very precarious position so early on in the campaign, something no one foresaw coming.

Although the start to the season was as bad as anyone could have envisaged, there was no real expectation that Favre would end up leaving so soon before his announcement. Results may have been extremely poor, but there were also injuries to key players from last season like Martin Stranzl, Alvaro Dominguez, Havard Nordtveit, and Fabian Johnson as well as several new players still gelling in early on so it’s understandable that it was hard to get immediate results, even if they shouldn’t have been as bad as they were.

Those early problems meant that Favre had to field a different central defense in every one of the first five league games with Marvin Schulz, Christensen, Roel Brouwers, and Tony Jantschke rotating every week in the absence of veterans Stranzl and Dominguez. There were also players being shifted around in midfield with Nordtveit, Johnson, and Andre Hahn all injured, which left Patrick Herrmann playing on the left wing rather than on his preferred right side. There was also a weekly audition for as to who could partner up with Raffael up front following the sale of Kruse with Hazard and Drmic both getting opportunities, but neither seized the opportunity in the early rounds.

There was no consistent lineup. Everything was changed from game to game depending on who was available and that, combined with the bad form of key players like Raffael and Granit Xhaka for example, brought BMG into the position that they were in after just five games. Suddenly, just months after finishing in third and qualifying for the Champions League, Gladbach found themselves bottom of the league and their manager Favre had just unexpectedly departed. It looked like a tough situation to be in and whoever his successor would be, it would take plenty of work and patience before they could climb out of it.

His replacement turned out to be Andre Schubert, a man with an obscure playing career at amateur level who had already gained managerial credibility with Paderborn, St. Pauli, and the German U-15 national team. Although originally named as an interim manager, it seemed like an appointment as surprising as Favre’s resignation as not many had Schubert as the first name on their list of replacements. Nevertheless, the responsibility was placed on Andre’s shoulders to turn the ship around as soon as possible.

And he not only managed to do just that, but even got the club back into the European positions in just a matter of six matches. He also managed to achieve some impressive results in Europe with two draws against Italian champions (and last year’s Champions League finalists), Juventus as well as a 4-2 win over Europa League holders Sevilla, Gladbach’s dramatic turnaround in such a short space of time then saw Schubert rewarded with a two-year contract until June 2017 as the permanent manager and his interim tag removed.

Schubert oversaw a ten-match unbeaten streak in the league from the moment he took over, something that didn’t seem on the cards. How he achieved it was just by making a few adjustments. He initially kept Favre’s preferred 4-4-2 as the team’s standard formation, but with changes to the lineup as some of the previously injured players had started to recuperate.

Julian Korb, who had played a lot of games under Favre but wasn’t considered a starter, was installed as the first choice right-back with Jantschke moving into the center of defense to partner Christensen in the absences of Stranzl and Dominguez, who have missed much of the season. Johnson regained his place on the left wing upon his return from injury and Herrmann moved back to the right, but didn’t last long before he tore his ligaments and was replaced once more by Ibrahima Traore in the lineup.

The two most notable changes, though, were the installation of then 19-year-old youth product Mahmoud Dahoud in central midfield to play alongside Xhaka, and Lars Stindl, who had occupied that role earlier under Favre, moved up front to partner Raffael in attack. It was a move that paid huge dividends as Dahoud has since established himself as one of the best young midfielders in the Bundesliga this season and Stindl continued his goalscoring exploits from last year, scoring seven in the league and 14 in all competitions.

Under Schubert, the likes of Xhaka, Raffael, and Stindl have returned to form and are playing as well as they ever have in their careers, as has Johnson, who’s netted a career-high 8 goals this year. Gladbach have played expressive, attacking football under Schubert with less defensive discipline and organization than under Favre, resulting in fewer clean sheets but more prolific attacking. This is best exemplified by the fact that Gladbach are the league’s second highest scoring team after Bayern since Schubert took over on Matchday 6, while simultaneously the Foals hold the worst defensive record in the league outside of the current bottom five sides. For a team that had the second best defense in Germany just under a year ago, the differences between Schubert’s approach compared to Favre are there for all to see.

