In the west of Germany, in the Rhine-Ruhr region, Borussia Mönchengladbach hosted Augsburg from one of Germany’s oldest cities bearing the same name. Gladbach, led by the tactically astute duo of Marco Rose and René Marić, have continued their good performances from last season. Currently sitting in seventh place in the Bundesliga, it has been a season with even performances for a host of teams – only eight points separate first and 11th place.
Only two losses in all competitions is an impressive stat, with those losses coming against fellow top-four and title contenders Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund. In the UEFA Champions League, they have had an equally good start with impressive draws away at Inter Milan and home against Real Madrid, along with a dominating 6-0 performance away at Shakhtar Donetsk.
The Fuggerstädters from Bavaria have also had a good start to their season under the tutelage of head coach Heiko Herrlich. Finishing the last couple of seasons in 15th place, their current tenth is above expectations. Herrlich has gotten Augsburg to deliver impressive performances too, a 2-0 win against Borussia Dortmund being a prime example of one.
This tactical analysis will look at both teams’ tactics and present an overview of the structures in both attack and defence. The analysis will investigate how Gladbach targeted Augsburg’s left flank, how they pressed the opponent build-up, and how Augsburg quick combinations to progress in the half-spaces.
Rose continued with their often-used 4-2-3-1 with a couple of changes to the normal line-up. With Alassane Pléa, Jonas Hofmann, and Ramy Bensebaini out injured, some personnel changes were natural.
The undisputed number one, Yann Sommer, continued in goal. On the left-back, Oscar Wendt filled in for Bensebaini and the rest of the backline consisted of Nico Elvedi, Mathias Ginter, and Stefan Lainer. In central midfield, Christoph Kramer and Florian Neuhaus continued as normal.
In the front four, Hannes Wolf occupied the left flank and Patrick Herrmann took the right. Captain Lars Stindl started behind the centre forward Breel Embolo.
Augsburg and Herrlich once again opted for their trusted 4-4-2 system. Rafał Gikiewicz continued between the sticks, while Robert Gumny kept his right-back place for the second match, continuing to displace Raphael Framberger to the bench. He came on in the second half, but the red card likely won’t bolster his chances for more starts in the immediate future.
Jeffrey Gouweleeuw and Felix Uduokhai continued as the centre-back pairing, with Iago on their left side. In midfield, Daniel Caligiuri took up the right flank and Ruben Vargas the left one and between them, Rani Khedira and Tobias Strobl formed the central pairing. Florian Niederlechner and Alfred Finnbogason led the team up front.
How did Gladbach reach the flanks?
Previous tactical analyses have thoroughly examined Gladbach’s central verticality in possession and their transitions. In offensive transitions, they are extremely fast, displaying one-touch, “zig-zag” passes vertically to exploit the larger spaces that exist. In defensive ones, they are equally dangerous, often able to cut out the danger at the root.
These aspects of their play have been widely covered. Therefore, the focus of their in-possession play in this tactical analysis will be on how they accessed the flanks, especially the right one in this match, in their-build up. Naturally, the verticality mentioned also plays a vital part here.
The first image that the analysis will look at is one in the opening minutes of the match. Here, Kramer has just received the ball after dropping down in between the centre-backs. This structural adjustment, the Salida Lavolpiana, is a normal move nowadays against teams pressing the build-up with two in the first line.
When recognising that Kramer has dropped in between, Neuhaus in the left half-space advances into midfield again and takes up a new position behind the defensive line. On the ball-side, Stindl recognises the same move happening and alters his behaviour. He was heading centrally but turns back towards the right half-space, a little closer to his defensive line than Neuhaus.
This lopsided central pairing presents a team with easier access to switches of play if the ball is successfully played into midfield as the staggering of players makes it harder to properly mark. Stindl’s move pins the left midfielder closer to the central areas, making the pass from Kramer to Lainer on the right possible.
In the next situation included above, Gladbach have chosen to not drop a midfielder between the centre-backs. There is no need for it as the 2 v 1 in the first line is plenty to get around, and it allows both Neuhaus and Kramer to receive higher in the field.
While the ball is travelling towards him, Neuhaus scans the surrounding area and sees he has an enormous space to work with. He uses this information well and receives the ball with his body already halfway turned so he can use the momentum of the ball and get quicker forward.
Once he is pressed, he releases the ball down the flank, and finds Lainer once again free and facing forwards. He is not able to take advantage of the several runs threatening the area between the goalkeeper and the defensive line, but the initial move by Ginter and Neuhaus shows that it was no coincidence that Lainer was found already facing forwards.
