Borussia Monchengladbach got their bid for Champions League football back on track on Sunday with a 4-1 win over Union Berlin.
Marco Rose’s men were tested throughout by a stubborn Union side but in the end, their attacking quality proved too much for the visitors.
A Marcus Thuram brace and further strikes from Alassane Plea and Florian Neuhaus were enough to do the damage, but what did we learn from the match?
1. Bundesliga players show solidarity amid Black Lives Matter protests
On Saturday, Schalke 04’s USA international Weston McKennie wore a captain’s armband that read “Justice for George”, a reference to the death of George Floyd in police custody earlier this week. The police officer filmed kneeling on his neck has since been fired and charged with murder while Black Lives Matter protests are taking place both in the US and globally.
McKennie tweeted after the match: “To be able to use my platform to bring attention to a problem that has been going on to long feels good!!! We have to stand up for what we believe in and I believe that it is time that we are heard! #justiceforgeorgefloyd #saynotoracism.”
American Weston McKennie is wearing a "Justice for George" armband during Schalke's match vs. Werder Bremen. pic.twitter.com/CB9hib6eha
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 30, 2020
In Sunday’s earlier kick-off, Thuram made his feelings on the matter known, too. After scoring just before half-time, he took a knee, mirroring NFL star Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand to the US national anthem in 2016 in protest against the treatment of racial minorities in the country.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour,” Kaepernick explained. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
No explanation needed. pic.twitter.com/5JO1CCJexU
— Gladbach (@borussia_en) May 31, 2020
Thuram’s father, Lilian, is a Unicef ambassador and leads a number of anti-racism initiatives. Marcus Thuram and McKennie now join fellow sportsmen such as NBA star Stephen Jackson, LA Lakers forward LeBron James and the tennis player Coco Gauff in speaking out against systemic racism in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd.
2. Gladbach’s French duo combine once again
Ahead of Sunday’s match, Thuram had scored eight Bundesliga goals while Alassane Plea had contributed eight assists. The likes of Breel Embolo and Lars Stindl have been incredibly important going forward, but it’s Gladbach’s French duo that have really paved the way for Rose this season.
That paring were at it again in this one, with Thuram netting either side of half-time to reach 10 goals for the season and effectively seal the win for Gladbach. Who assisted both those efforts? Alassane Plea, of course, with two precision crosses to the far post having drawn Union’s defence across to him to provide space for Thuram on both occasions.
— Chris Smith (@CJSmith91) May 31, 2020
Plea grabbed himself a well-deserved goal late on to tie up the match, meaning he and Thuram have now been directly involved in nine goals between them since Gladbach returned to the field and they will continue to define their side’s success between now and the end of the season.
3. Florian Neuhaus’ rise continues
There have been a number of standout performers since the Bundesliga got back underway but one who has perhaps gone under the radar is Neuhaus.
The German midfielder was supreme in Gladbach’s 3-1 win over Eintracht Frankfurt during the first game back, excelling in something of a “destroyer role” to allow his attacking teammates freedom to wreak havoc further forward.
On Sunday, Neuhaus played more of a box-to-box role, picking the ball up deep and progressing it forwards, while also popping up in and around the penalty area to combine with the likes of Thuram and Plea.
The 23-year-old handed Gladbach the lead in the 17th minute with a wonderful dribble and finish off the post (Gladbach’s 3,000th goal in the Bundesliga) showing great strength to shrug off Union defender Marvin Friedrich, while he ended the match with 49 successful passes and two completed dribbles.
4. Gladbach’s UCL charge back on track
Prior to this match, Gladbach had slumped to defeat against Bayer Leverkusen and a disappointing 0-0 draw with strugglers Werder Bremen, pushing them of the top four. Sunday’s 4-1 dispatch of Union Berlin puts them back into third place and things are really starting to heat up in the race for the Champions League places.
Dortmund, who play later on Sunday, Gladbach, Leverkusen and RB Leipzig are all separated by just two points and who will finish outside those coveted top-four places is anyone’s guess right now.
Rose will be well aware that his Gladbach side face the likes of Bayern Munich, Wolfsburg and Freiburg between now and the end of the season, so the three points gained here are of paramount importance.
5. Union slump continues
After an impressively solid start to the season, things have started to unravel somewhat for Union Berlin, especially since the resumption of play having now taken just one point from four games during that time.
Urs Fischer’s side certainly played their part in the clash against Gladbach, almost mounting a fight-back with Andersson’s goal just after half-time and consistently tweaking their tactics to ask questions of the opposition.
Sebastian Andersson has scored more headed goals (7) than any other player in Bundesliga this season.
Lethal in the air. pic.twitter.com/mpdKz60Mc1
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 31, 2020
However, despite making Gladbach sweat for their win, they were always second-best and having now won just one of their last eight Bundesliga matches, Union now find themselves just four points clear of the relegation play-off spot.
One thing which weighs in their favour during the run-in, however, is fixtures against out-of-form sides such as Schalke and FC Koln.