Borussia Mönchengladbach – Bayer Leverkusen: Rose Adjusts, Bosz Counters (1-3)
The biggest Bundesliga game of the weekend did not disappoint. Peter Bosz’s tactical change into a 3-4-3 formation saw the attacking trio of Karim Bellarabi, Moussa Diaby and Kai Havertz burst into top form. Marco Rose’s half-time adjustments brought Borussia Mönchengladbach back into the match, but it was not enough as Bayer Leverkusen move above their Rhineland counterparts in the standings.
Tactical analysis and match report by Joel Parker.
Less than a few weeks back onto the training pitch, and the Bundesliga offered one of the biggest games left before the season concludes. Both Gladbach and Leverkusen have always been contenders for the top places, which does not exclude the current situation they are both in.
Gladbach returned to football in fine fashion, comfortably strolling past a disorganized Eintracht Frankfurt, though the score could have been a lot higher. Marco Rose’s team were impressive on the ball, players constantly rotating amongst each other and picking up the ball in multiple positions. Although it was a toned-down performance, in comparison to the matches before lockdown, Gladbach impressed and created some fantastic transitions throughout.
Leverkusen also showcased their strengths in the first matchday back. They may not have created many chances, but Peter Bosz’s team dominated Werder Bremen in a 4-1 victory. Leverkusen constantly recycled the ball around between the defenders and central midfield, before picking holes through the Bremen block. Kai Havertz’s double proved he could be an effective striker, as well as a number ten, or any position in the attack, for that matter.
The results last weekend led to Gladbach leapfrogging RasenBallsport Leipzig, into third place, while Leverkusen continued to chase the top four. Just two points separated both clubs, going into matchday twenty-seven. A Gladbach win would continue their title charge and strengthen their position in the top four, but a Leverkusen victory could cause a significant blow to their hopes and insert themselves in the Champions League spots. The stakes for this match were certainly high.
Marco Rose kept to the same selection as last week, while Peter Bosz made two changes to his lineup. Aleksandar Dragović started in the defense, while Karim Bellarabi replaced the 17-year-old, Florian Wirtz who became the clubs youngest ever player to feature in the Bundesliga.
Leverkusen display early dominance
The changes to the squad led to an intriguing formation change from Bayer Leverkusen. They built up in the 3-4-3 formation, Sven Bender at the heart of the back three, while both wing-backs remained close to the defensive line. Leverkusen’s shape enabled them to develop third man combinations A passing combination between two players, while a third player simultaneously makes a run, usually in behind the opponent’s defensive line. After the initial combination, the ball is quickly played in depth for the third player to run onto. to bypass Gladbach’s compact pressing shape.
Leverkusen’s 3-4-3 buildup shape bypasses Gladbach’s compact 4-2-3-1 formation.
The overload When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. down the channels forced Gladbach to commit more numbers into this area, which created more space on the opposite flank as a result. This is how Leverkusen would catch out Gladbach’s fullbacks and feed their attacking trio. Stefan Lainer was constantly caught out when Daley Sinkgraven received the ball, followed by a channel pass towards Moussa Diaby, which created a three-vs-three situation in the final third The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. as a result.
Isolating the Gladbach defenders would see Leverkusen take an early lead. Tobias Strobl failed to control a dodgy pass from Ramy Bensebaini, forming a rapid counterattack. Kerem Demirbay’s pass towards a free Bellarabi, dragged the opposition defender out wide. Space opened for Kai Havertz to run into, already in front of his marker, leading to a neat finish past Yann Sommer.
Leverkusen continued to control possession and target Lainer and Bensebaini in passing sequences. Havertz operated as a false nine, A striker that constantly drops deep and plays like a number ten. unmarked due to the wingers, who pinned the defensive line back, and able to move between both channels to link midfield and attack. If Leverkusen would lose the ball down the flanks, they had the numbers to form 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. therefore stopping Gladbach from forming any sort of fast transition forward.
Gladbach struggle to build attacks
It is abnormal for Gladbach to look predictable when they have possession, but Marco Rose’s team struggled to effectively progress into the final third throughout the first half. Their situation was not helped when Breel Embolo was forced off, replaced by Lars Stindl. Though both operate in the same position, they both work in different spaces. Embolo loves to drop ball-side and receive possession deeper. This would also allow both Marcus Thuram and Alassane Pléa to operate within proximity of each other, a link that Gladbach could not create.
Gladbach remained in their 4-2-3-1 shape, Strobl and Florain Neuhaus as a double pivot, Two central midfielders next to each other. while Lars Stindl operated to the side of Pléa. When pressing from goal kicks, Leverkusen used their 4-2-2-2 structure, Demirbay pushed further forward, as well as Dragović who would move next to Charles Aránguiz. This was to apply immense pressure on Gladbach’s fullbacks by creating a two-vs-one overload on the player. There were several times Stefan Lainer would concede possession in dangerous areas of the pitch, due to being isolated by the opposition.
