Manuel Veth –
There is no doubt that Mahmoud Dahoud is, at the moment, one of the most talented midfielders in German football. Manchester City, and German national team midfielder, Ilkay Gündogan took a moment to comment on Dahoud’s performance in the 1-1 draw between Borussia Mönchengladbach and Manchester City in the group stage of the Champions League:
“I am really impressed by the way Mo plays. The boy’s potential is endless, and I am sure we will see him in the national team very soon.”
There is definitely no doubt that Mahmoud Dahoud has the potential to not only play for the German national team, but that he could also develop into one of the biggest stars of Die Nationalmannschaft. RB Leipzig’s sport director, Ralf Ragnick, recently told the German magazine, kicker, that Dahoud will be a key part of the national team at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and that many nations “will be envious of us for having such a talent in our [national team] squad.”
There is a shadow over Mahmoud Dahoud’s performances this season
At the same time there is, however, a shadow over Dahoud’s performances this season. This is due to the fact that his club side, Borussia Mönchengladbach, have struggled this season—the Fouls are currently just 13th in the Bundesliga with just 13 points after matchday 13.
Gladbach’s struggles were, therefore, a major talking point in the World Football Index Gegenpressing – Bundesliga Podcast this week. Dahoud, especially, seems to have struggled this season, and the midfielder was somewhat invisible during Gladbach’s heavy 4-1 defeat to Borussia Dortmund on Saturday.
As I stated in the podcast, it is somewhat difficult to identify what exactly is going wrong in the midfielder’s game this year. In fact, further research makes it even more difficult to pinpoint the problem, as his stats from this year are fairly comparable to last season’s statistics.
On average, Dahoud covered 12.72km per game last season compared to 12.65km this season, he averaged 15 sprints last season compared to 14 this season, and has been involved in 12 tackles a game compared to 14 last season.
In fact, he has improved his tackling rate, winning 50% of his tackles this season, compared to 49.2% last season and, at the same time, has reduced his number of fouls from 2.31 per game to 1.22 per game. He also has more ball contacts per game this season—87 compared to 74 last year—and he plays more passes—70 per game (82% completion rate) compared to 56 per game (completion rate 83.5%).
Those numbers indicate that Dahoud is, in essence, delivering the same sort of game that he did last year. In fact, Dahoud has already scored once this year in the Bundesliga, which means that, on average, he has scored once in every 594 minutes played this year—as opposed to every 2,083 minutes last season.
André Schubert cannot find a place for Mahmoud Dahoud this season
But what does become apparent is the fact that Dahoud has been less involved when it comes to creating goal-scoring chances for his teammates. This season, the young midfielder has only given one assist, and other than scoring or assisting directly has not been involved in any goal-scoring situation for Gladbach. Last year, for example, Mahmoud Dahoud assisted nine times, and was directly involved in creating five further goals for Gladbach.
Of course, the season is still young, and there is still plenty of time to improve those numbers. At the same time, the numbers indicate that Dahoud has not been able to impose himself on Gladbach’s game this year.
Some of that is perhaps down to age. There is a mantra that young players always find the second season in the Bundesliga more difficult than the first season. Furthermore, Borussia Mönchengladbach lost Granit Xhaka to Arsenal in the summer and, while they compensated for the Swiss’ departure by signing World Cup winner Chirstoph Kramer, Gladbach head coach André Schubert has somewhat struggled to construct a midfield where Kramer and Dahoud can form the same sort of partnership that Dahoud and Xhaka did last season.
Mahmoud Dahoud – Can he play with Kramer and Strobl?
Schubert, in fact, has often preferred to play Kramer together with Tobias Strobl in midfield, as he believes that the two combine more physicality and presence in Gladbach’s midfield. But on matchday 12, Dahoud demonstrated that he can also play effectively with both Kramer and Strobl—with the two playing the defensive part in a three-man midfield, and Dahoud playing as a natural number 10.
Against Dortmund, however, Schubert elected to play Mahmoud Dahoud as one of two defensive midfielders in a 3-5-2 formation, which often looked like a 5-3-2 formation, with Lars Stindl, as the playmaker behind Raffael and Thorgan Harzard. The result was a devastating loss to Dortmund, as Gladbach’s midfield lacked the physical elements, and organization to stop Dortmund’s onslaught.
The game, however, could provide the answer to both Gladbach’s and Dahoud’s problems, as the technically gifted midfielder seems to be more suited playing as a playmaker rather than as a defensive midfielder, which would allow Dahoud to better link up with the two attacking players playing ahead of him. Such a system would also provide more defensive stability at a time when Gladbach are desperate to get their season on track.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, writer for Bundesliga.com, and podcaster for WorldFootballIndex.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.