Daniel Farke – Monchengladbach – Tactical Analysis

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After a disappointing season under the influence of Adi Hütter in 2021-22, Borussia Monchengladbach have now enjoyed one of their best starts to a season in recent memory. Daniel Farke has restored stability and solidity at the helm of his new club, with Die Fohlen losing just one of their opening seven fixtures in the league. Along the way, they’ve beaten Leipzig in stunning fashion, and drawn both Bayern Munich and SC Freiburg, both of whom topped the table at the time. Daniel Farke hasn’t made drastic changes to the team’s tactics since entering the door, but he’s made smart and subtle tactical tweaks that have allowed Die Borussen to up their game and re-find form. Here is our tactical analysis of Daniel Farke’s Gladbach in 2022-23.

SYSTEM OF PLAY: 4-2-3-1

Daniel Farke has long been a proponent of the 4-2-3-1, and in favouring his trusted formation, he’s also maintained consistency with his predecessors. This has allowed the players to already understand much of the high tempo, quick attacking transition, possession-based football principles that Farke wants to deploy.

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When looking at the squad, it’s a slight mystery how Adi Hütter failed so miserably last season. Yann Sommer starts in goal, and has been magnificent to start the season yet again, boasting an impressive Post Shot XG +/- (Goals Prevented) of +5.1. That’s allowed the Swiss keeper to save 90.9% of the shots that he’s faced this season (the third highest ratio of starting keepers in Europe’s top five leagues), en route to 3 clean sheets.

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Sommer’s backed up by a relatively sturdy defense, albeit one still fully finding their groove alongside one another. The German’s principles have helped to regain solidity in their back-line to overcome somewhat of a lack of depth in quality, particularly in their technical improvements defending crosses this season. Now that Ginter has departed for Freiburg, Ramy Bensebaini has taken on the mantle of being Gladbach’s best defender at the back, boasting an impressive percentage of 42.9%, and leading much of their intensity and intent through the phases. He operates on the left of Nico Elvedi in either a back-four or back-three, with 19-year-old Joe Scally the other mainstay in the back-line. Scally has only grown this season in his ability to get up and down the wing for fun, and has particularly improved his timing of challenges and aerial leaps.

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He’s gone from a 44% tackle success rate this season to 56%, and an aerial duel success rate of 83% from just 47% last campaign. Part of that has been a comfort level switch to his proper side this season, which quite impressively has kept Stefan Lainer out of the team. That leaves only a partner for Elvedi still in the works, and he found that Ginter replacement in the form of Ko Itakura at the start of the season – a solid progressor of the ball.

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Unfortunately, Itakura was partially responsible for Gladbach’s only loss of the 2022-23 campaign so far (against Mainz), and his suspension allowed Marvin Friedrich to accumulate some minutes, alongside some slight experimentations from Farke. One of those has been the employment of Christoph Kramer at centre-back against Freiburg, before immediately throwing him into the number 10 role the week after against Leipzig.

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Farke has made Kramer something of a utility player this season thus far, partially down to the incredible midfield partnership he’s now formed between new signing Julian Weigl, and the immaculate Manu Koné. For anyone who’s not watched Koné yet, you absolutely need to get on the Gladbach bandwaggon and give a glimpse of your time.

The Frenchman’s box-to-box mobility and insane ability on the dribble made him one of my favourite players to watch last season, and any team that could somehow keep him quiet last year completely shut down Adi Hütter’s team altogether. The 21-year-old has only taken off from his exploits of last season, growing his understanding of when to burst forward and when to stay put. Now with a partner like Julian Weigl who excellently covers space laterally in behind, Koné could be afforded more opportunities to burst forward and join the attack.

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But for now, he doesn’t get too many opportunities, and that is partially down to the fact that many of Gladbach’s best moments come on the break. Jonas Hofmann and Marcus Thuram are often the first faces that the team look to in playing passes forward during attacking transitions, where they can link up in close quarters and head for goal. Alassane Pléa is another man who excels on the break, and his incisiveness in linking play between the lines makes him one of Gladbach’s prime danger men.

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The Frenchman has transitioned into a role down the left to accommodate Florian Neuhaus’s positional switch to the number ten slot, a vacancy he held periodically over time under other managers. Lars Stindl can also add to the creativity and firepower up top, giving Gladbach just one more excellent creator of chances and incisive passer in the final third.

The selfless nature of the likes of Thuram, Plea, Hofmann and Stindl mean that Gladbach’s attack often becomes quite narrow, as they look to burst through the centre and combine in close proximity. Bensebaini and Scally can then gallop up the wings, delivering occasional crosses into the box for Thuram to be used as a target. This has all worked to make Gladbach both dynamic and versatile as they threaten the opposition’s goal. But before diving into the attack in greater detail, we first examine how Die Fohlen build out from the back under Farke.

BUILD-UP

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Borussia Monchengladbach build out from the back with three players often operating in the same line height rather than providing varying angles. Given Koné’s exceptional presence on the ball and superiority in breaking lines on the dribble, he’s often the man to play ahead of the three, as his partner drops in between the centre-backs. Julian Weigl has made this role his own, and for good reason, as someone who often played centre-back for Borussia Dortmund under Lucien Favre. Seen as somewhat of a less threatening progressor than the daunting image of Kouadio Koné breaking free, Weigl is often afforded more time and space to play passes around the pitch.

Encouragingly for an analyst like myself, Farke has also injected quite a bit of variety into how his team builds out. A 2-4-4 would be another common build-out shape for Die Borussen, with the midfielders then occasionally dropping wide to allow more space for the attacking midfielders ahead to run into.

