Borussia Mönchengladbach have won four consecutive Bundelsiga matches for the first time since 1995 and have, with their win over Rhine derby rivals Köln, moved up to top spot in the standings, at least until this weekend’s remaining fixtures are played. Two goals from Hanke and a well taken free kick by Arango settled the match after just 47 minutes. It was another dominant performance from a Gladbach side going from strength to strength while Köln’s fluctuating form continues after a lackluster showing.
Solbakken rued the mill of injuries at the club before the match and explained their erratic form on the absence of key players and continuous changes to the line up. Against Gladbach he had to continue to make due without Novakovic, Sereno, Lanig and Jemal. Favre meanwhile missed the influential Stranzl in defense but in Brouwers had a capable replacement.
Gladbach storm the Rhine-Energie Arena
There were questions ahead of the match about whether the three week break would have a visible effect on Köln’s performance tonight. Unfortunately for their supporters, the lengthy interval proved anything but beneficial. Solbakken set up a practice match with the club’s U-23’s to compensate for their lack of match fitness but it would ultimately prove futile. Gladbach did not spare a second to impose themselves and had their first chance two minutes into the match after Reus found space outside the box and curved a half volley from 25 meters out, a quality strike matched by a quality save from Rensing to spare the blushes. Seconds later Rensing had to make another save after Neustädter connected with a Daems corner. Rather than heed the warning and attempt to cool the game’s fiery tempo down, Köln set about in the same manner, throwing players forward whenever possible with Matuschyk getting Köln’s best chance after a shot from 18 meters went wide.
Disjointed, pinned back and incapable of dealing with Gladbach’s interchangeable front four, Köln had to settle on defending in their own half for the remainder of the half. With the pressure mounting a goal seemed inevitable and after 1037 minutes without a goal, Hanke finally broke the deadlock. Reus played a ball in from the left, which Herrmann laid off for Hanke to place tuck into the bottom left corner. Köln’s positioning was suspect and Gladbach allowed too much time and space to operate between the lines. Ten minutes after the opener Gladbach earned a free kick which the mercurial Arango put away with pinpoint precision. The wheels were coming off the proverbial wagon and only the referee’s whistle saved Köln from further embarrassment.
Gladbach completed 297 of their 336 passes in the first half while Köln only managed 195, of which they completed only 152. A reason for both Köln’s misguided passes and Gladbach’s success was due to the capricious resourcefulness of Gladbach’s front four, who practically kept the hosts busy all by themselves. Reus played his dual tactical role to perfection and utilized the freedom given by Favre with an unmatched verve and efficacy. He had the first chance of the match coming from the right and he set up Hanke’s goal from the left. Reus never stood still and terrorized Köln’s trackers by constantly moving up and down and laterally, at times being Gladbach’s most advanced player and others at the halfway line.
The second half became a formality, the game being handedly decided in the opening 45 minutes and Köln never looking likely to launch a comeback. That did not deter Gladbach though, their will to win a key characteristic under Favre so far and two minutes after the restart they added their third. After Köln moved men forward, Gladbach quickly won possession and launched a counter attack of their own, finished again by Hanke. 3-0 up and over 40 minutes remaining and Gladbach still wanted more. Reus nearly topped off a brilliant solo run before Rensing intervened on 75 minutes. Hanke, Reus and Herrmann were eventually given a rest and the game fizzled out, not that the disappointed Köln supporters would have noticed, many of them walking out before the final whistle.
In an interview before the match, Solbakken confidently claimed that his players have thoroughly taken in and understood his concept and tactics but on the pitch they are often too predictable and over-reliant on their wide play. With next to no threat coming from the middle, Köln have relied on their wingers to create most of their chances and today was no different. The four players making the most runs today for Köln were all four wide players with central players Jajalo and Podolski the least involved. That also left Köln a little thin in the center with Riether and Matuschyk discernibly overwhelmed. If Köln are going to compete with the better sides in the league they need to add some diversity to their play and learn how to react to opponents rather than just engage their own strategy.
With a win next week, Gladbach can equal their record of going five matches unbeaten, something they haven’t done in over 15 years. Gladbach’s resolve has been a real strong point this season as they have yet to lose a game after going ahead, winning 8 and drawing 2. This was also Gladbach’s third consecutive derby win against Köln, scoring a total of 12 goals in the process, dominating the historic rivalry. Favre has not only built one of the best defenses in the league but also one of its’ most fluid and creative attacks.
Despite the poor performance, Köln have already collected 16 points after 14 matches, a stark contrast to the 15 point total last season at the winter break. That is one of the few positives though as their fitful form indicates, something that Solbakken admittedly needs to work on.
Images courtesy of bundesliga.de
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