With Schubert, Gladbach have beaten the likes of Bayern, Schalke, Wolfsburg, and this season’s surprise package Hertha Berlin and they did it by playing offensive football rather than by sitting deep and playing on counters as done under Favre. The Bayern win was perhaps the most impressive of Schubert’s tenure to date, but it’s also now known as the game that really marked the beginning of the Andre Schubert era at Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Having played Favre’s old 4-4-2 in every game for his first three months in charge, Schubert lined up the team in an unfamiliar 3-4-1-2 formation against Bayern with 18-year old Nico Elvedi handed his full Bundesliga debut as the third choice centerback alongside Havard Nordtveit and Christensen with Korb and Oscar Wendt playing as wingbacks and containing more offensive duties. Johnson tucked into central midfield alongside Xhaka with Dahoud pushed forward although with responsibilities to drop deeper and form a three-man midfield when Gladbach didn’t have the ball. It wasn’t as straightforward as that as the positions of the players changed during different periods of the game as did the formation, but that was generally how they lined up at the start.

It was a surprising switch but it worked to perfection as Gladbach ruthlessly took their chances and handed Bayern their first defeat of the season. This meant that Schubert continued with the 5-4-1 formation, but only a week later, his side got hammered 5-0 by Leverkusen. Nevertheless, he continued to experiment and try new formations, looking for a fit to make his mark on the team and build them in his own vision rather than continuing Favre’s legacy.

He’s tinkered with a number of variations, including 5-4-1, 3-4-3, and 5-3-2 as he searched for the right system that could allow him to continue playing attacking football but with more defensive balance so the problems at the back could be dealt with in a better way. The reason he’s switched to formations with an extra defender is so that he could have a spare man at the back that could help the team deal with counters better when they inevitably leave men forward trying to attack.

Gladbach’s new coach has largely stuck with a three-man central defense ever since the Bayern win, with some of the key changes from his initial run with 4-4-2 being moving Nordtveit into central defense instead of central midfield, with Dahoud now fully established there as a starter, alongside Elvedi and Christensen with Jantschke becoming another victim of a long-term injury during the season.

Fabian Johnson switched flanks and has often been played as the right wing-back in the five-man defense with Julian Korb and Ibrahima Traore being the odd men out while Thorgan Hazard has also established himself as a regular, playing alongside Stindl and Raffael up front or even up top with Stindl in behind them. At times, Schubert has made too many changes and that hasn’t translated to getting him the results he was getting earlier on, but his persistence in experimenting instead of reverting to 4-4-2 shows that he wants to make this team his own and not carry on the foundations built by his predecessor over the previous seasons.

Gladbach haven’t quite transitioned all of Schubert’s ideas onto the pitch yet and defensively they’re still having problems, but they’re still scoring goals regularly and they’re growing into a more tactically flexible and versatile team than they ever were under Favre who lived and died by his own stubborn ways from the start until the end. Whether Schubert can ever achieve the success that the Swiss coach did at Gladbach remains to be seen, but by being open and trying new things when necessary, he’s giving his best to get there someday.

The 44 year-old  has guided the Foals to 5th place with just four matches remaining in the Bundelsiga season, having taken over in a position when hey were pointless after 5 rounds, and it looks likely that Gladbach will play in Europe once again next season. He’s taken the team’s attacking game to a new level during his tenure and he’s trying to build an identity at the club in his own unique way. While his club hasn’t maximized their potential with the changes that Schubert is trying to make, one thing is for sure: Andre Schubert is a very talented manager and can go far in the world of football management. With his mind and ideas, Gladbach can go far.

The following two tabs change content below.

Edin Halilovic

Edin is a Bosnian currently residing in the United States whose interest in the Bundesliga and German football in general has been increasing heavily in recent years. Follow him @edinh_96