Bundesliga Transfer Analysis: Sebastian Rode and Mario Gomez

​The awakening of the new football season is nearly upon us “Commuters” of the footballing society and as always, there is a sense of optimism, and scepticism regarding the widely renowned annual transfer window. Considering the wide variety of transfers already completed during the summer of 2016, a minute collection of chosen key transfer deriving from the five preeminent leagues of European football have been carefully selected to be analysed within this series of upcoming articles. The selected signings will be assessed on the following;

– How the signings attributes (talents, tactical tendencies) will benefit their new respective outfits.

– How the player will be deployed within the teams system/formation.

Part 3: Bundesliga

Arguably the beautiful games most tactically astute league, the Bundesliga is the last of the supposedly 5 major European divisions to begin it’s campaign. Though the tactical mastermind that is Pep Guardiola has reignited his tactical revolution through a move to the Premier League, Carlo Ancelotti is a fine replacement. Not to mention the array of transfers which has lit up the footballing world. 

Borussia Dortmund’s business has been highly regarded, with media and supporters alike appreciating the influx of youthful, yet talented acquisitions. Take Raphael Guerreiro for example. A brilliant coup having starred in Portugal’s glorious EURO 2016 campaign, Guerreiro is adept as either a Left Back or Left Winger. One signing perhaps more experienced in comparison with others was the securing of midfielder Sebastian Rode. Captured from title rivals Bayern Munich for €14m, Rode failed to maintain a consistent place within the starting line up of the reigning Bundesliga Champions. Yet Rode will add necessary quality and depth, following Dortmund’s return to the UEFA Champions League. 

In similarity to many other modern defensive midfielders, Sebastian Rode is very comfortable with possession of the ball, and subsequently beholds competency when passing. Able to play diagonal passes, allowing wide players to influence chance creation, Rode is adept at progressing possessional build up, rarely giving possession away in the process (Rode achieved an average passing accuracy of 88% for Bayern Munich during 2015-16). The ability to progress buildup was exemplified during the recent DFL Super Cup final between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich; Rode would drop into the space between respective central defenders (Marc Bartra and Sokratis) to add another passing option. This allowed Rode to continue build up play in a progressive fashion, by carrying the ball from defence into the heart of midfield. Though Borussia Dortmund lost the match 0-2 Thomas Tuchel’s side were superior to the Bavarian giants for large quantities of the game. 


Furthermore, the passing range displayed by Sebastian Rode conveys even further footballing preeminence, in the sense that it exemplifies both tactical awareness and continuity with teammates; Rode’s occupying of central spaces allows observance of wide areas, allowing the opportunity to expand play by simply spraying diagonal passes, which would be met by overlapping runs made by either Full Back, or vertical passes between defensive lines. The directness in Borussia Dortmund’s play will aim to bring the best out of the wide midfielders; Ousmane Dembele and Andre Schurrle for example, are very quick, and will likely utilise their pace to make diagonal runs into the final third. Both Dembele and Schurrle will add extra goalscoring capabilities from midfield areas, and allow Full Backs to overlap therefore creating two possible passing interchanges for Rode.

During possible opposition counter attacks, Rode’s admirable positional awareness would assist in terms of maintaining the structure of Borussia Dortmund’s formation, and the congestion of tight spaces that could be ran into. Space congestion is crucial, as certain areas within the final third can be exposed through diagonal runs, spaces between lines would be essential to impede on vertical passes made into exposed areas closer to goal. Rode displayed deployment of space congestion during the recent Super Cup defeat to former club Bayern Munich; If Bayern Munich retained posssession, Rode would drift into wide areas and the half spaces, congesting space and thus relinquishing two aspects; passing options at Bayern’s disposal and the impact of Thomas Müller, positioned in the Interior role and Inverted Winger Franck Ribery. This itself is a prime example of tactical awareness, as Rode was able to analyse the importance of width regarding Bayern Munich’s new footballing approach; under Carlo Ancelotti, Bayern’s attacking build up is much more flexible and reliant on off ball runs/intricate movement, in sheer contrast from the structured and rather narrow possession orientated build up orchestrated by Pep Guardiola. 


Moreover, Rode is a superb tackler of the ball, which is brought to good effect by great reading of the game. Always willing to win possession at all costs, Rode’s dynamism would add a sense of aggression to Dortmund’s rather composed midfield, though unecessary fouls tend to be completed. 

Though not the most exceedingly versatile of Borussia Dortmund’s midfielders, Sebastian Rode would be adequate within an array of tactical variations. The frequently used formation, 4-2-3-1 is deployed effectively by Thomas Tuchel, orientating the game plan around quick, direct football with flexibility in possession, while counter pressing without possession of the ball. This particular system arguably suits the strengths of Rode, as Rode will be supported by another holding midfielder, functioning coherently as a double pivot. Rode in fact shares many a similarity with fellow holding midfielder Julian Weigl, both midfielders would complement each other well, immersing both similarities and differences

Similarities

– Both Sebastian Rode and Julian Weigl display composure in possession and possess admirable passing ranges. Diagonal passes and passes made to on running forwards would be played from deep, offering a direct style of build, as well as the more patient, possession orientated buildup.

