Among the more impressive clubs in the Bundesliga and Europe has a whole for that matter, this season have been Borussia Monchengladbach, sitting 7 points off the top with 4 wins 3 draws and a couple of losses- each to Leverkusen and Leipzig. Led by German tactician Marco Rose, Die Fohlen have gained major plaudits for their respectable performances in the UEFA champions league group stage – particularly the thrilling 2-2 draw against Real Madrid and the 6-0 demolition away at Shakhtar Donetsk early this month. Their strong performances in the Bundesliga has them well set for a top 4 finish, commandeered by Rose’s intelligent tactics.
A significant share of their success is owed to their midfield double pivot of Florian Neuhaus and Christoph Kramer, forming a compact 4-2-3-1 and allowing both the defensive solidity to barricade opposition attacks and also creativity; funneling the ball up the pitch to their traditional frontline of Marcus Thuram, Alassane Plea and Jonas Hoffman. This data analysis will explore Borussia Monchengladbach’s midfield under Marco Rose from a statistical viewpoint offering short tactical notes using data and statistics, in order to show how effective the Gladbach midfield has fared for the major part of the season.
An injury to midfield powerhouse Denis Zakaria early in the season meant Gladbach had to play Cristoph Kramer instead. The 29-year old German has arguably deputized ever so well in the Swiss midfielder’s absence. Their 4-2-3-1 as mentioned before has seen them win thrice, draw thrice and lose once so far this season. Full backs Sebastian Lainer and Ramy Bensebainiare are heavily involved in the build-up and are often seen tucking into space in the midfield on their respective sides, offering an overload in the central areas. This numerical superiority is key for the side as it helps to control possession and allow quick interplay between the midfielders and the attacking midfielder-cum-false nine Lars Stindl. The midfield overall is a brilliant concoction of three distinct profiles offering various facets of their skill sets during Gladbach’s high press, buildup, ball progression, creativity, and defending.
In the attacking space, Lars Stindl is present although Jonas Hoffman drops in many a time, effectively forming a two-man front line of Thuram and Plea. Gladbach’s counter-pressing system bids extremely well for Kramer in particular who has largely been the glue coming in as a replacement for the injured Zakaria as alluded to before. Kramer’s role has seen both ends of the spectrum – he has been deployed as a deep-lying number 6 to a box to box and has patrolled space incredibly well, shielding the backline in the process. When not in possession of the ball, his versatility allows him to drop in between the center backs effectively forming a three-man backline.
Florian Neuhaus has been one of Gladbach’s prime sources of creativity, patrolling the space between the midfield and final third and offering key link-up opportunities with the 10. The German has an impressive passing range and his verticality on the offer is crucial to his side’s direct style of play. As a brilliant ball carrier, the German also finds himself maneuvering the ball to the final third as well as breaking the lines through his long passes and dribbling ability.
Monchengladbach’s overall shape can be summed up by the given pass map that depicts these positions well –
Having introduced these key cogs in the side, let’s get straight to the data analysis.
Interceptions and defensive ability
Gladbach’s compact midfield is predominantly tasked with breaking play in the central regions sitting in a mid-block and start counter-attacks. As such, Kramer’s defensive duties are substantial. Shielding the backline as well as ensuring the midfield doesn’t get breached in the process is one of his major tasks. He averages almost 11.73 defensive actions per 90 which shouldn’t come as a surprise – he ranks in the 90th percentile for the same. His possession adjusted interceptions (PAdj) are also very high in number, just over 7 per game. Both Neuhaus and Kramer also partake in a healthy number of duels – Neuhaus averaging 5.5 and Kramer 6.55 per game, both bordering a 60% win accuracy.
Marcos Rose’s Gladbach are a notoriously aggressive pressing side and regardless of the system, his high pressing principles remain the same. The team usually utilises Pléa/Embolo and one of the other attackers to press alongside both the man on the ball in and out of possession and cut off the pleasing lanes, forcing the opposition in playing the ball out wide to the flanks. Their full-backs will often line themselves each against the opposition full-backs thereby eliminating the option of a long ball being played.
The pressing efforts are not restricted to the forward line, however, as the full-backs (who drift inside midfield) and midfielders often are far busier than the forwards in their pressing duties.
