This is the analysis between the tactics used at the Schwarzwald Stadion, SC Freiburg and Borussia Monchengladbach met for the second time in the Bundesliga. Bayern Munich may have already won the title, but there is still a lot to play for as both these teams are in the race for Europe, with Gladbach having a very genuine shot at the UEFA Champions League football next season, whenever that may be, and Freiburg have although slumped, still can get to a qualification round of the Europa League, if things go their way in the DFB Pokal. Both sets of teams have endured a somewhat fairy tale season with a sour punch which takes away a considerable amount of kick as both have slowed and somewhat derailed themselves from the early expectations, they had garnered due to the kind of results they were conjuring. This is the tactical analysis between SC Freiburg and Borussia Monchengladbach.
Christian Streich set up his team in his preferred 4-4-2 as he looks to get his side back on track from not recording a single win in his last 4 games, with the victory coming in the last game before the season was disrupted.
Alexander Schowlow started in goal, with Lukas Kubler starting in the right-back spot, Phillipp Lienhart & Dominique Heintz in the centre back positions, Christian Gunter filling in at left-back making up the back four.
Rolland Sallai started on the right-wing with Robin Koch & Nicolas Hofler occupying the central midfield roles, with Koch deployed as a destroyer, out of position and Vincenzo Grifo starting down the left.
Lucas Holer and Luca Waldschmidt started up top in the centre forward roles rounding up the team sheet.
Still in his debut campaign, Marco Rose has won over the Borussia park faithful with his style of play and the passion that he oozes while on the touchline. Although they looked to be a serious contender for the Meisterschale, they have since faded from the expectations the team had generated when they were topping the tables at the start of the season.
Yann Sommer started in goal, with Stefan Lainer starting at right-back, with Mathias Ginter and Nico Elvedi teaming up at centre back and Ramy Bensebaini slotting in at left-back completing the back four.
Florian Neuhaus, Lars Stindl, Jonas Hofmann formed the midfield with Stindl playing in the hole and sometimes making the side look like a 4-2-3-1 as the both Neuhaus and Hofmann would play as a double pivot when deep.
Patrick Herrmann, Alassane Plea and Marcus Thuram made up the front three with Herrmann deployed on the right and Thuram on the left.
Gladbach and Freiburg played out a fairly even match in hindsight, but on paper, it appeared as if Gladbach were the better team. They had the lion’s share of possession with 65% compared to Freiburg’s 35%. They took more shots than Freiburg with 20 compared to their 15, although had only five on target to their six. They had a better pass accuracy to go with their possession stat at 86% to Freiburg’s 74%.
Gameplay – Borussia Monchengladbach
Although they were the better team for most of the game when it is read into at the end, they fell victim to Freiburg and their sturdy execution of the tactics Streich’s men came onto the pitch with. Gladbach set up in an attacking 4-3-3 with Stindl at the attacking tip of the midfield trio. He was allowed a free role in their set up which was pretty visible as he was popping up everywhere on the pitch and every positive move Gladbach had, went through him at some point of the attack. He was their most dangerous player on the pitch as Thuram and Plea were relatively ineffective on the night, with the former being almost non-existent for his side, and the latter being sent off halfway through the second half due to a second yellow card, which almost handicapped his side as they came away with nothing to show for their domination.
Their build-up play from the back was a key reason why they had so much of the possession as Freiburg In the first half didn’t apply much front foot press on Gladbach’s defensive line. Lainer and Bensebaini pushed up depending on the side from which the attack was building from to provide the attacking width as the forwards would cut and find space between the channels to avail themselves as a passing option or to run in behind the space. The opposite fullback would play the inverted role slotting in and cramping up the midfield to starve Freiburg any chance of a counter-attack whenever it would be possible. Thuram and Herrmann would find spaces depending on the passing options they could avail and also how they could help in the attack, with Thuram using his physicality to outmuscle defenders and make space for the overlapping runner out wide.
They employed a pressing game with the forwards harassing defenders forcing them to go long and Sommer played as their sweeper-keeper to sniff out any loose balls which he had a 50-50 chance with. Since Freiburg’s press was relatively cautious it allowed Neuhaus to carry the ball up the pitch with little difficulty as he was their chief progressor of the ball. And both Neuhaus and Hofmann would drop deep in their set up to avail themselves as a passing option to the central defenders. Their set up put emphasis on a compact side with almost all the players in the middle apart from the fullbacks.
