TO be disappointed in leaving Borussia Park with a 1-1 draw last night is an indication on just how far we have progressed this season; and how our expectations reflect this!
The last 2 seasons have shown us being soundly beaten by lesser Scandinavian teams who we should have been more than capable of putting away. This season we have shown good form at home to Man City; the home performance against Borussia wasn’t great but we were undone by two bad mistakes to lose the game. The away game against Barcelona was a lesson and an anomaly but the performance in Borussia Park last night was a taster of what we could expect going forward under Brendan Rodgers.
For the first time in a long time, we actually out-passed a decent team away from home: 611 passes to BMG’s 547 and we completed 546. This was a significant improvement from the poor performances we have seen in recent years.
Monchengladbach had 18 shots on goal to our 10; they had 5 on target and we had 2 on target and 4 blocked shots. Creating 14 chances away from home is also a significant improvement on recent seasons.
The over-riding theme coming from all our European games this season (with the exception of the Camp Nou) is that we are now looking to control the game by passing the ball well and keeping possession as well as pressing teams when we don’t have possession; it hasn’t always worked well for us, but the signs are very encouraging.
So overall it was a very good performance with a slightly disappointing outcome.
This is shown in the fact that Cristian Gamboa had the lowest pass success rate at 78% for the starting 11 with 36 of 46 passes finding the player; Liam Henderson had 75% success, completing 6 of 8 passes.
Every other player was over 80% with Scott Brown completing a remarkable 91 passes from 92 attempts – 99% accuracy. Callum McGregor competed 13 of 13 successfully – 100%! Sviatchenko (95%) completed 82 of 86 passes and Lustig (93%) completed 85 of 91 passes. Craig Gordon (88%) had an extremely successful night finding his player 28 times from 32 attempts. So the passing game is bedding in; this is a fundamental change in our playing style and is providing a degree of success in Europe.
The fact is that it also created 14 attempts at goal last night!
There is a feeling that, at times, we don’t get the ball forward quickly enough and this was highlighted in the last 10 minutes last night.
It can be seen as a weakness but if the passing and building ethos is being drummed into the players then it will take time and practice to alter that in games; particularly at times when the players are physically and mentally fatigued. Sure we could have humped the ball forward at times in the last 10 minutes; the 2 dangers of that are that we lose possession and could potentially lose a goal.
Drawing 1-1 was disappointing but losing a goal to a sucker-punch late on would have been devastating.
So what was the overall verdict?
Defensively we coped well apart from their goal. Craig Gordon had a couple of very good saves, looked commanding and distributed the ball well. On his second start in Europe Cristian Gamboa had a decent game and got forward well. Game time will turn him into a useful addition to the squad and he looks like he will be very good back-up for Lustig. Izzy had a pretty solid performance but his lack of match time became evident towards the end and he did look to be fading.
There was some criticism levelled at him for the goal but I think he was unfortunate when Hazard came across on his blind side and he was late in reacting. Lustig and Sviatchenko were both very solid and looked comfortable; but I thought each of them were at fault for the goal. Sviatchenko was facing and tracking Hazard who was pulling wide and he let him go; if he follows him across and shouts to Izzy to move towards the player with the ball, the chance is snuffed out.
When the ball was played across Lustig was back on his heels; he should have moved forward to Stindl and closed him down. There could have been more support from Rogic and Armstrong who could have tracked Stindl and Johnson into the box to cut down the space for Hazard to play into. A good goal from the Gladbach perspective; a poor goal from ours.
The midfield trio of Brown, Armstrong and Rogic played well; Brown was exceptional again. He drove the team forward and dropped deep when needed. His passing is proving to be key to our performing, linking defence, midfield and attack superbly. Tom Rogic’s ability to turn and move with the ball is a joy to watch. He is a very clever player and incredibly strong on the ball; if only we could make him into a 90 minute player.
Armstrong had a very positive influence on the game and was running on fumes and muscle memory by the final whistle. He gave the ball away in dangerous areas a couple of times but was always willing to chase back to rectify his mistakes. Callum McGregor had a very good spell when he replaced Rogic but showed his limitations when he was presented with a great chance from Paddy Roberts’ great through ball.
Had he been aware of what was around him he could have cut the ball back for Sinclair who would have had a shot at an empty net. The great players seem to have time for a quick look as they are receiving the ball and can make those decisions. Callum didn’t and chose the wrong foot to shoot across the goal with; a right footed shot gives him a better angle and wider target. Hopefully he will learn.
The same goes for Liam Henderson; when he replaced Gamboa he added a bit more drive but doesn’t yet have the experience or maturity to make the right decision on where and when to play the ball. That, I hope, will come. There are decent players in McGregor and Henderson; whether they develop and are good enough to secure a first team slot remains to be seen.
The forward line again played well. James Forrest’s ability to get up and down the line is impressive; he has a very good engine and there was one 2 or 3 minute spell when Gamboa was rampaging forward and wee Jamesy slotted in a right back till Gamboa recovered and got back into position. He wasn’t as direct as usual but the combination with Gamboa was good and the work-rate of the front 3 prevented Vestergaard from pushing forward as much as he did in the first game; he was having to help cover his left back.
Sinclair was, yet again, direct and dangerous; his shot against the post in the first half was sublime and he was very unlucky not to score with it. He gets in to fantastic positions in the box and Dembele should have played him in during the first half but chose to back-heel the ball to Forrest and the chance came to nothing. As said before, he took up a great position when McGregor was set up by Roberts, but didn’t get the cutback played to him! Dembele was fantastic again.
He is raw, but powerful, able to hold the ball up well and bring others into the game. Last night he showed just how good a player he is becoming! His touch to take the ball past Korb to win the penalty was sublime! He also has balls of steel! He was the calmest man on the park when he hit that penalty. In the interview afterwards he was asked if he was nervous after missing in Barcelona. He replied he wasn’t!
When Paddy Roberts came on, he showed what a class player he is. His through ball to Dembele for the penalty was bang on the money and the pass to play in McGregor was a joy to watch. He looks to be on the way to being a world-class player along with Dembele. If we could get him signed in January I would be a very happy man!
All 14 who played last night contributed very well; take into consideration that we had a makeshift defence with only Sviatchenko in his usual position and we didn’t have the option of bringing Griffiths on to add firepower up front and this was in fact a phenomenal performance.
So at the end of the day, we have come back from Germany with a well-deserved point. Offered that at the start of the Group Stages I think I would have been more than willing to take it. Dropping 2 was frustrating but in the bigger picture we are far further forward than I thought we would be.
Let’s just sit back and enjoy it for a while!
Written by VFR800 for CQN.