A Rose Revolution
Once regarded as one of Europe’s biggest clubs, Borussia Mönchengladbach’s decline post-1970’s has tainted a city so rich in football history. However, the club’s latest managerial appointment has produced the most exciting brand of football since their golden generation. High pressing, rapid transitions and a remarkable tactical framework has put Gladbach back on their way to the top of the German football pyramid.
Written by Joel Parker.
After a strong start to the 2018/19 campaign, Borussia Mönchengladbach’s dreadful form post-February led to a major change for the following campaign. Gladbach had struggled to assert themselves in the Champions League spots following Lucien Favre’s resignation and football under Dieter Hecking had turned stale, winning just four of their last fifteen games.
Before the season had ended, sporting director Max Eberl had already announced the successor. Marco Rose grabbed European football’s attention thanks to an incredible spell in charge of Red Bull Salzburg. Rose’s fluid football, vertical and compact play whilst forming an aggressive high block off the ball, looked suitable to make the transition into Germany’s top league.
Within less than twelve months, Gladbach have developed into one of Europe’s most flexible and flamboyant teams, without having a single aspect of their game that’s really underdeveloped. Their ability to effectively adapt to specific game situations showcases the strength in Rose’s coaching staff and the tactical insight they offer.
The use of live video reporting, produced through Sportscode, enables them to deliver tactics during the game, from analyst to Rose’s assistant and co-owner of German tactics website Spielverlagerung, René Marić. Gladbach epitomize how most clubs would like to be run, behind the scenes, within the next few years; this article analyzes their game plan and how they can put the opposition under pressure.
There are two main tactical principles within Gladbach’s pressing structure – suffocate the space for the player in possession and man-mark all potential forward passing options. The team adopts different shapes in their pressing structure to match up against the opposing buildup shape, but usually we see them in a 4-2-3-1 high block.
Their pressing is well-coordinated; players often stick onto the same line and adjust their positioning depending on where the ball is on the field. Gladbach’s wingers, usually Marcus Thuram and Patrick Herrmann, move closer to the number ten. This congests the middle of the field and forces the opposition to build up through the flanks with their midfielders occupied.
Gladbach’s 4-2-3-1 pressing versus FC Augsburg.
Mönchengladbach increase the intensity of their pressing when the opposition have the ball down either flank. Augsburg faced immense problems when coming up against this structure; when the ball was on the right, Jonas Hofmann would move more central, which meant that the double pivot 4-2-3-1 is one of the most frequently occurring formations in football. The two most defensive midfielders are called a ‘double pivot’. was man-marked. The cover shadow When a player is positioning himself between the opponent that has possession of the ball and another opponent, he is blocking the passing lane. When applied the right way, his ‘shadow’ is effectively taking the opponent in his back out of the game, because the pass can not be played. of Denis Zakaria and Marcus Thuram meant that progressive passes were near impossible to complete.
The pressing play resulted in Augsburg making plenty of back passes or attempting long passes towards the opposite flank. Rose’s team could adjust very quickly when the hosts attempted to switch play, collectively holding their shape and drifting towards the channel.
What makes their pressing so effective is their ability to keep the opposition pinned within their own defensive third, making it so hard to progress up the field. RasenBallsport Leipzig are renowned for their free-flowing, interchangeable passing moves, which has seen them compete against the very best. Gladbach nullified these passing moves by overloading When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. the channels, which stopped Leipzig progressing vertically up the field and forced them to play the ball into very congested areas of the pitch.
Gladbach pressing in a 3-4-3 shape versus RasenBallsport Leipzig.
Marco Rose’s tactical change into a 3-4-3 pressing shape enabled Gladbach to heavily occupy Leipzig’s midfield options and gave Nagelsmann’s attacking players very limited time in possession. Gladbach would also use a similar pressing shape when facing Borussia Dortmund, which directly matched their opponents buildup structure and allowed them to go man-to-man easily when in a high block.
Regardless of what shape they press the opposition, their ability to overload areas and the organization when they press is a crucial component in Gladbach’s game plan off the ball. The team is effective in forcing the opposition down the channels, moving all the offensive players towards that area, whilst remaining in a compact shape. Rose’s pressing structure requires his team to be well-calculated and work as a collective, something his team have accustomed to very quickly in his first season.
Why Gladbach are so deadly in transitions
A high proportion of goals under Marco Rose have followed a similar theme. Silky, fast-paced, ferocious attacking moves whilst the opposing defense is in disarray. Out of the 24.7 expected goals – which ranks fifth in the Bundesliga – they have created in open play, Gladbach have scored 26 times. So how do they get into such good areas of the pitch?
When the press is evaded by the opposition, Gladbach remain in their 4-2-3-1 shape whilst moving into a medium block. A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. This congests the middle third of the field and Rose’s team can force many turnovers thanks to their ability to collapse onto the ball. Collapsing refers to the collective movement of players onto the person in possession, a trait that allows Mönchengladbach to win the ball back effectively whilst the opposing team are out of their defensive shape.
In the buildup to Gladbach’s opener at home to Eintracht Frankfurt, Denis Zakaria drops quickly to create a 2-versus-1 on Daichi Kamada.
A good example of Gladbach using this to create a goal came in their 4-2 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt earlier in the season. Following a throw-in, Gladbach created an overload on Daichi Kamada, thanks to them collapsing onto the ball to force a turnover. Frankfurt’s 5-3-2 defensive structure had caused the hosts problems earlier on, but they are out of that shape in this sequence.
