Borussia Mönchengladbach and Stuttgart played out an entertaining draw on day two of the Bundesliga, as both sides made it four points out of a possible six. Although the attack-minded Stuttgart pressed brilliantly and played some nice first-time and full-back led football, 19-year-old ‘keeper Marc-André ter Stegen was on top form. Although his Gladbach outfield colleagues were second-best for large periods of the game, they did show occasional signs of being a decent footballing side capable of splicing an opposition defence with some first-time triangle-based football of their own. And out of possession, they sat off in an impressively disciplined 4-4-1-1, limiting the amount of space wanted by Stuttgart’s marquee summer signing, William Kvist, in the quarterback position.
The home side immediately took charge of the game, opening the visitors’ defence up within 90 seconds. The recipient of that bouncing pass, Marco Reus, attempted to lob the onrushing Sven Ulreich, but the midfielder’s effort landed just over the left stanchion. With Stuttgart standing relatively high early on, Gladbach continued to ping passes over the top of their defence, Raúl Bobadilla the primary chaser and target. Bruno Labbadia’s side, on the back-foot, had the chance to break from a corner in the third minute, but despite having a three-on-three situation, the flow of the attack was stodgy, and broken down by the time it got to Marc-André ter Stegen’s box.
The general absence of structure from the game as we came out of the opening seven or eight minutes was for great for us neutrals, but probably not what the coaches’ wanted. With Gladbach’s defence hanging a tad deep anyway and Stuttgart’s gradually dropping due to the long-ball threat, there was acres of space available in the midfield. When either of the defences did attempt to stand high and knock the ball about, the opposition attackers pressed high and hard, forcing them and the ball back.
The defensive work done by Lucien Favre since taking charge at Gladbach in February was epitomised in the tenth minute, when Stuttgart had a rare grip on territory with the chance to knock the ball about, full-backs on flanks primed. Gladbach got a narrow, flat 4-4-1 behind the ball so quickly, Labbadia’s players were restricted to sideways passes in the second-third of the pitch before the move broke down.
The hosts’ defensive-phase system needed to be sharp, mind, as Stuttgart began to see far more of the ball as we approached the quarter-hour mark. Looking to keep their widemen permanently on the chalk or within a few feet of it, the red-shirted defenders didn’t dwell on the ball, instead pinging it out to the channels via long-diagonals as soon as the chance presented itself. Compounding these positive and Gladbach-tiring tactics were the midfield movers: Zdravko Kuzmanović, Tamás Hajnal and Kvist, all three of whom were constantly on the lookout for a space to be given the ball in. And this hunger so nearly led to the game’s opening goal in the 16th minute; Kvist showing in a pocket of space in the final-third and playing a diagonal, floor-based through-ball down to the D between Filip Daems and Dante for Martin Harnik, on the end of it but poking wide due to some lightening quick game-reading by ter Stegen.
Despite still attacking at full-throttle (directly but always with the right ideas until they got in the final-third), Gladbach had become a passenger in the game, only seeing the ball on the rare occasions Stuttgart let them have it. In the 21st minute, the home side tried something different during one of their turns on the ball. Breaking down an away side attack, a bank of four comprising the full-backs and defensive-midfielders passed their way up as a unit, giving Håvard Nordtveit the chance to sting Ulreich’s fingers with a shot from range.
But, by and large, the ball continued to remain Stuttgart’s to give away. They were the better side when it came to pressing, going at the pass-assessing Gladbach centre-backs in a pack of four, compared to the one-man-sprints-at-a-time approach used by Favre’s side. Stuttgart striker Cacau was also playing his part when the team were in possession; most notably through sudden darts back to link play with great acceleration and timing, dragging defenders out of space and opening up the away side for his swashbuckling attacking midfielder colleagues. Another key player for the away side in the opening quarter was Kvist, a clever little player who didn’t seem to be wasting a pass.
The game was still pretty intense despite the fact 25 minutes of hard work and running had been and gone. Yet perhaps one indication of players tiring was the fact that we began to see more fouls and yellow cards – Bobadilla and Christian Molinaro going into the ref’s book first. Along with Khalid Boulahrouz on the other flank, Molinaro was beginning to take advantage of Gladbach’s high-standing but corridor-cramping 4-4-1-1 approach. The Dutchman got down to the byline to particularly good effect in the 23rd minute, pulling back to the edge of the box where Christian Gentner shot first-time, right-footed, at ter Stegen.
Stuttgart again carved Gladbach open in the 32nd minute via a full-back, this time Molinaro zooming to the byline, crossing for Gentner (in the box constantly because he knew his side’s width was being maintained), who headed at ter Stegen. Chance-wise, things got more even as we neared half-time, Mike Hanke and Cacau going close at either end. But although Gladbach were starting to make proceedings a bit more 50:50, they generally ruined things when in the final-third by making several passes too many.
However, their party piece finally came good in the 43rd minute. Knocking the ball about between the chalk-standing full-backs, halfway-approaching centre-backs and the hovering quarterback, Neustädter, Stuttgart were made to chase shadows from side to side as both Gladbach strikers dropped into the centre-midfield space. Playing a one-two around sucked-out centre-back Maza, Reus’ disguised dart into the Mexican’s space was fed after a series of first-time passes, but the young soon-to-be German international’s composure deserted him in front of goal. The miss meant we went in 0-0 at the break.