Plea was often caught making runs in behind the defence, and Stindl was finding players with his passes as he was relatively unmarked between the lines, and had the time to pick his pass to perfection. Neuhaus and Hofmann had quite contrasting roles, with Neuhaus being the most attacking of the midfield three taking more shots than anyone in the match with 5, and completing 3 dribbles. With Hofmann assigned a more cautious role of sniffing out the danger and being in support of the centre backs, dropping alongside them quite often as the third centre back to provide defensive solidity, and the attacking freedom to the players in front of them. Neuhaus had two of the most dangerous chances, one of them was ruled out for offside and the other was saved by Schowlow.
Gladbach had 10 corners in the game, with more than half of them aimed at the back post, which was dealt with Freiburg’s defence without much difficulty. Sommer’s long clearances were used to look for Thuram and win the second balls when they dropped down. Gladbach tried incisive passes which cut through the set-up of Freiburg to carve out chances for themselves. The late press that Freiburg had deployed with their somewhat medium block, was exactly what Gladbach was helped with when they were cutting through them. And the set up sometimes invited Gladbach to be, more dynamic and braver with their passing to find a teammate in space and in a position to hurt Freiburg.
They started the second half on the front foot, continuing the style they had ended the first half with. In both the halves, they had tried to use the full-backs as crossing options into the box, with Bensebaini, the more dominant fullback in the first half, and Stefan Lainer, the more dominant in the second half. With the latter producing a great chance for Herrmann at the start of the second half, which was put over the bar, as Herrmann was never known for his heading prowess. As the second half started to take shape, Gladbach found it harder to play through Freiburg, they started to build up their attacks out wide, where there were space and time to put the ball into dangerous positions.
The goal Gladbach conceded was a poor showing and was relatively unchallenged by any Gladbach player, as Peterson found the net with an easy header past Sommer. Although Bensebaini would be attached with most of the blame for breaking the defensive line and allowing Peterson to be onside, the goal scorer, ran and got in front of three defending players without getting picked up by even one of them which made the goal very easy on the eye. It was one of the few defensive lapses they had shown all game, which ultimately cost them the game.
Alassane plea was given his marching orders as he was shown his second yellow of the game for a challenge on Koch. His first yellow was a silly one in most people’s opinion as he failed to keep his emotions in check in the first half and kicked the ball away when a freekick was awarded against Gladbach, which would come back to haunt him and his team, as a late challenge on Koch couldn’t go unpunished and the referee Markus Schmidt sent him off halfway through the second half. Max Eberl, Borussia Monchengladbach’s sporting director was also sent off for asking the referee to check his decision with the Video Assistant Referee (VAR).
With Gladbach reduced to 10 men, an already seemingly impossible task of turning the 1-0 deficit now seemed a definite defeat as Freiburg had matured into the half, going toe to toe with Gladbach even before plea’s sending off. The change in the numerical side of the game meant the formation and tactics had to change too, with Bensebaini slotting in as the third centre back, as they chased the game hoping to come away with something.
Oscar Wendt, Ibrahima Traore, Lazlo Benes, Raffael, all came on later in the game for Herrmann, Elvedi, Hoffmann, and Stindl respectively. They ended the game with a formation that could be best read as 4-4-1, with Thuram playing up top, and Benes and Traore offering width while occupying the channels and working with the fullbacks to create a problem for opposing fullbacks.
Gameplay – SC Freiburg
From being dominated in the game in terms of possession, shots taken, pass accuracy. The first half only suggested bleak things for Freiburg in the second half, as they were looking to bag their first win in 4. They gradually grew into the game, as they did a “smash & grab” by converting one of the few chances they had and left Gladbach to rue their missed chances. Although it was a fairly equal game towards the end of the match, not many would have expected Freiburg to come away with three points the way the first half had ended. Their midfield had been outplayed by their opposing three and it was quite hard for them to find any counter-attacking opportunities as Gladbach would break them up resulting in another build-up of attack and pressure, and Freiburg would end up back to square one.
It was a fairly defensive set up, due to the fact that Koch, a central defender was deployed as the destroyer in their system. And Streich had basically tweaked his tactics a bit from the last game against Leverkusen, as he was looking to do what he had failed in the previous game, take a win by implementing his plan to the best his team could.
