From relegation play-offs to a fight for the Bundesliga title, Lucien Favre has transmogrified the hopes and dreams of Borussia Mönchengladbach and its faithful supporters. At this time last season, Gladbach were struggling at the bottom of the table with vague hopes of remaining in the league. A year later sees a complete reversal in fortunes for the club, as they are currently enjoying a Champions League spot and a run of form not seen in years. Borussia-Park has been an impenetrable fortress, with Gladbach yet to lose at home while German starlet Marco Reus has been their lynchpin and one of the league’s best performers. The Bundesliga offers a surprise package nearly every season but few would have even in their faintest dreams predicted Gladbach’s incredible season so far. Bundesliga supporter and football writer Aditya Balaram takes a look at their memorable campaign so far.
THE CONTINUAL RISE OF MARCO REUS
Lucien Favre has managed to extract the very best out of young Marco Reus over the last year. Under former coach, Michael Frontzeck, Reus played the role of a winger, but not a goal scoring one. And although Reus performed admirably he still lacked the consistency to be one of the league’s best. The arrival of Favre saw Reus being given a lot more freedom on the pitch, allowing the midfielder/striker to express his goalscoring abilities a lot more effectively.
The 2011-12 season has seen Reus move into a far more central role. A mere six months was enough for Favre to put complete faith in the youngster, making him the pivotal figure in the team’s attack. Compared to last season, where Reus was just a small addition to the Gladbach attack, this season has seen Reus grow into the focal point of Gladbach’s attack. Reus’s growth as a player has been truly immense, something every budding footballer requires to ensure he moves into the big league and the team has reaped the rewards.
Gladbach haven’t managed a great number of goals this season. In fact, they have only scored 25 goals in 17 games. Out of these 25 goals, Marco Reus has scored a whopping 10 goals in 15 games, making him the 6th highest scorer in the Bundesliga this season. Released of his duties to create, Favre has let Reus loose on the competition and Gladbach’s current position is testimony to Favre’s successful ploy to use Reus as a goal scorer rather than a provider.
Without Reus, Die Fohlen have struggled in attack. He missed their games against Borussia Dortmund and FC Augsburg, and his absence cost Gladbach dearly. In the Dortmund game, they managed a total of 13 shots out of which only 3 were on target and managed to score just one goal. The Augsburg game wasn’t any different. 13 shots in total, 5 on target and no goals scored. These statistics just reiterate the importance of the 22 year old.
It is no surprise then that teams from around the league and Europe have been clamoring for his services and a deal was struck this week, sending Reus back to Borussia Dortmund where he came up as a youth player. Reus will remain with Gladbach until the end of the season but will make the move in the summer.
IT ALL STARTS IN DEFENCE
Mönchengladbach have clearly learned their lesson from last season. Gladbach conceded an astonishing 49 goals last Hinrunde. The arrivals of Håvard Nordtveit from Arsenal and Martin Stranzl from Spartak Moscow were crucial in patching up this defensive leak. Following these two signings and Favre’s defensive restructuring, Gladbach managed to concede just 16 goals in their remaining 17 games.
This season has been no different. Favre’s men have shown a great degree of resoluteness in defense, conceding just 11 goals in 17 games. With the second best defensive record in the Bundesliga, it is clear as to why Gladbach are sitting comfortably in fourth place, playing up to the old adage that all great teams start in defense. Dante and Stranzl are easily among the top center back pairings in the Bundesliga this season, if not the best. Captain, Filip Daems, continues to toil ever so hard down that left flank, while youngster Tony Jantschke has shown fair improvement over the last few months.
The main worry for Favre will be his squad depth, primarily in defense. Barring Roel Brouwers, who filled in admirably for Stranzl early this season, Favre hasn’t had to call upon his remaining defenders to fill in for his regulars. A long term injury to the likes of Dante or Daems could prove detrimental to Gladbach’s ambitions for a European spot.
EFFICIENCY AT ITS BEST
Roman Neustädter and Havard Nordtveit have been the driving force in Gladbach’s midfield. Prior to the arrival of Nordveit last season, Gladbach conceded 46 goals in 19 games. The inclusion of Nordveit alongside Neustädter has given birth to one of the most effective midfield duos in the Bundesliga. The brilliance of this defensive midfield pairing has also seen Gladbach’s goal scoring increase almost two-fold. Nordveit has missed just one game for Die Fohlen, against Augsburg, which they ended up losing 1-0. No wonder Arsene Wenger was so reluctant to let go of young Nordtveit.
Neustädter has grown a great deal since his days at Mainz. At just 23, he has become the epitome of fitness and hard work. Favre needs to keep his fingers crossed and hope that these two youngsters can continue their exceptional form into the Ruckrunde although he may not have that luxury given recent comments from the player hinting at a possible move after the summer. Nevertheless, the two midfielders have built a chemistry that has reverberated throughout the rest of the team and aided in Gladbach’s resolute possession and passing game.
MOST MEMORABLE GAMES
Bayern Munich 0-1 Borussia Mönchengladbach
Gladbach kicked off their 2011-12 campaign against the ever so dangerous Bayern Munich. The daunting trip to the Allianz Arena proved to be a dream start for Gladbach as they managed to sneak a memorable victory, albeit courtesy a Manuel Neuer error. Although Bayern were the more dominant team, a resolute performance from goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen and some good fortune, saw Gladbach pick up three hugely important points on Matchday 1.
Borussia Mönchengladbach 2-2 Bayer Leverkusen
Leverkusen traveled to Borussia-Park on Matchday 9 after a thumping at the hands of league leaders Bayern Munich. Gladbach had dropped just two points at home and were expected to make quick work of Leverkusen. After Reus and Hermann put Gladbach 2-1 up and Leverkusen had Gonzalo Castro sent off, Favre must have thought he had the three points in the bag. But, all of Gladbach’s hopes of another home win were shattered by Andre Schürrle in the 87th minute. These two points that were dropped could cost Gladbach at the end of the season.
Borussia Mönchengladbach 5-0 Werder Bremen
This was by far Gladbach’s most dominant performance in the Hinrunde. Reus was at his goal scoring best, destroying Bremen’s defense with a hat-trick. Goals from Mike Hanke and Juan Arango sealed it for Favre’s men, extending their unbeaten run at home to ten games. A repeat of this performance at the Weserstadion will help Gladbach remain at the top of the standings and on the road to Europe.
Fitness will be Favre’s main cause for worry in 2012. So far, lady luck has smiled on Favre, having relatively few injuries to worry about. But with a fairly weak bench, injuries could see Gladbach slip to a mid-table position come the end of the season. A couple of good signings in the winter transfer window are necessary for Gladbach to maintain this momentum throughout the season. Gladbach’s absence from European football will be a major boon for Favre and his men, as the likes of Schalke, Bayern, Hannover and Leverkusen might begin to have injury woes owing to their European duties.
Should everyone stay healthy and the side be able to rally around the imminent departure of their star player, Gladbach may very well quality for Europe for the first time since the 1990’s. Favre’s system is firmly in place and Gladbach don’t have the pressures of their competitions to deal with.
You can find Aditya on twitter @adi_balaram
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