By the time Tony Jantschke had the ball at his feet following Denis Zakaria’s tackle, Gladbach were already able to transition from a defensive scenario into an attacking one. Marcus Thuram remained down one channel, stretching the defense, whilst a passing lane to Breel Embolo had opened. Jantschke’s line-breaking channel pass led to a neat one-two between Embolo and László Bénes and Gladbach were in behind the defensive line within the space of a few seconds.
Their ability to transition from defense to attack at frightening pace enables them to get into great positions inside the penalty area. The Gladbach offense is hard to defend against, they make progress quickly and access the area with diagonal runs through the opposition backline. Alassane Pléa, Embolo, Thuram and Herrmann have all performed impressively in both expected goals and assists, which is a huge testament to these deadly attacking transitions.
Performing an effective counterpress
Transitioning also involves going from an attacking situation into a defensive one, something that Mönchengladbach are also very impressive in performing. When a sequence breaks down in the final / middle thirds of the field, this triggers an aggressive counterpress After losing possession, a team immediately moves towards the ball as a unit to regain possession, or at least slow down the pace of the counterattack. from Rose’s team in order to win possession back.
Forming a counterpress rushes the opponents decision making and reduces the space around him, quickly and efficiently. When Gladbach lose possession forward, instead of dropping deeper, the team presses onto the opposition. One of Gladbach’s strikers will drop onto the player in possession, pressing from their blind side to form an overload and give the team a higher chance of winning the ball back.
59th minute: Gladbach perform a brilliant counterpress after Bayern win possession back, just outside their own area.
A great example, which showcased Gladbach’s organization in these counterpressing moments, came at home to Bayern Munich. After Stefan Lainer’s cross was defended by Bayern, he continued to apply pressure onto Thiago Alcântara. The hosts pressed higher, Lars Stindl pressing Thiago, whilst Gladbach had already man-marked potential passing options. Thomas Müller would receive the ball, before being dispossessed by Matthias Ginter. What followed was Gladbach winning a corner out of this scenario, a transition of play which could have ended a lot differently if the hosts took a different approach.
Building from the back
Compactness is a big part of Rose’s strategy, not just out of possession, but on the ball too. When Gladbach attempt to bring the ball out from the back, passing options are close and consistently roaming to create better angles to receive the ball. Borussia started the season in the 4-3-1-2 buildup shape, which saw fantastic success at Salzburg for Rose and his team. Over time, they have experimented with different shapes to suit their playing staff, as well as to better accommodate themselves against the opposition; but the principles are still the same.
Gladbach players are constantly encouraged to build vertically thanks to the multiple lines in their shape, as well as the positioning of players. The fullback closest to the ball remains deep in the buildup, with two central midfielders coming closer in support. Rose’s team overload the channels, producing short, fluid passing sequences to evade pressure, which forces the opposition out wide. They maintain their width thanks to the fullback, as well as the striker on the left, making the switch across field and into space a very good option to progress the ball.
As the season has continued, Marco Rose has started a more natural double pivot, whether that is in a 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-1-2 formations. In possession, the midfielder closest to the ball drops closer to the defensive line, which creates better angles for them to progress the ball. Gladbach’s staggering and positional play enables them to craft attractive, well-rehearsed passing moves to break down opposition blocks.
Gladbach’s staggering versus Bayer Leverkusen gives them positional superiority.
Wide overloads and final third structure
Upon entering the final third The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. of the field, Rose aims for his sides to cover all five horizontal lines of the pitch; something Mönchengladbach show in many of their attacking sequences when building from deep. This is achieved by their very advanced fullbacks, as well as having three attacking players positioned centrally to pin the opposition defensive line, making them narrow. This is how their wide overloads are created and enables their fullbacks to get into fantastic crossing positions.
In attacking transitions, Thuram and Pléa can drop deeper, into the halfspace, If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have the freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. dragging their marker out wide. Gladbach’s movements, interchanges and rotations down the wide channels are fun to watch and effective at pulling opposition defenses out wide to make space in central positions.
Buildup for Patrick Herrmann’s goal to make the score 3-1 versus SC Freiburg.
Patrick Herrmann’s goal at home to Freiburg serves as a great example of how overloads down one channel can open space through the middle. After a neat passing sequence down the left channel, a passing lane opens for Nico Elvedi to play Thuram through. There is access between the lines thanks to Herrmann pinning the Freiburg defense back and a delicious line breaking pass takes out half the opposition team.
Embolo’s run behind the fullback is met by Thuram’s pass, simply squaring the ball to Herrmann for an easy finish. These swift attacking moves are well suited to an attacking force as rapid as Gladbach’s, but the precision and transitions involved in the buildup is a testament to the work produced on the training ground.
Mönchengladbach are a prime example of why you need flexibility and versatility when breaking opposition blocks down. Their blistering pace in attack and quick decision making in transitions make them an unpredictable team to defend against.
However, it isn’t just how Gladbach have adapted to the tactics of Rose; but also how Rose has adapted to the challenges of a new league. We’ve seen the young coach bring in different buildup shapes, adapt their man-orientated pressing to suit opponents and develop a tactical framework which has made the team able to adopt different formations comfortably.
Mönchengladbach have thoroughly deserved to compete for the Bundesliga title throughout the campaign and have been playing some fantastic football in the process of doing so. The dominance of Bayern Munich has proven hard to break through, but maybe North Rhine-Westphalia will be Germany’s football temple once again.