There were no changes for the second half, which started with Cacau blazing over on his left foot after finding a pocket of space 25 yards out. It was seemingly as you were for the away side in the aftermath of that attempt, as Molinaro was fed on the byline with a perfectly-weighted through-ball by Kuzmanović. The pull-back was sharp enough, but frantic Gladbach just about got it clear. In fact, not only did they get the ball away, they launched a break. However, Bobadilla was superbly marshalled by the stronger and cleverer Serdar Tasci, who guided the Argentine striker and the ball away from danger single-handedly. Two minutes later, the visitors were at it again down the left, Gentner running from deep, laying on Molinaro down the channel, only for the home side clear the cross. Again, that clearance landed for Bobadilla to carry the Gladbach attack, and this time, skipping inside Tasci, the striker fired a sharp right-footed strike at Ulreich.
Kuzmanović was there pulling the strings for the umpteenth time in the 50th minute, laying on – surprise, surprise – Molinaro, who this time decided to knock a pass back to the edge of the box due to Gladbach zooming back in preparation. Clever Cacau was the recipient, and another – right-footed – long-range effort of his went closer than last, but wide. A minute later, the exact same attack resulted in Kuzmanović fed to shot from the exact same part of the pitch, but although his right-footed curler looked like it was going to loop in, ter Stegen displayed his superb reflexes by tipping the effort over.
On the whole, the technical level of the Stuttgart players was far superior to that of those in Gladbach green and white, and this was why despite some decent pressing of their full-backs, the away side were able to attack with numbers at will. On the ball, their players one-two’d their way into the final-third; off it, they continued to chase in packs, putting the jitters up the home side’s centre-backs, and forcing them in mishit hoofs or back-passes. However, if Juan Arango’s left-footed screamer in the 55th minute had moved two inches to the right, it would have changed the complexion of the game by going in (rather than hitting the side-netting, as it did).
In the 57th minute, Gladbach finally managed to pass their way beyond the six-man, fast-pressing wall confronting them high up the pitch and in their faces by Labbadia. It was Neustädter who peeled into a large pocket of space behind Hajnal, and he then swiftly gave the ball to Arango, with Daems already on the overlap. The left-back took the ball, dropped a shoulder, and stepped inside Boulahrouz. But, as had happened on a number of occasions already, Bobadilla’s touch deserted him in the box. It just wasn’t working for Favre’s front-men when they were given the service – they were not operating on the same wavelength, and weren’t capable of making the right runs either. There was also a lack of ghosters into the box, meaning that there were always more players in red in the box.
The crosses, even if they were wasted, did increase in frequency for the hosts, perhaps aided by the fact that Harnik, Hajnal and Cacau were beginning to come back too deep, too often. Unable to advance as easily, Gladbach had their guests exactly where they wanted them. By keeping their full-backs permanently camped out in the opposition half, Reus had the chance to make some of his disguised bursts through the centre of the box again. And in the 65th minute, he was clean through and fed, luring the man eating his dust, Kvist, into a nudge. Reus went down, and Manuel Gräfe pointed to the spot for a penalty! Daems’ left-footed blast was impossible to stop, and Gladbach had a 1-0 lead!
However, Kvist made amends five minutes later. After Molinaro again timed a brilliant sprint to the byline, his cross drew a corner. Although cleared, Kvist mopped up at the second time of asking after Hanke tried an overly casual nutmeg, feigned going to the byline before stepping inside, dinked a cross to the left side of the six-yard box, where Gentner headed diagonally towards the right-hand post, Gladbach’s defence ball-watching as Cacau zoomed and steered it in for 1-1!
The coaches made one change apiece – Lukas Rupp replacing Bobadilla, and Ibrahima Traoré taking the place of Hajnal. Resultantly, Reus moved up top alongside Hanke, as Rupp went to the right side of midfield. Traoré, meanwhile, went onto the left flank, with Gentner temporarily slotting in behind Cacau (Pavel Pogrebnyak took his place three minutes later, however). And as Stuttgart continued to re-assert something resembling dominance post-equalizer, Favre looked to freshen things up again, making a like for like change by replacing Hanke with Australian striker Matthew Leckie. But nigh-on immediately after that change, one of the striker’s colleagues struggled to cope with Stuttgart’s switch to a 4-1-4-1 with attackers bursting through this way and that: in the 80th minute, Harnik was hauled down by centre-back Roel Brouwers, who picked up a second yellow card, leaving his side to hold on for a draw with ten men.
Favre had to use his final change to shut up shop; so, off came Reus, and on came defensive midfielder Thorben Marx. Stuttgart abandoned a set formation during the final five minutes, their centre-backs nearly a third of the way up the opposition half, the lightening quick Traoré bobbing centrally to collect the ball when not zooming down the wing, and everyone else in red attempting to dart into any free inch of final-third space. But they barely troubled ter Stegen, who showed just how good his all-round game is by coming to take two corners. Leckie won a corner himself in the closing stages with some clever and energetic line-leading play, as his side held on for what was on the balance of play, probably a fair result.