Borussia Monchengladbach’s unusual man-marking defensive system

In the first game of the second half of the Bundesliga season, Borussia Monchengladbach utilised an interesting man-oriented structure without the ball in an attempt to disrupt Borussia Dortmund’s build-up play.

Dortmund often build attacks from their goalkeeper, Roman Burki, with the two centre-backs splitting to the width of the penalty box, the full-backs getting high and wide and Julian Weigl positioning behind the opposition’s first pressing line as a sole #6.

In reaction to this, Monchengladbach’s first pressing line, a front two of Raffael and Lars Stindl, man-marked Dortmund’s centre-backs, Mats Hummels and Sokratis.

This man-orientation continued in the second defensive line of four, with the two central midfielders, Havard Nordveit and Mahmoud Dahoud, taking turns to move forward and stick tight to Julian Weigl. This was often Nordveit, with Dahoud slightly deeper and man-marking Gonzalo Castro.

In theory, this left Ikay Gundogan unmarked, but left-sided centre-back Nico Elvedi moved up the pitch slightly in anticipation of passes into Gundogan, leaving the other three defenders in the back four to go man-to-man on their direct opponents.

Gladbach's defensive system without the ball

Gladbach’s defensive system without the ball

This system gave Monchengladbach an excellent structure from which they could press Dortmund and prevent them from building up effectively. With the two centre-backs and Weigl shadowed closely by Monchengladbach players, Burki was uncomfortable distributing the ball short and was often forced into longer balls towards the flanks or Aubayemang.

Sometimes, Hummels made dropping movements towards goal in order to get free from the marking of Raffael and receive passes from Burki. When this occurred, Monchengladbach were still able to prevent effective build-up because of the pressure of Dahoud and Nordveit on Castro and Weigl, meaning Hummels was unable to play passes into the next line.

Additionally, Gladbach had great success winning the ball in wide areas. This was because when Dortmund’s full-backs received the ball in build-up, they were unable to play back to the centre-backs (with Raffael and Stindl ‘locking them up’), or play inside into a central midfielder because of the aforementioned man-marking. Therefore, the only option was often to hit straight forward passes down the line, which Gladbach’s full-backs did an excellent job of anticipating.

Finding Gundogan

Theoretically, the key for Dortmund was to find Gundogan, the one player without a clear man-marker. Although, as mentioned earlier, Elvedi moved forward from centre-back to close him down, this was often only to a distance of 8-10 metres off Gundogan in anticipation of him receiving the ball, not, crucially, to actively prevent him from receiving the ball.

Sometimes, if Elvedi was occupied by Aubayemang, then left-winger Fabian Johnson would tuck in narrower to be in a position where he could close down Gundogan should he receive the ball.

This still meant, though, that Gundogan was ‘free’, especially relative to how closely his teammates were being marked. This is evident in the scene below.

Gundogan free

Therefore, although Gladbach defended well for the most part, It was inevitably that it was through Gundogan that Dortmund took the lead. Burki’s chipped pass allowed the midfielder to get free, and he turned, faced forward and quickly played Reus in behind for a smart finish. It was the exact route to goal Dortmund needed to bypass Gladbach’s first and second pressing lines.

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