BORUSSIA MONCHENGLADBACH pose a meaningful test for the Leeds United tourists – a welcome upturn for players and fans alike after the complications of the early part of the tour. Phil Hay reports.
Thursday’s game against Borussia Monchengladbach is Leeds United’s most difficult friendly to date and, on paper at least, the pick of the fixtures lined up for them at home or abroad.
Leeds’ tour of Austria remains afloat despite the complications which affected the initial planning and the first weekend of their 10-day camp, and Monchengladbach represent the first meaningful test of the progress made under Thomas Christiansen, the strength of the squad beneath him and the quality of United’s transfer business so far.
Monchengladbach – at their height, a powerful European force in the 1970s – were a Champions League club last season, albeit while finishing ninth in the Bundesliga and failing to qualify for the Europa League. Their players have been training for only a fortnight but they played Werder Bremen and Hoffenheim over the weekend and brought 28 players to their base in the German resort of Rottach-Egern yesterday in preparation for Thursday’s game against Leeds.
Christiansen expected United’s time in Austria to significantly raise the fitness and sharpness of his squad and he was insistent that Leeds found a way to compensate for the loss of Sunday’s friendly with Ingolstadt. The cancellation of that match left United’s head coach looking at five long days of training sessions until the club found a solution by arranging a private training match with Turkish side Bursaspor yesterday evening.
The meeting was purposely low-key and unpublicised by Leeds, ending in a 3-0 defeat, but it gave Christiansen what he wanted by increasing the strain on a group of players who came to Austria on the back of three games against non-league clubs. United’s last result – a 2-0 win over North Ferriby United – threw up enough chances for Christiansen’s side to reach double figures but Monchengladbach will offer nothing like the same exercise of attack-versus-defence.
Their mid-table position in the Bundesliga last season was down largely to an inability to score goals. The club’s defensive record was similar to that of Borussia Dortmund, who finished third, but 45 goals in the 34 matches was inadequate for a team who came fourth in the division in 2016 and third in 2015.
Despite that, Monchengladbach coach Dieter Hecking has invested heavily in defensive signings, paying Dortmund £15m for German international centre-back Matthias Ginter and £10m for defensive midfielder Denis Zakaria. Their transfers also include the arrival on loan of West Ham United’s Reece Oxford, the player involved in the stamping incident at Reading which earned Leeds’ Liam Cooper a six-match ban towards the end of last term.
Monchengladbach travelled to their hotel in south Germany without Ginter, who is still on holiday after representing Germany in the Confederations Cup. Captain Lars Stindl remains absent for the same reason while two other players, Timothée Kolodziejczak and Josip Drmic, are injured.
Christiansen’s only major fitness concern is Mateusz Klich, who came to Austria with a muscle strain and has been put through running sessions during the early stages of United’s tour.
The main plan right now with the players I have is 4-2-3-1, with the possibility to change if we need to.Thomas Christiansen
Chris Wood, who like Ginter and Stindl was at the Confederations Cup in Russia last month, completed the first half against Bursaspor yesterday and should feature again on Thursday. New signings Samuel Saiz, Caleb Ekuban and Ezgjan Alioski are also preparing for their first public run-outs in a match which will see more players pushed towards a 90-minute outing.
Kemar Roofe and Gaetano Berardi were alone in seeing out the whole of Leeds’ win at North Ferriby with Christiansen down on numbers due to a spate of minor injuries and minus Pablo Hernandez, Hadi Sacko and Klich.
Christiansen revealed last week that he was working towards a 4-2-3-1 formation, despite the arrival of another striker in Ekuban from Chievo.
“I need to have several plans for all situations – if we’ve opened the scoring or if we are down,” Christiansen said.
“The main plan right now with the players I have is 4-2-3-1, with the possibility to change if we need to.”
Monchengladbach dabbled with numerous formations last season, employing three at the back for a period before finishing off the term with a steady 4-4-2.
They kept clean sheets in both of their games against Werder Bremen and Hoffenheim on Saturday – round-robin matches as part of the Telekom Cup – before losing both on penalties.
Monchengladbach are some way from their peak – the Bundesliga season starts a fortnight after the Championship begins – but their presence on Thursday will allow Christiansen to gauge how well his ideas and his changes to the methods employed by Garry Monk before him are taking effect.
“I have my ideas and I want to show the players them,” he said. “I want them to understand and be in the best condition for the start of the season in the league.
“We all know the season is a long one and I want them to take the right decisions at the right moments. We don’t want mistakes because they will cost us a lot of things. Austria will help a lot.”