Borussia Mönchengladbach’s 3-0 defeat of RB Leipzig on matchday 7 was according to many observers their best performance of the season and few could argue. The Foals are developing well under new coach Daniel Farke, who is sticking to his tried and trusted football philosophy- with good early results at the Borussia Park.
“We delivered a very strong and sophisticated performance” he said post-match following the Leipzig win. “Our pressing intensity was incredibly high in the first half. We were very dominant and our structure in possession was good. We also held onto the ball well and cut out their counterattacking threat. We deservedly led 2-0 at the break.
“We were a little deeper in the second half because we didn’t want to get caught on the break, yet we still had control over the game and enjoyed good spells of possession. Even after our third goal, we created a number of counterattacking opportunities and promising chances to score more goals, and we didn’t give them any openings at the back.”
World Cup winner Christoph Kramer summed the win up saying, “It was a top showing from us. For me, the key was how much possession we had as well as our positional play. It may not be the most attractive style of football when we have to pass it back to our keeper, but it’s really important that we don’t get caught out by our opponents’ pressing. We need to keep the ball moving until a clear opportunity opens up, and we did that very well.”
Kramer in a nutshell has explained what has become known as ‘Farkeball’- Daniel Farke’s preference for a high-possession brand of football. It worked for him very well at Norwich City during two promotion campaigns to the Premier League, but then came unstuck as he stuck to his philosophy and was relegated.
Under Adi Hütter last season Gladbach played a 3-4-2-1 formation that saw their attacks often rely on counter-attacking pace and dribbling power, rather than long spells of possession and switching play. However, without the right players to fit the roles, they really struggled, and the coach paid with his job at the end of the season.
The decision to bring in Farke was a bold one considering his record of relegations from the Premier League. Speaking before the new season, Farke was very clear as to his way of playing football. “If I could choose, I would take 90 minutes of possession. I love having the ball. I love having the protagonists on the pitch to determine if we are good, to dominate the game, and then also to win.”
There has been some criticism from sections of the Mönchengladbach fanbase that possession for possession’s sake is dull at times and unambitious, but largely the positive results are winning over the majority. Gladbach enjoyed more than 60% possession in the opening three matches, before it fell to 30% in their impressive draw with Bayern Munich. The loss to Mainz saw them with 52% possession and the draw with Freiburg 57%. The recent impressive win over RB Leipzig was a surprising 46%. They rank fourth overall for touches and first for touches in the defensive third.
Farke’s side are one of the top passing sides so far this season ranking third for completed passes. Nico Elvedi is the league’s most accurate passer. With twelve points from the opening seven games, it can be considered a good start, with the Bayern and Leipzig performances particularly pleasing. A new defensive core of Ko Itakura and Elvedi is flanked by fullbacks Joe Scally and Ramy Bensebaini. All have been on form in the early part of the campaign. The signing of Julian Weigl adds to Christoph Kramer in the defensive midfield area and allows Manu Koné to venture further forward. Lars Stindl is back from injury, Jonas Hofmann is on top form, although an injury to Florian Neuhaus is a blow. Alassane Plea looked good before injury, while Marcus Thuram has been a real handful so far this season.
So far, so good then for Daniel Farke as he looks to evolve Borussia Mönchengladbach into a top four contender using his possession-based approach. In ‘Farkeball’ we trust?