They can also make their back-three one that involves Yann Sommer instead of a defensive midfielder, which then becomes more like a 3+2. In this shape, Koné may again shift wide left of the play, allowing someone like Florian Neuhaus or Jonas Hofmann to drop toward the play and receive a pass in between the lines. At any moment, Die Borussen could play a pass over the top for Thuram to chase in the channels, or find one of the wings in the half-spaces, to then combine in close quarters. Gladbach have been excellent this season at playing under pressure and breaking lines at the right moment, which has only allowed them to excel all the more once breaking into the attacking half.

ATTACKING PRINCIPLES

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Some of Gladbach’s best moments this season have come on the break, with the team remaining a major threat from counter attacks. Thuram’s pace makes him deadly on the break, and his incisiveness to play passes forward and create for others often only pulls players out of position all the more. Hofmann excels at attacking space in behind and finding pockets of space on the outside of defenders to hammer home a finish; and in Alassane Plea and Lars Stindl, Gladbach have two more capable creators that can intertwine in the attacking play. Add Manu Koné’s bulldozing behaviours from midfield, and you get a recipe for success that few opposition teams can fully contend with. The Frenchman has nicely moved the ball forward with 5.94 progressive carries per 90 this season, ensuring he’s more than just a hard-hitting defensive midfielder.

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But as a hard-hitting defensive midfielder, the 21-year-old still remains essential to transitions, and must hold a relatively reserved position. With Weigl dropping in to receive the ball, and one attacking midfielder often operating lower to receive the ball in space, the attacking shape can then often become more 3-2-5-esque than you’d expect of a 4-2-3-1. Joe Scally and Ramy Bensebaini like to get forward and deliver crosses when they can, but their high role may be more about stretching the width of the field and allowing the attacking players to achieve greater superiority in their close combinations in the final third. In fact, Gladbach have crossed the ball just 13 times per game this season according to WhoScored?, the joint-lowest in the league with Hertha and Augsburg – two teams drastically lower in possession.

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Their close quarter combinations often allow the team to break lines via layoffs and one-touch pass and move sequences.

As a quintessential ‘Creative Link’, Thuram is often excellent in playing with his back to goal and then spinning around to receive passes into the penalty area later on. Often combining in those tight spaces and short passes rather than hopeful ones, Gladbach have accumulated the second highest passing percentage (83.2%) to only Bayern Munich, and a 54.4% share of the possession. These numbers aren’t drastically different from the days of Adi Hutter, but improvements have followed in front of goal.

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One of the keys has been restoring faith in the incredibly dynamic Marcus Thuram, who has already matched his goal tally of last season (3), whilst already accumulating more assists than he managed last campaign. He’s averaging four shots per game as he gallivants forward and causes havoc for the opposition, often using his body as a weapon to put himself in front of defenders and shield the ball away.

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Koné deploys the same tactic as he rampages forward from midfield, which will naturally attract attention away from the likes of Thuram and Hofmann as they scan for the open space. Getting into the right positions before they strike the ball has been a simple but crucial feature of Farke’s attacking play, with the team up by almost 10% in shot on target %. Being so explosive on the break, Gladbach will still need to learn how to break down an opposition low-block as set out by Mainz and Freiburg, but they’ve thrived in relinquishing control to opponents like Bayern and Leipzig when they have less of the ball. In large part, that’s been down to their excellent defensive structures and organization out of possession.

DEFENSIVE PRINCIPLES

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Borussia Monchengladbach have conceded just 5 goals in 7 matches (0.73 per game), despite Sommer making more saves (5.71 per game) than any other keeper in Europe’s top five leagues. Sommer’s been exceptional, but Die Fohlen have also accumulated these records through a relative eradication of clear-cut chances. They’ve remained incredibly organized as they narrow the play, even if their lack of pace at the back means they can sometimes be caught out on through balls and passes over the top. Yann Sommer has again helped to mitigate that concern, as one of the best ‘Sweeper Keepers’ around.

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Higher up the pitch, Gladbach defend in what normally shifts between a 4-4-2 and a 4-2-3-1, with the ‘number ten’ usually floating up to support Marcus Thuram in the first line of pressure. They do however remain adaptive to the opposition and may man-mark closely on opposition positioning. This can mean the shape floats into a 4-1-3-2, as one central midfielder joins the second line (usually Koné and his motoring mobility), and the other stays in behind to track the team’s ‘ten’.

Man-marking does not always mean that they mark opposition players tightly. If the fullbacks remain low (such as the image underneath), the wingers may wait until the ball is played into their path to engage. Stopping dangerous passes up ahead remains the first priority, as they narrow the field and carefully track the movement of the opposition.

In transition, the likes of Kone and Bensebaini are wonderfully adept at retreating position and getting back to make challenges. This is particularly helpful given the relative lack of pace in other areas of their defensive structure. Teams often feel as though they can play through passes in behind Gladbach’s defensive structure, which Yann Sommer has to be virtuosic in coming off his line when called upon.

It’s worth reiterating that his insane post-shot XG +/- of +5.1 puts him right up there with the top 2% of keepers in world football at the moment, but Gladbach’s sturdy defense has also been a collective endeavour, aided by improvements made from the likes of Scally and Bensebaini in angling players wide. It’s all culminated in just 5 goals conceded in 7 matches, a valiant effort from Farke’s team thus far.

conclusion

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Instilling many of the same principles as his predecessors, Daniel Farke has still made Gladbach his own this season, and immediately improved their threat level in the final third. His team have been both flamboyant in attack and formidable at the back this campaign, en route to just a single loss this campaign. They now look well positioned to be back where they belong – challenging for a place in next season’s UEFA Champions League.


So there it is! A tactical analysis of Daniel Farke’s Borussia Monchengladbach so far this season. Be sure to check out more of our Tactical Analyses, and follow on social media @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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