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FEATURE | In danger of missing out on European football, what next for Borussia Mönchengladbach?

Since Lucien Favre left Borussia Mönchengladbach after a dire start to 2015, the club has struggled. André Schubert’s Gladbach was fantastic at home, but dreadful away and while they made some good signings, most can just see the image of Jannik Vestergaard when pondering Gladbach signings. This season has been no different for die Fohlen as Dieter Hecking’s side has struggled more than necessary both home and away at times. After a lacklustre performance in 2017/18, the future looks far from certain for the lads from Niederrhein. So, what does the future hold for them?

Well, it all depends on the coach. If Hecking stays, which does seem very unlikely, their progress will most certainly be minimal. They might be able to keep most of their players, but will find it hard to lure new stars or talents with two straight years without European football. Frankly, if Hecking stays, there’s a real risk that Borussia might sink into the mid-table oblivion they arose from under Favre.

So, something is needed in Niederrhein and Max Eberl, arguably one of the most competent sporting directors in the Bundesliga, knows this very well. Borussia Mönchengladbach have a good squad and should be able to at least compete for Europa League football on an annual basis. They have players good enough to set the league alight with Thorgan Hazard, Lars Stindl, Denis Zakaria and Vincenzo Grifo all on relatively long contracts. If they can keep these, which seems likely, a good head coach might be the only thing needed for some real progress. But who would be that manager? Who could fit in at Borussia with their attacking ideology?

There are a few. Ralph Hasenhüttl should and could fit in quite perfectly. He is rumoured to leave RB Leipzig at the end of the season and his attacking qualities mixed with his pressing ideas could prove perfect for Gladbach. Another coach that would fit like a glove would be Marco Rose at RB Salzburg, but he seems to be unavailable. One thing seems obvious- if progress is something that Eberl values, Hecking cannot stay. Mönchengladbach have gone backwards under him and Schubert and they need that spark to get back where they were a few years ago.

As aforementioned, their squad is already good enough to compete. The loaned-out Florian Neuhaus, who has been instrumental in Fortuna Düsseldorf’s promotion campaign, could become a key player at the club given time and could replace Lars Stindl in that false nine role when he becomes unable. Zakaria is a player to build a squad around, the Swiss powerhouse has strengths that include physicality, vision, technical ability and ambition. Granted they keep him, which as stated earlier seems likely, he will become key next season for die Fohlen.

Christoph Kramer is as good at defensive midfield as any available option. The World Cup winner is a very undervalued figure and tends to perform tremendously well in Granit Xhaka’s and now Zakaria’s long-cast shadow. He breaks up play and possesses good passing abilities that distributes play from deep when needed. Kramer and Zakaria in a defensive midfield-axis would be the way to go.

A dozen defenders would be something to invest in. Mönchengladbach have a mediocre defence that time and time again lets the attack down. Players like Vestergaard, Tobias Strobl and Tony Jantschke are just too error-prone to be a major part of a defence fighting for a European place. Reece Oxford would be wise to keep hold of, Mandela Egbo is a good talent while Nico Elvedi and Matthias Ginter should prove good enough for them. Elvedi’s versatility and tackling makes for a fantastic talent who will provide them with great performances on whichever level they play on in the future.

Ginter is a very reliable player. He performs well no matter what, but rarely does anything extraordinary. This might perhaps be good for a centre back though, as Vestergaard characterises the exact opposite. Two or three defenders would be an excellent choice in the summer. A left back, considering Oscar Wendt is aging and one or two central defenders worthy of a spot in their first team.

Raffael is aging as well and it would seem like a good plan to replace him with similar quality, but that might cost more than they can afford. Key in attack seems to be to retain Hazard, who has been by far their best player this season. He’s a player that can do the extraordinary, one that goes that extra mile to create something. His chance creation is his major strength and even though he has probably reached his peak, his quality is top level at Gladbach. A crew built around Zakaria with a few top players on an array of positions would simply be the perfect way forward for them and Hazard should most certainly be a part of it.

A new coach with a clear attacking ideology that fits Mönchengladbach’s ideas mixed with two or three competent defenders on different positions could be the way forward for Borussia.

The main danger seems to be a drop back into oblivion, because mid-table can sometimes be hard to get out of once you’re rooted. It’s pivotal for die Fohlen that mid-table oblivion is not in any way an acceptable prospect for the future. They’ve tasted the sweet fruit of Champions League. That should be the goal.

By Axel Falk.

 

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