The final situation to look at in this analysis regarding the build-up to access the flank is the one above. This time, the flank reached is the left instead of the right. Gladbach have at the start of the move invited the pressure of the Augsburg team deep into their own half before playing over the first and second line of pressure.
The target player for this move was Embolo. He can use his superior skills in taking down and holding up the ball 1 v 1 and lay it off to Wendt approaching on the right flank. Wendt is already in high speed and facing forwards, so Embolo anticipates a ball behind the defensive line and immediately starts a run towards that area after laying off.
Pressing the Augsburg build-up
In large parts of the game, Gladbach pressed Augsburg’s build-up very high and aggressively. Disrupting the distribution from the goalkeeper to the centre-backs and then their further play seemed a priority for the home team. Guiding the ball towards the flanks presented them with good chances of regaining the ball, with pushing the wide midfielder and central midfielder over along with the striker.
The image above shows this situation just after a goal kick. Stindl acted as a second striker in the press, operating alongside Embolo. Here they have shown the players towards the flank, while Herrmann anticipates the pass and uses that as an orientation in his press. Lainer behind him on the flank anticipates a possible pass to Augsburg’s left midfielder and immediately chooses to start his press.
Embolo as the far-side striker kept in close distance to both the deepest central midfielder and the far-side centre-back. This, to a high degree, eliminated the chance for a switch of play from Augsburg.
These two aspects, showing to the side and prohibiting the switch, is an often-seen pressing trap in modern football. The side-line acts as a second defender as the player cannot play or dribble in that direction.
That said, however, when relying on the full-backs to act as central parts the way Gladbach operates this press can still become overly risky at times. The image above shows the same type of pressing trap being executed, but this time Wendt is not able to get up to the receiver fast enough. Augsburg can play through the press with relative ease and progresses all the way to the final third.
In the second half, Gladbach seemed to have altered their pressing structure to some degree. The orientation towards the centre-backs was not as prominent after the break. Stindl would more often stay deeper and help Neuhaus hinder the advancement through the middle with blocking of the options.
Simultaneously, Wolf or Hermann would curve their press to block of the full-back as an option. This forced the play back in centrally, either to the goalkeeper or a risky pass to the other centre-back or central midfielders. If it went to the central midfielders, Gladbach had the numbers to do a “swarm-press”, flooding the receiver with players from all sides.
As is the case with most teams in the Bundesliga, Augsburg can be extremely fast in the offensive transition. Immediately after regaining the ball, at least one run ahead of the ball is made (preferably towards the space behind the opponent back-line, as to increase space between the lines). At least two midfielders would take part with aggressive runs towards space.
This situation shows them winning the ball in the first half on a header. It lands at the feet of Niederlechner, who already have the run of Finnbogason to aim towards. While this happens, two midfielders have also started aggressive central and left-side runs. Khedira who played the header also makes a run, but a little calmer and towards the right side which opens the field more.
The defensive transitions were probably one of Augsburg’s strongest areas in this match. As the image above shows, just a couple of seconds after losing possession, they have nine payers inside the small green square. They compress the immediate area aggressively, while the closest players flock around the carrier.
The first action of the closest players is crucial. Gouweleeuw’s first action here to step out of the backline to apply pressure, at the same time hindering a quick ball behind their line. It is a risky move as it potentially leaves the rest of the backline one-on-one with attackers if it were to fail.
Below again the situation captured shows just how quickly Augsburg can compress the immediate playable area. This is soon after their own throw-in where they lose possession. The first action of the closest player is to step, blocking the long and deep pass as a first option. He then continues the press and presses through onto the full-back.
The rest of the players in the marked area are blocking off the passing options for the full-back who has no viable options. He is poorly placed to receive the ball here and therefore he is only able to clear it long with his first touch. Augsburg wins the long ball at the feet of their centre-back and can restart the attack.
The red card in the 66th minute naturally changed the game dynamics. The two most visible aspects that were impacted were the medium block of Augsburg and Gladbach’s build-up. Augsburg still pressed actively in their high press, but when they were played through, they did not revert to the medium block as much. Instead, they would fall some way deeper into a deep block just outside their own 18-yard area.
After watching the game back over and writing this analysis, I believe Augsburg should be most satisfied with the one point. They produced the lesser xG (0.7 vs Gladbach’s 1.2 according to fbref.com) and had a player sent off with 25 minutes left to play. That said, Gladbach did not necessarily deserve three points here either. They were not good enough at breaking through the defensive structure of Augsburg, much of it down to the brilliant orientations in Augsburg defensive transitions.