Leverkusen’s 5-2-3/5-4-1 defensive block denies Gladbach getting into good areas.
When possession was in the middle third, Leverkusen would move into a 5-2-3/5-4-1 shape out of possession. Passing options were well occupied, Thuram being forced further and further wide to get into space. Gladbach took just two shots in the first half hour, Pléa taking as little as five touches of the ball in this time, Stindl, Thuram and Jonas Hofmann all taking eleven touches each.
Towards the end of the first half, Marco Rose would move Stindl into the midfield next to Neuhaus, Strobl operated as a single pivot in a 4-3-3 shape. This would ease the pressure on the fullbacks whenever Leverkusen pressed, but Gladbach remained uncharacteristic. Leverkusen pressured their opponents into building between the two center-backs and Strobl, before they forced play back to Yann Sommer to try and encourage Leverkusen forward.
Bosz’s team continued to threaten when they got on the ball, Havertz roaming across the field to link with team mates close by. Following an effective press towards Bensebiani, a one-two between Bellarabi and Havertz put the striker through on goal. His strike smashed the crossbar, before an incredible block on the line from Nico Elvedi denied Bellarabi from a certain goal.
Rose mirrors Bosz’s buildup
After a lackluster first half, Marco Rose made another adjustment to his team’s shape. Tobias Strobl dropped into the defensive line, while Hofmann and Neuhaus formed the new central midfield duo. Stindl, Thuram and Pléa formed the front three. Gladbach mirrored Leverkusen’s buildup shape, which enabled them to press man-for-man on the opposition.
The half-time change forced a much more positive start to the second half, as they were now able to effectively press on the opposition backline and stopped Mitchell Weiser and Sinkgraven from receiving the ball with as much freedom as they had done. A chance from Bensebaini early in the second highlighted their improved pressing structure by forcing Lukáš Hrádecký to make a sloppy pass towards Havertz. Bensebaini intercepted but smashed the ball wide.
49th minute: Player positions for the Bensebaini chance highlight the improvement in Gladbach’s pressing shape.
Gladbach showed a lot more threat and just a few minutes after the second half kicked off, they got their equalizer. As Leverkusen formed their 5-2-3 defensive block, Yann Sommer received the ball just outside his own penalty area, which encouraged the opposition to press further forward. This opened more space for Thuram to receive the long ball forward, with Stindl operating just behind the midfield line, ready to combine with the winger. Pléa’s surging cross was perfect for Thuram, who had moved just behind Dragović, to wait for the bounce and smash the ball past the goalkeeper on the half volley.
Bosz waits for the counterattack
Leverkusen rarely broke out of their 5-2-3 shape, apart from Dragović who would move out of the defensive line to press on Lars Stindl when he received the ball. Now that the opposition committed more players forward in the buildup, their front three were able to break forward, without having to bait one of the Gladbach fullbacks forward in the process.
Bosz’s team would restore their lead thanks to a quick transition forward. Havertz produced a quality pass behind the defensive line for Bellarabi to run onto. Although his shot curled wide, he was brought down in the process, the penalty awarded, subject to VAR. Havertz’s converted penalty put Gladbach back to square one.
The hosts continued to create chances in the 3-4-3 formation, but their passing was a lot more direct and they strictly remained in this structure. Without the player rotations or fast transitions forward, Leverkusen had a comfortable job defending their buildup play. This prompted a change from Rose, who replaced Strobl with László Bénes and Thuram with Oscar Wendt.
Rose shifted players across the formation: Bensebaini dropped to become part of the defense, Wendt moved into the wingback role, while Hofmann moved to the left side of Pléa. Bosz’s team scored their third before Rose’s substitutes made a full impact. Leon Bailey, who came on earlier on, was fouled on the edge of the penalty area. An inswinging, pacey delivery from Demirbay was met by Bender, who headed in from close range.
The result serves a huge blow to Borussia Mönchengladbach, not just for their title hopes; they are nine points behind Bayern Munich now, but also puts their Champions League hopes into uncertainty. The loss of Embolo was a burden, but Gladbach were pressed out of the game in the first half and failed to effectively build in the second. Their fixture list does not ease either, as Freiburg, Bayern and Wolfsburg all remain.
Including the results before the lockdown, Bayer Leverkusen’s crazy run of results continue. Eleven wins in their past twelve and just one Bundesliga defeat since the turn of the year, Peter Bosz’s men have performed incredibly well to stay near the leading group. Now, they have broken into it. The question is, who can stop this phenomenal attacking force?
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This match was also discussed by Erik Elias & José Perez in the weekly Between The Posts Podcast.