He has been likened to Granit Xhaka, Paul Pogba and Patrick Vieira, but what does Borussia Mönchengladbach's new midfield dynamo Denis Zakaria make of the illustrious comparisons?


"I know all about the Xhaka talk, but I'm not giving it much thought. I've also been compared to [Patrick] Vieira and [Paul] Pogba – two more players I really respect and, in a way, see as role models. When I watch videos of them I think I'd like to play that way. What's important, though, is that people recognise I'm not trying to copy anyone. I'm trying to be the best Zakaria I can possibly be."

Early career dalliances as a striker and then a defender will certainly help the three-time Switzerland international’s cause. Zakaria has also completed an incredible 100 per cent of his passes in the Bundesliga and comes complete with a rangy athleticism tailor-made for a box-to-box role; not that the Gladbach No.8 is claiming to be the finished article… yet.

"I'm happiest in midfield," the 20-year-old summer signing from Young Boys affirmed. "I can interpret the role defensively or offensively. I love to win back possession and I also like carrying the ball and taking on opposition players, but I need to be more efficient, score and assist more goals and improve in the air. I've proved myself to be a quick learner, though, and I'm in the best place to learn fast."

Watch: Zakaria enjoyed a winning Bundesliga debut on Matchday 1

Few would disagree. Gladbach made a man out of Xhaka and did not think twice about fast-tracking youth academy product Mahmoud Dahoud - now of Borussia Dortmund - to the senior ranks. The baton now firmly in Zakaria's hands, the Swiss-army-knife midfielder is carving his own niche at the home of the Rhineland's most successful club.

"It's just fantastic the way Denis has settled in," Borussia head coach Dieter Hecking said of Zakaria. "He's certainly arrived in the Bundesliga, but he needs to go about his work in the midfield without getting booked."

It is a word of warning Gladbach fans have heard before. Xhaka, who left the club to join Arsenal in summer 2016, was the archetypal midfield general. He defended with honour, scored goals and even captained the side in 2015/16, but was also something of a hot head (29 bookings, including five red-card offences, in 108 Bundesliga appearances). Zakaria has already been cautioned twice.

"I was shown a yellow card for a stupid tackle," he admitted after going into the referee's little black book for the second successive weekend against Augsburg on Matchday 2. "It was my mistake. It's something I need to work on."

Not wanting to risk going a man down, Hecking withdrew first-half goalscorer Zakaria shortly after the hour-mark at the WWK Arena. Gladbach were leading 2-1 at the time, but a late Sergio Cordova effort ensured the contest ended all square.

"Obviously I'm delighted to have scored my first Bundesliga goal, but we're a bit disappointed with the result," Zakaria admitted. "We didn't play well in the second half - we gave too much away at the back. We've got Eintracht Frankfurt next, and that's a game we really want to win."

Chris Mayer-Lodge

Click here for the latest Borussia Mönchengladbach news