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FEATURE | Borussia Mönchengladbach – meet Europe’s most exciting young side

Sitting in fourth position in the Bundesliga at present, Borussia Mönchengladbach are on the verge of qualifying for the Champions League for a fourth time in the past nine years. Despite being knocked out in the group stages of the Europa League this season as well as in the second round of the DFB-Pokal, albeit to rivals Borussia Dortmund, Mönchengladbach have had a multitude of consistently strong performances from some of the squad’s younger players this term. With the Bundesliga looking likely to return in the near future, these youngsters could help to cement a top four finish for The Foals but the club could face losing some of the same players in the summer as interest grows from a number of the biggest outfits on the continent.

Notoriously difficult to beat at home, losing only twice this season in the league at Borussia Park, Gladbach have again this season demonstrated their brilliance in terms of recruitment with the German club signing an abundance of youngsters who have had an instant impact in North Rhine-Westphalia. With a scouting network that spans across central Europe, boss Marco Rose, a youngster himself in managerial terms at 43, has plundered teams from France and Germany alike to assemble a squad strong enough to challenge at the top end of Germany’s topflight. The recent key additions plus previous investment and the progress of players through the club’s own academy over the past few seasons has laid birth to one of Europe’s most exciting young sides.

The back line

Arguably the most important aspect of any successful football team, Gladbach have one of the strongest backlines in German football at present. Alongside the experience of key players like goalkeeper Yann Sommer, left-back Oscar Wendt and 26-year-old centre-back Matthias Ginter, boss Marco Rose has invested heavily in young defenders over the past few seasons in a move to make Mönchengladbach one of the toughest in the Bundesliga. Shipping only 30 goals across 25 league matches, these young defensive acquisitions have helped to shape the league’s third best backline over the course of this season to date.

When it comes to important players at the back for Mönchengladbach, look no further than Swiss defender Nico Elvedi. Still only 23-year-old, the young centre-back has played a large portion of the club’s matches this season across all competitions, 31 to be exact, and has displayed experience and maturity beyond his age along the backline for Borussia. Since joining from FC Zurich in 2015, Elvedi has grown into a complete centre-back, elegant on the ball despite his tall frame.

He has vastly improved his ability to play as a ball-playing defender over the past few seasons, now extremely confident to play a pass forward into midfield but equally capable of winning heavy challenges when needed. In fact, Elvedi is only behind Borussia Dortmund’s Axel Witsel this season for the highest pass completion percentage in the Bundesliga standing at 91.4%, an astonishing feat for a central defender. His skill set is underpinned by a strong level of discipline with only four yellow cards to his name this season, an area of his game former coach Dieter Hecking was always quick to point out: “Nico has taken another step forward, he has a great positional play and rarely commits any fouls.”

Another strong performer at the back this season has been left-back Ramy Bensebaini whom was signed from French club Rennes for just over £7 million last summer. Unlike Elvedi, the Algerian international full-back hasn’t featured quite as prominently since his switch to Gladbach but has put in some fantastic performances when given the nod by coach Marco Rose. With four goals and two assists in 17 appearances. The 25-year-old is already proving to be another bit of shrewd business for the Foals especially after scoring a crucial brace in Gladbach’s 2-1 huge home defeat of Bayern Munich back in December. Bensebaini loves to push forward whenever possible and possesses more than enough pace to transition from defence from attack to great effect. At 6 foot 1, the full-back isn’t scared to stick a foot in and offers the German outfit much needed versatility through an ability to play at both centre-back or left-midfield if needed.

The midfield

During this season, the strongest area of Mönchengladbach’s squad has come in the midfield with the tandem presence of Florian Neuhaus and Denis Zakaria. With 59 appearances between them this season across all competitions, the pair work incredibly well together in the heart of the midfield, offering a huge presence both defensively and in an attacking manner.

Playing the more advanced role in the midfield, 23-year-old Florian Neuhaus has once again demonstrated his immense skill set during another fantastic season for Gladbach. With three goals and two assists in 21 Bundesliga appearances, Neuhaus plays a pivotal position in the team, linking the midfield to the attack seamlessly, often to devastating effect for the opposition. With a distinct ability to find and exploit gaps between the lines, Neuhaus has been touted as the long-term replacement for Thomas Müller at the international level for Die Mannschaft. Often looking effortless on the ball, Neuhaus possesses the ability to play the perfect forward pass while also having the agility to take on his man when needed.

Alongside him, Zakaria is the partner in crime for Neuhaus in Gladbach’s explosive midfield. Adopting the more defensive role between the two youngsters, the Swiss international has once again widely impressed fans, coaches and pundits alike this term with some stand-out performances. Standing at 6 foot 3, the 23-year-old offers a physical edge for Mönchengladbach in the centre of the park and gifts much needed protection to the centre-backs in the formation and system Marco Rose opts for.

Making on average 2.4 tackles a match in the league and with an impressive 86.6% pass completion rate, Zakaria has gained huge praise from his teammates, among others, again this season with ‘keeper Yann Sommer saying: “It’s not easy to compare him to the greats of the past, but he combines many qualities that were really defined by Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane.”Therefore, it’s little wonder that teams such as Liverpool and Manchester United are said to be lining up a transfer during the upcoming summer transfer window.

The forwards

Without a doubt this season, forward Marcus Thuram has become Mönchengladbach’s surprise package after joining from relegated French Ligue 1 side Guingamp. The French under-21 international, son of famous defender Lillian Thuram, has hit the ground running following his move across the border to Borussia Park. So far for the Foals, Thuram has netted six times and provided eight assists, announcing himself to fans with a match-winning brace against neighbours Fortuna Düsseldorf earlier in the season. His blend of pace, power and trickery has provided a burst of energy this season on the left wing whilst his link up play with fellow French signing Alassane Pléa has pushed Gladbach further towards Champions League qualification. His electric form has seemingly put him on course for a full-international call-up too with France manager Didier Deschamps recently stating to press: “He is developing well, his club is at the top in Germany. He’s definitely one of the players we’re following.”

Another forward who has impressed this term is Swiss international Breel Embolo whom Gladbach signed from Bundesliga rivals Schalke for a cut price fee of £9 million during the last transfer window. With seven goals and four assists to his name through 22 league outings, Embolo is looking to get his career back on track after an underwhelming spell in Gelsenkirchen. Still only 23-years-old, despite it feeling like the striker has being in the Bundesliga for much longer, this could prove to be another coup for manager Marco Rose and the backroom staff at Borussia Park in the long run.

The conclusion

Currently, there are fewer teams across the top European leagues that offer as much excitement to watch as Borussia Mönchengladbach. With an advanced scouting system in place, the club continues to build upon its successes on the field with a sensible and sustainable transfer model that has already picked up the next generation of talent for the club. With youngsters such as Laszlo Benes, Louis Beyer, Andreas Poulsen, Julio Villalba, Keanan Bennetts (formerly of Premier League side Tottenham) and Torben Musel waiting in the wings for more first-team opportunities in the near future, expect to see Gladbach challenging at the top of the Bundesliga for many more years to come.

Nathan Evans.

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