Luca Waldschmidt played deeper than Lucas Holer as he was playing the second striker role at times, by being the link between the midfield and attack and availing himself as a passing option. Lucas Holer was more pressing of the two strikers, as he wasn’t afraid to challenge for loose balls and would harass Gladbach’s defensive duo hoping to get a mistake out of them, while Waldschmidt would look to block and cut passing options into the midfield and in the wide areas to force Gladbach to go bold with their passing.
While Vincenzo Grifo was afforded a somewhat free role on the left-wing, either cutting inside or getting in behind his full-back to maintain the width and keep himself available to any loose balls which may come his way. Sallai had more of a traditional role assigned to him, to pop up on the wing and whip in crosses into the boxes or to let the fullback overlap and maintain shape defensively out wide. Grifo and Sallai would switch wings in the game, to approach the attack with a new perspective.
The fullbacks were conservative in the first half, and less so later on in the game, as they were looking to maintain pressure on Gladbach while maintaining their defensive solidity. Both wouldn’t go up marauding the pitch at the same time, with the opposite fullback staying back and keeping shape defensively. Due to Waldschmidt coming in deeper at times, the team shape looked a lopsided 4-4-2. With the use of long balls to bye-pass the midfield press, and to take the least number of passes up the pitch, the role of strikers became more prominent as the game went on, and the game started to even out.
Freiburg had employed a cautious, but somewhat late press which sprung to life, in their defensive third. They had their emphasis set on maintaining width however way they could, to keep options open at all times to counter-attack. Their defending was cautious and risky, as they would get caught whenever they attempted to keep a high line. Koch, deployed as the destroyer did attempt long stretched passes throughout the game, and later had two shots on target as the game was in its dying stages, and Freiburg were emphasizing on maintaining their lead and pressure on 10-man Gladbach. As their attacks would start to gain momentum, they would try to set up quick passes to get through the final third.
Lienhart was a defensive rock in this game, with his calm presence at the back helping his team to maintain their composure whenever defending. He made 2 interceptions, attempted three long balls, and won 2 aerial duels across the length of the game. He was calm and composed with his passing as well, maintain an 80% success rate from an attempted 45 passes in total. He was the boldest passer among the back 5(including the goalkeeper, Schowlow) and was gaining confidence to play through the midfield as the game developed. The two wingers were the runners in behind, giving a passing option to the strikers and midfielders from the 2nd balls in contention.
When the second half had started, many viewers would be forgiven to think, it’s another one-way traffic, with the fashion that it had started in. As Freiburg were sloppy in possession and had trouble keeping the ball and creating a passing sequence. They were giving away cheap free-kicks but it could also be attributed to the front foot press they had employed when the second half had begun. With Nils Peterson and Schmid coming on early in the second half for Sallai and Kubler respectively, some did think, it’s a conservative tactic set in place, with Streich looking to keep it 0-0 for as long as possible, with an aim to overload the Gladbach half at the death to sniff out a victory from nothing. Within 2 mins of coming, Peterson scored the only goal which was enough to give Freiburg the win. The goal came from an unnecessary free kick in the middle of the park but inside Gladbach’s half. The foul was committed by Bensebaini on Holer which led to Peterson scoring one of the easiest headers he will score in his career, as he ran in front of three Gladbach defenders, unchallenged, to score past Sommer. Grifo whipped in the free-kick with which Peterson had headed into the back of the net.
Even though they had just gone ahead, they still remained sloppy in possession, and after they did take the lead, and the formation of the team started to look like a midfield diamond with the three strikers rotating among themselves as a front three/two. Grifo had started to play in as a tucked in winger and would drift in and out depending on how the play was flowing. As the game progressed, Freiburg started to make it very hard for Gladbach to play through them as they also had the numerical advantage on them. Lucas Holer had a very great chance saved at the 83rd minute with Sommer making a breathtaking save at the back post from Holer’s header denied by Sommer to stretch the lead to 2. Christian Streich took off Holer, Grifo and Waldschmidt for Frantz, Kwon, and Haberer to maintain the defensive solidity and to ensure Gladbach won’t be able to find a way back into the game.
The game was one which was quite interesting and never seem to bore anyone watching the game, because of the passion and grit showed on the pitch with the skills on show by the respective players. Although Gladbach were hard done by having lost the game with nothing to show for their domination and chances that they had created in the game, with Freiburg executing their plan to the letter as they had done against Leverkusen and got the desired result this time out.