Name: Granit Xhaka
Club: Borussia Mönchengladbach
Position: Midfield (central)
Age: 22 (27 September, 1992)
Height: 1.85 m
Weight: 82 kg
Key attributes: Passing variety, football IQ.
Granit Xhaka was born and grew up in Basel and like many other Swiss players, he is from an immigrant background as his parents arrived from Kosovo before his birth. Due to that, he grew up in Kleinbasel, a part of Basel known for a much higher percentage of immigrants. Xhaka was introduced to football at the age of four and joined FC Concordia Basel, a club he played for until his move to FC Basel at the age of eleven. At FC Basel, he received the majority of his professional football education before making his first team debut for the club on July 28th, 2010. One year before his professional debut, he was part of the Swiss under 17 team that won the World Cup in Nigeria. The squad featured players like Wolfsburg's Ricardo Rodriguez or Frankfurt's Haris Seferovic. In the two years he played for Basel's first team, he grew in stature and was widely recognised as a special talent. Together with Xherdan Shaqiri, he represented not only Basel's, but also Switzerland's future. Especially the coach of the Swiss National Team, Ottmar Hitzfeld, was always outspoken about Xhaka's talent: labelling him as a 'young Schweinsteiger' and praising his high football IQ. Since Hitzfeld rated him highly, it came as no surprise that Xhaka made his debut for Switzerland against England at Wembley, at the age of 19.
The summer of 2012 was a time of great change for Granit Xhaka. Switzerland had missed out on the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine and he had already achieved all he could with Basel. Maybe independently from another or with each other's intention in mind, both Xhaka and Shaqiri decided to leave Basel. The former joining fellow Swiss Lucien Favre in Gladbach, the latter moved to Bayern München. The move to a different club was not the only change. Xhaka swiftly went from a leading player in Basel to a young, highly promising player with much to learn in Gladbach. The first season represented quite a struggle for the young player as he often found himself on the bench or not in the squad at all. Only at the beginning and the end of the season, Favre gave him successive full games. While it was evident that Xhaka needed to improve, Gladbach's results during that season as well as Xhaka's inconsistent performances were largely linked to the significant turnover of players in Gladbach's squad. Gladbach had lost their entire spine, with Dante, Marco Reus and Roman Neustädter and replaced them with rather young and inexperienced players. With a more settled squad, Xhaka's first season might have been entirely different. While his first season wasn't all that impressive, Gladbach stood by him and he became significantly more consistent in his second season.
While similarities to Schweinsteiger can be seen, Xhaka is not quite there yet. His passing has improved, both in accuracy as well as in variety. He has also become a much more dominant figure and there is a naturalness with which he demands the ball, leading to an increase in touches and passes per game. Gladbach's style of football suits him well. Two powerful but mobile midfielders (other options are Kramer and Nordtveit) that are defensively solid and good on the ball. Favre's central midfielders do not have to affect attacking play to great extent - which works for Xhaka. Gladbach's system with two wingers and two strikers - and their quality - allows the midfielders to take care of the easier things. Retaining possession, keeping the ball moving, initiating transition play - but they do not necessarily have to contribute greatly in terms of goals and assists. While as mentioned, this works in Xhaka's favour at Gladbach, it has to be considered a weakness as well. Currently, Xhaka would have to be employed in a two-man-midfield, with a partner somewhat similar to him. He probably would not be suited as a lone defensive midfielder or as a central midfielder of which goals are expected. Talking about weaknesses, Xhaka's discipline has to be mentioned. Last season's record of a booking every 200 minutes is nothing to be proud of. However so far, this season looks to be much more positive (one booking).
Another impressive feature of both Xhaka and Gladbach is their ability to adapt their style of play and the impact they have on the game depending on the opponent. Xhaka is equally confident with a lot of possession and many touches (117, 110 and 108 v Mainz, Köln and Stuttgart, respectively) as he is in games when it is more about chasing the opposition and putting tackles in. This can be seen in the comparison between his season stats and his stats v Bayern. Since Gladbach only had 28% of the ball (53.25% in the season), possession stats naturally decreased, but defensive stats increased. While it could be argued that this change is logical, it still indicates the player is comfortable with either type of play and can tailor his strengths to what the match demands from him.
- Aerial duels
- Attacking prowess