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Andy Nicholas has a look at why Borussia Mönchengladbach have struggled this season and how Dieter Hecking can get them back on track.
One of the most talented squads in the Bundesliga; Borussia Mönchengladbach now face a relegation battle to overturn the painful Hinrunde endured under former head coach Andre Schubert, who lost his job after a 2-1 home defeat at the hands of VfL Wolfsburg.
Die Fohlenelf acted quickly to replace Schubert, who had become more devoid of ideas as the Foals’ wretched campaign had gone from bad to worse, with former Wolfsburg manager: Dieter Hecking.
The 52-year-old took over Wolfsburg in a somewhat similar league position that Borussia find themselves in at the moment, in December 2012. He proceeded to take the Wolves from mediocrity to a Europa League place – as well as a Deutscher Pokal semi final – in 18 months, finishing the 2013/14 season in a very respectable fifth place.
Hecking took Wolfsburg even further in his second full season in charge, storming the Bundesliga with the free scoring Bas Dost and resurgent former Chelsea man Kevin De Bruyne reveling in the German’s tutelage, and taking them to a second place finish. They also won the Deutscher Pokal that season, beating Borussia Dortmund 3-1 at the Olympiastadion in Jurgen Klopp’s final game in charge of BvB.
Hecking struggled to improve on that fantastic season, having to deal with the loss of kingpin De Bruyne who left for Manchester City, but that period in charge from taking over in late 2012 until the end of that miraculous 2014/15 season shows he’s got what it takes to turn Borussia’s misfortunes around.
Mönchengladbach already boast a better squad than Wolfsburg did when Hecking took over there, with a number of attacking options that he’ll be able to utilise. Often playing without an out-and-out centre forward in Schubert’s fluid system, Lars Stindl, Raffael, Thorgan Hazard and André Hahn share the responsibility of putting the ball in the back of the net. Swiss forward Josip Drmić remains an enigma.
Midfield dynamo Mahmoud Dahoud has struggled for consistency this season, with Schubert suggesting the 21-year-old needed protection. He often opted for Tobias Strobl to accompany Christoph Kramer in the centre of the park, two from Fabian Johnson, Oscar Wendt and Julian Korb usually took up wing-back positions in the 3-4-3/3-5-2 adopted by Schubert for most games.
Defence was Schubert’s weakpoint. Often adopting similar ideals that we saw from tacticians such as Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers in the Premier League, Schubert always seemed to prioritise attack. In Schubert’s first season, Borussia were such a potent attacking force who pressed so high up the pitch that attacking players formed the first line of defence, something which has been visibly scarce this season.
Gladbach have lost a number of important games this season so far including a home game to rivals FC Köln and disappointingly comprehensive away defeats to Schalke, Augsburg and Hertha Berlin.
So, how can Dieter Hecking get Die Fohlenelf back on track quickly?
One thing that proved to be Schubert’s downfall was that he often tinkered with the line-up and formation when it was unnecessary to do so. Gladbach rarely put the same eleven out in a row as Schubert battled to forge his utopian ideals of beautiful attacking football into the Borussia team.
Stindl, Hahn, Raffael and Hazard were often rotated between the three attacking positions in their line-up, wing-backs changed from game to game, centre backs even differed depending on opponent with the ever consistent Andreas Christensen occasionally being forced into an uncomfortable defensive midfield role when the formation shifted to 4-4-2, often to accommodate new signing Jannik Vestergaard who Schubert clearly didn’t feel could play alongside his fellow countryman Christensen.
Hecking needs to come in and find a settled team to play week in week out, to try and develop some partnerships on the pitch, they often found themselves learning how to play with each other in the early stages of games and a development of understanding is needed within the Gladbach squad if they are to salvage their season.
A move to a consistent back four is likely to bring a bit more stability but Hecking needs to take them back to basics on the training pitch. Picking a consistent centre-back partnership from Elvedi, Christensen, Vestergaard, Jantschke and new signing Timothée Kolodziejczak is integral for them to develop that aforementioned understanding. Korb and Wendt are likely to be deployed at right and left back respectively.
Gladbach have lost 8 games so far this season, conceding 25 goals in the process with a number of those goals being conceded from crosses into the box, a statistic that Hecking will no doubt be eager to amend.
Mönchengladbach had a potent attacking line that scored 67 goals in 2015/16 with Raffael (15), Stindl (14), Johnson and Hahn (both 8) scoring a large percentage of the goals. Gladbach have mustered a measly 15 so far this season. Finding a position for Johnson is a pressing quandary for the boss as he’s struggled to nail down a consistent starting berth in recent months. If Hecking is to revert to type with a 4-2-3-1 formation, Johnson may find his position on one of the flanks to protect the full-back as well as arriving in the box to finish moves off like he’s done at his best at Mönchengladbach.
Hahn is likely to be the focal point for the Foals, being the closest they have to an archetypal no.9 with captain Lars Stindl similarly being likely to start, leaving Johnson, Hazard and Raffael to fill the last position of the 3 behind the striker, with the sheer talent and consistency of the latter making him favourite. Could we see a return of Josip Drmić at any point this season?
There’s an abundance of talented options for Hecking that if he can find the right formula, could blow Bundesliga defences away.
Borussia’s youth scouting and academy have produced some fantastic players in this squad. Mahmoud Dahoud, 21, is the gem who Hecking needs to build the team around, he can add creation to centre midfield that can compliment Kramer’s industry.
There’s a plenitude of young defensive talent in this Borussia squad with Christensen, and Elvedi, both 20, being two of the Foals’ best performers in the last two seasons, with the addition of Kolodziejzcak it’ll be interesting to see whether some pressure has been taken from the two young defenders’ shoulders.
Dieter Hecking certainly has a job on his hands to get a vastly underperforming squad back to where they belong. Undoubtedly an importance will be placed on the Pokal this season, but going into the Ruckrunde 11 points behind 6th placed Borussia Dortmund, is it too late for them to mount a push for Europe?