Incidentally, up until game week 8, Kramer ranked in the 90th percentile for successful pressure % in the Bundesliga. While these were traditionally duties tasked with Zakaria, it is fair to say Kramer has done exceedingly well in the role.
As depicted in the scatter, both Kramer and Neuhaus are incredibly efficient ball-winners – they both show above-average numbers for pressure win %, tackles and interceptions on a per-game basis. Gladbach as a whole have averaged a pressure win % of 30.5% this season, sitting 10th in the league in that metric. Their double pivot of Kramer-Neuhaus covers almost 21% of that figure.
Passing and progressiveness
As mentioned before, Gladbach utilise a narrow 4-2-3-1/4-4-2 system, which would often see Kramer drop deeper to form a diamond shape between him and the center-backs, to aid in ball progression. This forms the basis for Gladbach to control possession and break quickly with pace. In transition, they looked to play quick vertical passes or utilise one of their ball carriers from midfield, in the form of either Neuhaus or Kramer, who are both technically gifted ball carriers.
A midfielder’s role in the build-up play of a team is crucial and often forms either the 1st or 2nd phase in the buildup. In the absence of a technically gifted ball-playing Centre back, this becomes even more crucial and complex in progressing forward with the ball into the final third. Thankfully, Gladbach is gifted with three dynamic midfielders each equally adept at progressing forward with the ball and passing.
Both Kramer and Neuhaus show stellar on the ball ability as apparent by the scatterplots. Both rank in the 90th percentile for both passing accuracy and long passes – Neuhaus close to 89% and Kramer a staggering 91% pass accuracy. It goes without saying that these are two elements vital to build-up play for their side and Gladbach’s pivot offer both in heaps. The latter is utilized to spot a man making a run forward and find him with a pinpointed long ball. As such, the average passing distance is also higher.
Neuhaus and Kramer both average just under 6.5 and 7.25 passes into the final third, and the former naturally has higher progressive passes – almost 9 per game as he is tasked with creative duties.
The bulk of Gladbach’s chance creation comes through the central areas of the pitch. Kramer would often be seen collecting the ball in the deep, offloading it to Neuhaus, who would play a smart, measured pass into the final third for one of Gladbach’s forwards to latch onto. The sharp interplay between these midfielders often forms the base for attackers higher up the pitch to latch on to – which is usually a carefully weighted through-ball. Neuhaus is largely the creative heartbeat of the side.
Progressive actions refer to both progressive passes and runs with the ball – Neuhaus ranks only 2nd to Kimmich in this regard. Chance creation is a metric that takes into account a range of actions including key passes, smart passes, through balls, second and third assists registered by a player. These show an accurate depiction of how involved a player is in and around the penalty area and how assist in creating chances for the team. Kramer averages only about 6.25 progressive actions which are fair given it’s not one of the duties he’s essentially tasked with and ranks below average in terms of Chance creation. Players were also filtered through the number of dribbles completed. Neuhaus is the ideal central midfield profile – brilliant ball carrier, tidy dribbler shown by his 2.06 dribbles per game and highly involved in creating chances – almost 2.5 per 90 for the combined metric for his side.
Gladbach’s attacks hardly attempt to stretch the width of the pitch, rather they focus on creating space centrally and attacking through the middle, with the manager believing that the highest quality of chances can be created through the core of the pitch. Only five teams average higher touches in the middle 3rd of the pitch than Gladbach, and only 1 for touches in the defensive third.
Having established a thorough data analyses on Florian Neuhaus’ and Christoph Kramer’s midfield profiles, it also important to compare them against the other stand-out midfielders in the Bundesliga this season. Statistical comparison in the form of a highlight table can be depicted below.
It’s clear that both Neuhaus and Kramer have been incredibly beneficial to their sides up until now, and while these are players that have been in and around the scene in German football for quite a while, it’s only now that their ability is on show in the Champions League for Europe to take notice.
The former has already seen a large number of links, especially with Bayern Munich. Gladbach are on course for a strong finish in both the Champions League and Bundesliga this season and fuelled by Denis Zakaria’s comeback, it would help ease the burden on both going forward. This analysis proves that midfield depth and quality are ever so important for a side; great midfielders differ from ordinary ones on the ability to perform well both with space and with the ball – Gladbach’s double pivot surely does tick both boxes.