Mainz 05 came to BORUSSIA-PARK to take on Borussia Mönchengladbach in this Bundesliga matchup. After taking the lead on a Robin Quaison goal, Mainz tried to absorb Borussia’s pressure. Ultimately, Borussia’s tactics proved to be too much, as they scored three goals, including a wonderful strike from Florian Neuhaus on their way to the 3-1 victory in Mönchengladbach.
This tactical analysis will look at the tactics that Marco Rose’s squad used to defeat Mainz. It will also provide some analysis on what Mainz manager Achim Beierlorzer employed in order to attempt to find success at Borussia. While Mainz set up to primarily counter-attack, they did have their opportunities to finish some chances, but Borussia Mönchengladbach goalkeeper Yann Sommer ultimately denied those chances.
Marco Rose’s men lined up in a 4-2-3-1. They started with Yann Sommer in goal, with Oscar Wendt and Fabian Johnson as the outside backs and Nico Elvedi and Matthias Ginter as the centre backs. In front of them the two defensive midfielders were Denis Zakaria and Christoph Kramer. Marcus Thuram started on the left wing, with Lars Stindl in the centre of the pitch as an attacking midfielder with Patrick Herrmann to his right. Alassane Plea began the game as the lone striker.
Mainz also started the game in a 4-2-3-1. Robin Zentner started the game in goal, with Ronaël Pierre-Gabriel and Aarón Martín as his right and left-back, respectively. Alexander Hack and Moussa Niakhaté started as centre backs. Jeremiah St. Juste and Ridle Baku began the game as the pair of pivot players while Robin Quaison, Jean-Paul Boëtius, and Karim Onisiwo were in charge of getting forward and supporting Jean-Philippe Mateta, who was the lone striker.
Mainz’s defensive plan
Mainz showed up to the game with a clear defensive plan. This involved them allowing Borussia to have a majority of the ball and to look for opportunities to counter-attack. Borussia ended up with 71% of the possession, which forced them to find space inside Mainz’s compact defending. Often times, weaker teams will drop off when they’re playing a stronger opponent as managers look to reduce the number of mistakes a team can make. While defending often mostly consists of running, it’s a lot less likely for teams to make mistakes if they know where to go, and so Mainz is betting on themselves being able to exploit Borussia and their mistakes.
From the beginning of the match, Mainz would send players forward off of goal kicks or restarts, but those players would quickly drop and not apply any pressure to the Borussia players. One of the benefits of this defensive structure is that it can invite opposing centre backs to take more risks or relax on the ball, because they are under the impression that players will continue to drop.
From there, Mainz dropped into a defensive 4-4-2, with a forward occasionally dropping to provide some pressure into the midfield. As shown above, Mainz looked to take away the middle of the field and force Borussia outside to the flanks. By overloading the centre of the pitch, Borussia’s primary place to find space is on the wings. Any time Borussia would shift the ball over, Mainz’s 4-4-2 block would shift accordingly, and they would be able to defend from there. This game plan worked quite well for Mainz in the beginning of the match, as they looked to soak up pressure and try to hit Borussia on the counter-attack.
From this defensive positioning, Mainz looked to pull Borussia into their half, which would create space behind Nico Elvedi and Matthias Ginter, Borussia’s centre backs. Mainz created this space and invited the pressure into their own half so that they would have the opportunity to send long passes into their forwards. Jean-Philippe Mateta was tasked with hunting down these long balls, and looking to combine with his teammates, often times just one or two, to try and hit Borussia on the counter-attack.
Here, we have a prime example of Mainz looking to take advantage of Borussia. The ball is cleared from their own penalty box, where eight out of their ten outfield players were defending. Mateta tracks down the ball on the left side of the pitch, followed closely by two defenders. As those defenders follow him, it creates a lot of space in the middle of the pitch for Mainz players to run into and possibly score. This particular counter-attack wasn’t successful, but Mainz continued to look to catch Borussia’s backline out of position, and it did pay off for them.
For Mainz’s goal, Robin Quaison found positioning in between Borussia’s centre back, who was occupied with defending Mateta, and the right-back, Fabian Johnson. Johnson watches the ball coming into play, and he gives Quaison a fraction of a second to get in behind. Johnson actually does quite well to recover and get a challenge in, but Quaison makes the most of the opportunity and buries it in the back of the net. Mainz worked to draw Borussia’s backline higher, which is visible in the image above. There is a lot of space available for their forwards to run into, and a small error was enough for Quaison to take advantage of and give Mainz the 1-0 lead early in the match.
