Borussia Monchengladbach fractured a part of it’s spine at the end of the successful 2011-12 season. Roman Neustädter was that chipped off bit of bone that has sadly been lost to Schalke 04. Neustädter and Nordtveit was key to Gladbach’s success. The departures of Dante, Reus and Neustädter was a heavy blow for Gladbach and it’s fans, Reus and Dante have gone up another level, both key assets for Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich respectively. All tough players to replace, Dominguez was brought to replace Dante, after settling in he now looks a worthwhile signing and worthy Dante replacement. Reus’ exit meant Gladbach needed their goals to come from somewhere else, in comes record signing Luuk De Jong, the Dutch striker hasn’t lived up to expectations since his move from Twente.
The start of the season saw Gladbach try again to find a Reus replacement. Max Kruse was the man brought in and the ex St. Pauli and Freiburg man has continued on from his Freiburg success, becoming an instant hit at Gladbach. Neustädter has proven to be just as difficult to replace as Reus, last season Xhaka was brought in but found himself watching a lot of the games from the bench. This left Nordtveit and Marx to form Gladbach’s new spine, although the duo did a good enough job, Gladbach still couldn’t find the right balance. They conceded 25 more goals than the 4th place finish achieved in the 2011/12 season, the goal-scoring wasn’t effected that much, Gladbach only scored 4 less than the 2011-12 season. Despite Marx doing a good job last season he isn’t getting any younger and Gladbach didn’t have much depth in the defensive midfield role, so in came Christoph Kramer.
Who is Christoph Kramer?
The 22-year-old Bayer Leverkusen midfielder has spent two seasons on loan in the 2. Bundesliga with Bochum. The youngster made 61 appearances during his spell at the North Rhine-Westphalia club. Leverkusen already have Bender and Rolfes who occupy Kramer’s position and this summer the club brought in Emre Can from Bayern Munich, playing time at Leverkusen would be limited for Kramer.
The young German has slotted straight into Gladbach’s side. He’s instantly become an important part of this high flying Gladbach side, Kramer has played in all 17 games so far this season, helping Gladbach to a 3rd place spot going into the winter break. The absence of Nordtviet for lots of the Hinrunde has given Kramer a great run of games and he’s certainly taking his chance at proving he’s ready for life in the Bundesliga. The youngster is deservedly keeping Nordtviet out of the side. When his move was announced a lot of fans most likely didn’t know who he was, I certainly didn’t. That’s why Kramer has been a pleasant surprise for Gladbach fans and the whole league.
As previously mentioned Kramer has played in all 17 league games for Gladbach, starting 16 of those games and playing the full 90 minutes on 13 occasions. Playing alongside Granit Xhaka, Kramer has put in a number of impressive performances. Max Kruse and Raffael may be grabbing all the headlines but Kramer is certainly showing a lot of promise. One particular game that Kramer has stood out in was Gladbach’s 4-1 demolition of Werder Bremen. Raffael and Kruse shined the brightest for Gladbach but Kramer produced a strong performance completing 89% of his passes (68 out of 76), he won 6 out of 7 headers, 5 tackles out of 8, intercepted the ball 5 times and made 1 clearance from a dangerous position. Gladbach’s victory away to Stuttgart was another game where he showed how talented he is. Kramer won 4 out of 5 tackles, 4 out of 7 headers, he made 5 interceptions, 4 clearances and he completed 86% of his passes.
The young Swiss talent struggled in his first season with Gladbach, he only managed to play in 22 of the 34 games, starting 15 of them and being subbed on in 7 of the games. Last season Xhaka was guilty of forcing the ball forward when there were easier options and poor attempts on goal (he only hit the target 4 times). This season has seen an improvement in his passing, he’s making better decisions and this has lead to a higher passing accuracy. His shooting still needs work but he’s doing what’s asked of him, breaking up play, controlling the tempo and feeding balls to the quartet of Arango, Herrmann, Raffael and Kruse.
Xhaka’s best display this season came against Mainz. Xhaka had an impressive pass completion of 89%, completing 100 passes out of 112. In a tightly contested match Xhaka made 1 interception, made 4 clearances, won 4 out of 5 tackles and won all of his headers. The progress Xhaka is making this season has been fantastic to watch and it’s something I for one enjoy witnessing.
The young pairing of Kramer and Xhaka has grown game after game, Xhaka is proving his critics wrong, while Kramer has hit the ground running and he’s adapting very well to life at Gladbach . The pair are very similar and both compliment the team and each other well. They are almost identical when it comes to comparing their stats. Kramer has won 61% of his tackles, Xhaka has won 62%, Kramer’s take on success is 69% and Xhaka’s is 71%. Kramer has been more successful with his headed duels, he’s won 56% of his, while Xhaka has won 48%. Both have fantastic passing accuracy as well, Kramer 90% and Xhaka 88%.
Like any decent double-six they have to be able to read the game well and the young pair can certainly do that. Both have made vital interceptions and on a few occasions their defensive work has lead to goals, the best example of this was Gladbach’s opener against Stuttgart. Kramer intercepted a clearance from Stuttgart’s Schwaab, Kramer directed his header to Xhaka, the Swiss then played the ball to Raffael, the Brazilian linked up with Herrmann before taking it round Ulreich and sending Gladbach onto the path to victory.
Kramer and Xhaka are both capable of mixing it up as well, both are very capable in attack and defence. In games they are constantly switching their roles which is proving effective, making them unpredictable and hard to play against. One sits back to protect the Centre Backs, allowing the fullbacks to push forward and means Gladbach aren’t too vulnerable from counter attacks. The other one then pushes forward to find space and create another attacking option.
Lets hope Kramer and Xhaka continue to improve and develop this promising midfield partnership even further. Lucien Favre has show a lot of trust in this partnership and it’s fantastic that it’s paying off. I for one will be hoping Gladbach are able to sign Kramer permanently after his loan spell, he’s already making his mark and I’m sure there will be plenty of suitors come the end of the season.
Article for TheFootyRoom.