Led by French duo Marcus Thuram and Alassane Plea, Borussia Mönchengladbach head to the Spanish capital on Wednesday knowing a positive result away at Real Madrid will see them qualify for the UEFA Champions League knockout stage for the first time. bundesliga.com presents five reasons why the Foals will get one over Zinedine Zidane’s side in the final game of Group B…
1) Thuram the man
The Thuram name is one that Zidane is more familiar with than most. The current Madrid manager played over 90 times alongside Marcus’s father Lilian for the France national team, winning the 1998 FIFA World Cup and 2000 UEFA Euros together for Les Bleus.
Thuram Jr. has now followed in his father’s footsteps by representing his country, winning his first three caps in November and getting his maiden international assist in the UEFA Nations League victory over Sweden. In contrast to his centre-back father, striker Marcus is all about goals.
He gave Real the run-around at Borussia-Park on Matchday 2 as he bagged a brace in just his second Champions League game to put Gladbach 2-0 up and already surpass Lilian’s career total of one goal from 69 appearances in the competition.
Watch: All of Thuram’s Bundesliga goals and assists in 2019/20
Although nicknamed ‘Little Marcus’, the 6’3’’-tall Thuram has had a big impact on the Foals since his arrival from Guingamp the previous summer, netting 18 times in 55 appearances for the club. Famously now the club’s flag carrier, he’s also thrived in the role of provider.
The 23-year-old has had a hand in at least one goal in all five of Gladbach’s Champions League games this season. As well as his brace against Real, he’s also set up compatriot Plea in the 6-0 thrashing of Shakhtar Donetsk and again in the most recent outing at home to Inter Milan. On top of that, he’s won penalties in the opening fixture in Italy and in the 4-0 victory over the Ukrainian champions at Borussia-Park.
Another pair of goals and an assist each in the league and DFB Cup mean Thuram has been directly involved in eight goals across 16 appearances. Karim Benzema is the only Madrid player to have a hand in more than five goals this season.
2) Plea to the defence
You may be able to keep Thuram quiet in a game, but defenders also have to make sure they don’t lose sight of Plea, especially in Europe this season. No player has been involved in more goals in the 2020/21 Champions League group stage than the Gladbach forward, who has scored five and provided three assists.
The 27-year-old set up a goal in each of the first three games, as well as having the shot that Thibaut Courtois parried for Thuram to score his second against Real. The last of those went with a show-stealing hat-trick in Ukraine as Borussia recorded their biggest away victory in the Champions League.
Plea was a late sub in the reverse fixture when the Foals then notched up their biggest home win in the competition before returning to the starting XI against Inter. Although unable to prevent defeat, he did notch up another brace that made him only the third Frenchman to score at least two goals in two consecutive Champions League starts, after David Trezeguet for Juventus in 2003 and Benzema for Madrid last year.
Watch: Plea earned Gladbach a point in Freiburg at the weekend
All told in Europe this season, Plea is averaging a goal or assist every 45 minutes of playing time. He’s also got one of each across his last two Bundesliga games as Gladbach beat Schalke 4-1 and earned a point away at bogey side Freiburg on Saturday, with the striker netting the equaliser.
Add in the form of experienced captain Lars Stindl and Toni Kroos’ apparent successor for Germany, Florian Neuhaus - who have been directly involved in 10 and nine goals this season respectively – and Champions League joint-top scorers Borussia possess far greater firepower than Madrid have mustered up this term.
3) Sommer loving
Gladbach goalkeeper Yann Sommer has proven to be one of the Bundesliga’s most reliable custodians since joining from Basel in 2014, playing in all but six of the club’s league and European fixtures during that time.
Last season he had the league’s best save rate of 76 per cent as the Foals booked their Champions League return, where this term he has made 11 stops across five matches – the same total as Madrid counterpart Courtois while conceding two goals fewer. In the league Sommer averages 2.6 saves per game, while the Belgian tallies in at 2.5.
The Switzerland No.1 also comes into this game with a big psychological edge. Real captain Sergio Ramos has scored three of his five goals this season for club and country from the penalty spot, but has found a nemesis in Sommer. He had two attempts from 12 yards for Spain in their UEFA Nations League game against the Swiss in November but Sommer saved both down low to his right.
4) First-leg blueprint
Gladbach boss Marco Rose has spoken about his team not deviating from their usual possession-based game, but the former Red Bull Salzburg coach has also developed his team in a way that allows them to break teams down with more than just possession play.
An example of that was in the reverse fixture when Real saw two thirds of the ball but fail to create many big chances until right at the end. Borussia, on the other hand, were clinical when opportunities arose. The Foals pressed from the front and hounded the Spanish side into mistakes, including from former Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen pass master Kroos. The most notable error led to Thuram’s opening goal in the first half.
He then started and finished the second, beginning a run from deep inside his own half from a throw-in before tapping home Plea’s shot that Courtois failed to hold. There could well have even been a third from winning possession high up the pitch, but Plea was denied one-on-one after Laszlo Benes’ chipped through ball.
Given that Real likely have to win to avoid failing to get out of the group for the very first time in the Champions League, the Spanish champions can be expected to try and dominate the play again. That means, though, there will be plenty of space for Gladbach to take advantage of when the chances arise. It’s very much a case of same again señor in Madrid.
5) Form favours the Foals
Gladbach are tied with Bayern and Barcelona as the Champions League’s top scorers this season on 16 goals, and have actually had more attempts on target than the holders. Borussia have also lost just two of their last 14 games in all competitions, compared to five over the same period for Real, who have struggled for form.
The 13-time European champions have also lost four of their last seven continental matches (W2, D1) – having tasted defeat in just five of their first 39 under Zidane (W25, D9) – and lost seven of their last 16 (W6, D3).
Their win over Inter on Matchday 3 was just their second in their last eight Champions League home fixtures (D2, L4). Conceding nine goals from the first five group games is also their worst defensive record at this point in the competition’s initial group stage.
The club’s most recent home game on 28 November against Alaves also ended in a 2-1 defeat, meaning Real have been beaten in three of the last five outings on their own turf (W2), which is as many as in their previous 31 fixtures.
Los Blancos appear to be missing their home at the Santiago Bernabeu, where they haven’t played since beating Barcelona 2-0 in March due to construction work. The club have instead been hosting games at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano within their training ground, where it’s been decided they will remain until local authorities once again allow the return of fans. Only then Real will begin to play their matches at the Bernabeu again, but not before Gladbach visit.