Borussia Monchengladbach returned to action on Saturday with a comfortable 3-1 win over Eintracht Frankfurt.
After two months off away from the pitch, you’d have forgiven Gladbach for showing signs of rustiness as they seek to close the gap on their fellow Bundesliga title challengers above them.
However, it was Frankfurt who were still shaking the cobwebs, finding themselves 2-0 down within just seven minutes following some slick Gladbach play and questionable defending.
But just how did Marco Rose’s side take Frankfurt apart across the 90 minutes?
Embolo shows goalscoring isn’t everything
Of course you want your centre-forwards to get on the scoresheet as much as possible, but as the likes of Roberto Firmino have shown in recent years, goalscoring isn’t everything. Sometimes, clever movement and quick interchanges with teammates can do far more damage to the opposition than goal hanging.
Gladbach forward Breel Embolo tapped into this mantra brilliantly on Saturday, doing an excellent job in disrupting the Frankfurt defence in his false nine role.
Throughout the first half, as can be seen in the graphic below, Embolo dropped deep into the Gladbach midfield to pick up possession, link with teammates and keep attacking moves flowing. More importantly, though, his movement dragged Frankfurt centre-backs out of position to create space for the lightning-fast Alassane Plea and Marcus Thuram.
Gladbach took full advantage of the space Embolo created with some wonderful balls behind Frankfurt, while they switched play brilliantly to further pull Adolf Hutter’s side out of shape.
Embolo was particularly unlucky not to create a chance for himself in the 55th minute, too, as he once again picked up the ball in a deep position before charging toward the Frankfurt defence at frightening speed. The move broke down with a misplaced pass but it was a perfect illustration of just how scared Frankfurt were of the Switzerland international and he did eventually win a penalty in 72nd minute after getting across Evan N’Dicka and drawing a challenge.
He may not have scored, but don’t underestimate the role Embolo played in this impressive victory.
With Plea and Thuram so intent on pushing forwards, and Jonas Hofmann eager to stay high up the pitch to link with his attacking teammates, there was the potential for Frankfurt to overrun Gladbach in the midfield.
However, despite Frankfurt holding the numerical advantage across the middle third, they were unable to assert any real dominance and that was largely thanks to the fantastic efforts of Florian Neuhaus.
The 23-year-old Germany youth international showed fantastic positional intelligence and reading of the game to make two interceptions and two tackles, helping him gain possession nine times, more than any other player on the pitch.
By the time he was withdrawn in the final few minutes, Neuhaus had covered 11.14km in what was a lung-busting performance.
Not only did Neuhaus’ defensive exploits disrupt Frankfurt, but he also allowed Gladbach full-backs Ramy Bensebaini – who grabbed a goal and an assist on the day – and Stefan Lainer to push incredibly high, effectively pinning the opposition wingers back.
Gladbach’s forward line pulled Frankfurt apart and Neuhaus disrupted the opposition brilliantly but behind all of that, centre-backs Nico Elvedi and Matthias Ginter and goalkeeper Yann Sommer formed a superb platform, both in and out of possession.
Defensively, Gladbach’s central pairing were rock-solid for almost the entire match. Although they were given a stern aerial challenge by Bas Dost, Elvedi and Ginter still managed to win a combined six aerial duels, while they formed a great understanding with one engaging and the other dropping off to ensure any flick-ons were gobbled up. Try as he might, Dost simply couldn’t get the better of either centre-back and often appeared stranded from the rest of his teammates.
Yes, there was a defensive lapse in the final 10 minutes, but Gladbach were already three goals to the good at that point with Frankfurt struggling to gain a foothold in the match.
In possession, Ginter and Elvedi were equally authoritative, moving the ball quickly and precisely to form a great triangle with Sommer, who is by no means scared of pushing forward slightly to become an 11th outfield player. Just take a look at the passing network below to see how well these three combine with their teammates.
“He really is the most hyped coach at the moment”
After a highly successful couple of years at Red Bull Salzburg, Marco Rose has adjusted brilliantly to life in the Bundesliga and has guided Gladbach right into the thick of the German title race.
Rose has his side tactically flexible, full of pace and air-tight at the back. Only Bayer Leverkusen (30), RB Leipzig (27), Bayern Munich (26) have conceded fewer than their 31 goals so far this season.
While Julian Nagelsmann has become the standout young manager in Germany and Hansi Flick has taken the plaudits for transforming Bayern back into a genuinely exciting team, Rose has gone about his business, building an adaptable and exciting Gladbach side capable of mixing it with the best the Bundesliga has to offer.
Rose’s former manager Jurgen Klopp summed it up best, saying last year: “I trust Marco in everything.
“Marco can have any job and could do any job too, he is really the most hyped (coach) of all at the moment, everyone is asking about you.”
Eintracht Frankfurt were the unfortunate victims of his perfect tactical machine this time.