– Tackling comes naturally to both holding midfielders, bringing solidity and awareness to Dortmund’s space between midfield and defence. A Weigl/Rode double pivot would convey a more defensive approach to Borussia Dortmund’s game plan and off possession movement; a front line press, rather than counter pressing would be deployed, as both Rode and Weigl would aim to maintain structure.

– Both Weigl and Rode like to drop from their midfield positions into defensive areas to act as another passing option to receive the ball so buildup can be progressed; either midfielder after receiving possession would carry the ball back into midfield, attracting pressure before offloading possession into dangerous areas. Rode’s ability to progress possessional build up in defensive areas connotes the possibility of being deployed as an extra Centre Back (within a 3-4-3 formation) Playing as a alternative Centre Back would allow more direct passing options from defence, without having to leave space in midfield, as well as more space in the half spaces for wingers to move in towards, which would subsequently allow more attacking freedom for the Wing backs, with the knowledge that Rode will cover space left exposed (linking to attribute of space congestion).

Differences

– Weigl is much greater at outmanoeuvring opposition player with quick deft touches, where as Rode can carry the ball through tight spaces, perhaps this is because Rode possesses greater physiclaity in comparison to Weigl.

– Weigl tends to play passes that are longer in distance as well as effective ground passes.

Though starting ahead of Weigl in both the DFL Super Cup, against Bayern Munich and Dortmund’s first Bundesliga game of the season (Dortmund secured a 2-1 win against Mainz), Weigl is a fan favourite and it would be very surprising to see the 20 year-old as an impact substitute, regardless of his age. It may seem unidentifiable with Tuchel’s style of football if a Weigl-Rode double pivot was to take place, Dortmund’s quick pressing is pivotal, and there would be a supreme lack of pace in midfield area. Perhaps squad rotation may come into place. The double pivot would be much more complacent within the UEFA Champions League, due to extra weariness and protection needed in defensive areas. 

Borussia Dortmund are obviously not the only Bundesliga club to have brought in new additions. Wolfsburg have secured the services of well travelled striker Mario Gomez, who has returned his native Bundesliga, following a season-long spell with Turkish side Beisktas. Gomez’s 28 goals spearheaded a successful title winning campaign and a well deserved return to the pinnacle of European Football. The question is, can Mario Gomez score 20+ goals this time around? 

Firstly, Mario Gomez is a predatory striker, and has showcased great goalscoring capabilities across Europe over the last 9 years; other than an injury hit 2013-14 season with Serie A side Fiorentina, Mario Gomez has achieved double figures in the goalscoring department in every season from 2006-07 onwards, with a career high totaling 41 goals for Bayern Munich (2011-12). The signing of Mario Gomez can be considered  necessary, bringing an aura of confidence along the way, as no Wolfsburg player scored more than 8 goals in the Bundesliga during the 2015-16 campaign.

This collection of highly impressive statistics immersed by Gomez come as a result of the German International’s direct approach; Mario Gomez is an archetype, or classic “9”. This means Gomez rarely drops off the shoulder of the defender, or moves deeper into midfield areas. Though less impact within midfield spaces conveys very little impact within possessional build up, thus arguably regulating the overall quality of the respective teams football, Gomez adds expert finishing qualities that can be put to good use through effective wing play and/or direct counter attacks; Wolfsburg are at their most preeminent when players positioned in Wide areas are productive and effective regarding attacking buildup. Much of threat offers by Wolfsburg comes from the movement and skill of either Winger and Full Back, this was exemplified during both UEFA Champions League group stage encounters against Manchester United. Gomez would enhance the impact of wide players, as Gomez would offer a direct option for when crosses are played into the penalty area. 

A theoretical example of this would be a crossing interchange made by attacking Full Back Ricardo Rodriguez, a previous transfer target of Manchester City, with a teammate making a run in the 12-yard box dragging the marker away to add space and time for the ball to be headed by Gomez. Respectable physique, ability in the air and awareness would allow Gomez to be the fulcrum of Wolfsburg’s attack. Is this a positive or negative aspect? Because Gomez is less likely to drift into midfield, more space would be allocated for either wingers to drift inside, or for the “10” to dictate chance creation and though not necessarily creative, Gomez would allow teammates to make runs into, while attracting pressure from markers.


Would it be possible for Mario Gomez to form a partnership with Julian Draxler? Gomez’s introduction to the German starting XI during the recently finished UEFA European Championships resulted in more convincing performances from the FIFA World Cup Champions, in the sense that German replaced a “False 9” with a traditional striker. This implementation resulted in less space congestion within the “10” space, revitalising the impact of Mesut Özil, who drifted across the centre and half spaces, subsequently maintaining possessional structure. Julian Draxler was a bright spark in a rather conservative European Championships; Draxler’s trickery, guile, directness and continuity with Left Back Jonas Hector brought an extra sense of excitement to the German team, with Draxler performing excellent against Slovakia during the Second Round.

In conclusion, Mario Gomez is likely to feature as a lone striker within a 4-2-3-1 formation, but could function within a balanced strike partnership, with the option to pressurise from the front line. Perhaps the traditional 4-4-2 may be the better option following the overall lack of goals last season and Wolfsburg’s 8th place finish. 

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Author: Ryan Quinn

A freelance football journalist, focusing on the historical and tactical sides of the beautiful game.