Which Youngster has Transformed Mönchengladbach's Season?

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When a club is down in the dumps, sometimes you need an experienced head to lead by example, pick up the team and show the rest of the squad a way forward. Quite often that means inspirational captains – some of the biggest names in football are known as much for their abilities as a captain as on the pitch, for example Steven Gerrard, David Beckham, or Philipp Lahm – all players with vast individual ability who were additionally able to push their successive teams forward by putting their arm around their fellow players’ shoulder, allowing the rest of the team to perform to their ability too.

Six weeks ago, Borussia Mönchengladbach were that club in the doldrums. Five successive league losses opened their Bundesliga season – a season which began in much hope, and eventually a huge contrast to their long unbeaten run at the beginning of 2014/15 – with a 4-0 loss to Dortmund leading onto losses against Mainz, Bremen, Hamburg and Köln, a set of teams, aside from Dortmund of course, against which Borussia should have reasonably expected to stroll home to comfortable victories against. A dire loss in the Champions League against Sevilla compounded the misery but the worst was yet to come. The club’s manager of four and a half years, Lucien Favre, decided he couldn’t hack the job any longer, resigning the morning after the club’s derby loss to Köln. Despite the initial resignation being rejected, the Swiss tactician went to the media with his resignation, forcing the club’s hand.

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Borussia were without a manager or a single point in either the Bundesliga or the Champions League, and worse still, they were suddenly at the first key stage of their season. A win might turn things around, a loss would just allow the problems and lack of confidence the team was showing to fester for longer. Something needed to be done.

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Andre Schubert, formerly at St Pauli but at the time a youth coach at Mönchengladbach was promoted to coach the first team on an interim basis and charged with the task of turning things around in the short term. He’s certainly done that; six wins from six games in the league have pushed the club back into the European race, while a narrow loss to Manchester City and a draw away to Juventus in the Champions League have at least presented the club in a good light on the European stage. Mönchengladbach also find themselves in the third round of the DFB-Pokal having beaten off Schalke in midweek.

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Borussia have changed somewhat since Favre has left. The side press slightly more intently than before, look to transition much quicker on the break and leave themselves relatively open at the back, which has led to a lot of goals going in at either end – but fortunately for fans of the club, usually in the opponent’s net. Schubert has also given key midfielder Granit Xhaka more responsibility with the Swiss international wearing the captain’s armband in recent weeks, but Xhaka was always the key player in Favre’s system too so this is arguably not too much of a departure from what we’re usually accustomed to. However, the big change has been in the increasing of status of young midfielder Mahmoud Dahoud, ‘Mo’ for short. This is quite unlike the phenomenon of a big personality carrying the team forward, as Dahoud had scant experience in professional football before this season.

The Syrian-born midfielder has long been touted a hot prospect, making an instant impression during pre-season two years ago as a 17-year old, and was fast-tracked to a professional contract by director of football Max Eberl. He served as a squad member last season, getting brief cameos in both the Bundesliga and Europa League, but was starting to kick on during the latter days of Favre’s reign, with longer substitute appearances at the start of the season, as well as a first Bundesliga start in Favre’s last Borussia game against Köln.

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Under Schubert, though, Dahoud has become arguably one of the side’s key players in the intervening six weeks. The post-Christoph Kramer era, which typified the early throes of the season, with imbalanced midfield play ruining the team’s entire approach to the game, has already become a thing of the past with the bright young thing, still just 19 years of age, occupying the now-Leverkusen man’s vacated slot in the midfield.

It must be said that both players have their own styles, with Kramer known well for his box-to-box style with high-intensive running, and Dahoud characterised more by a neat passing style, with runs from deep helping probe while maintaining the side’s shape in midfield. He’s popped up with two goals in eight starts under Schubert so far – once each against Augsburg and Frankfurt, as well as achieving a further two assists against Frankfurt in what was a sparkling display.

Perhaps more impressively for a nineteen year old, Dahoud’s positional play is very strong and has allowed him to intercept a number of balls, which is arguably handy also as his tackling play is an area of his game which needs a large improvement. However, this is obviously not a huge downside as Borussia look a whole lot more stable with the German youth international in the side rather than without.

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Dahoud’s recent form has shown him playing with a confidence and verve which belies his years, and could very well catapult him into a well-known name across world football and potentially even an international for Germany in the next few years. There’s certainly a lot Dahoud can improve, but the early signs are very positive and he really has become a key personality in the current Borussia Mönchengladbach side very early in his career, which, with the club’s troubled start to the season taken into consideration, is very impressive indeed.

Featured image: All rights reserved by Eric C. Späte

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