Borussia’s supporting angles and positioning
Borussia Mönchengladbach were able to play their way back into this game because of their effective game model, which has many different elements that certainly cannot just be addressed in a match analysis. One of the ways Borussia earned so much of the possession is because of their willingness to put Mainz under pressure immediately after Borussia lost the ball. This immense pressure would cause Mainz to panic, and often led to them sending the ball long without any real intended target. Borussia’s defensive line would regain possession, and they would return to trying to find a way through Mainz’s defensive block.
Here, Alassane Plea finds himself with a total of five legitimate passing options when he has the ball at his feet. All of his targets have gotten either in between defenders to receive the ball, or to the outside where they can still progress the ball forward with a dribble. This pentagon that Borussia formed is especially devastating because now Mainz can’t really hope to win back the ball: the best they can hope for is a pass played backwards. Even a backwards pass in this situation is helpful for Borussia Mönchengladbach, because in this case, Kramer has a wonderful view of a lot of the pitch.
Here we have three of Borussia Mönchengladbach’s attackers in between the two lines of defense set up by Mainz. This is ideal positioning because a pass to any one of them will effectively eliminate Mainz’s midfield line of defence while allowing Gladbach to force the back line of Mainz to make some tough decisions about whether or not they should apply pressure to the man on the ball. While it may not seem effective to have three attackers all in a straight line (generally, it’s not very effective), Mönchengladbach’s men between the lines who didn’t receive the pass would provide depth for the receiver of the ball, again providing angles of support for their attack.
One final thing to look at when looking at positioning is how Gladbach dragged defenders out of position to create space for themselves. Here, Yan Sommer is about to play the ball to Ginter. As the ball travels to Ginter, Kramer heads toward the wing, which causes Jean-Paul Boëtius to follow him with his cover shadow and block him from being an option to receive the pass. Because Boëtius vacates that space, it now allows for that white circle of space to expand even more, which Zakaria then runs into and receives the ball.
These rotations of positions happened a bit more in the second half. In the image, Plea checks towards the ball, which is at the feet of the centre back. As he checks to it, Niakhaté, one of Mainz’s centre backs, follows him. As Niakhaté follows, this creates a space for Stindl to run in behind the lines. While the ball wasn’t played to Stindl, he would have still been in on goal by attacking the space that the centre back had recently vacated so as to mark Plea.
Mönchengladbach’s long ball support with 3rd man
One of Mönchengladbach’s principles of play that seemed to stand out the most during the match was ensuring that any time a long pass was played, whether it was in the air or on the ground, they needed to make sure that the receiver of the long pass had immediate support upon receiving the ball. These passes were typically vertical passes, which meant that most of the time, the individual receiving the ball would do so while facing his own goal. What Gladbach tried to do is make sure that the man receiving could lay it off to a forward-facing teammate who could then quickly play another vertical pass, and Mönchengladbach would be in on goal.
In the image, the Borussia attacker checks back to receive a long pass. As the ball is played into his feet, Plea is already starting his run as the third man. The man checking to the ball holds off his defender and lays the ball off to Plea, who is able to run into the space with the ball and eventually cross it. These layoffs to a forward facing player happened quite frequently, even on things like thrown-ins. Having a forward facing player with the ball at his feet becomes a dangerous proposition for the defence, and it was an advantage that Borussia sought out frequently. What is so dangerous about these passes is that after the short pass, the defence is running at the man who has the ball at his feet. If he is able to dribble past this defender, he’s in on goal in the majority of these situations.
Again, Borussia has a forward check to the ball, and as he checks, the midfielder begins his run forward. It’s a simple one-touch pass to lay the ball off, but all of a sudden, Mönchengladbach have a 2v1 scenario with Mainz’s right back, Ronaël Pierre-Gabriel. In this instance, Zakaria was not able to play a great ball to Patrick Herrmann, but the opportunity was still there for Borussia. These quick, incisive passes can be devastating, and proved to be too much for Mainz to handle. Later in the match, one of these vertical passes into feet led to a Mainz foul, which Borussia took advantage of and scored their second goal of the match.
Borussia Mönchengladbach’s style of play led to their success. Marco Rose and his squad have returned to their winning ways after their defeat at Schalke 04 last week. They find themselves in third place, one point off of Bayern Munich and two points ahead of Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga.
Mainz, who have lost four out of their last five games, find themselves in 15th place, one point from being in the relegation playoff. While they still have a lot of their season remaining, two out of their next three games come against teams in the top five positions, with their match next weekend against Bayern Munich.