Borussia Monchengladbach displayed the strong team ethic instilled by Coach Lucien Favre Sunday, and even if not at their very best, took all three points against a frustrating Stuttgart side by a 3-0 margin. The Foals kept pace with league leaders Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Schalke in earning their eighth clean sheet of the season, while Stuttgart retain a wobbly hold on the table’s tenth spot.
The two teams came into Sunday’s match from opposite form. Stuttgart had a relatively successful Hinrunde, but tailed off late, only adding one point to their total of 22 in their last five league matches — their only recent win being their 2-1 victory over Hannover in December’s DFB Pokal matchup. Bruno Labbadia unveiled two new Stuttgart players in Sunday’s lineup — veteran Bosnian international Vedad Ibišević, just acquired from Hoffenheim, and German U-19 backliner Antonio Rüdiger, all of 18 years old.
Borussia Monchengladbach, meanwhile, started out the Ruckrunde with a bang, humbling Bayern Munich at Borussia Park 3-1, as Patrick Herrmann opened more eyes with his goal-scoring brace. Lucien Favre’s club pulled within a point of table-toppers Bayern, Dortmund and Schalke — but with each winning earlier on MatchDay 19, the pressure was on the Foals to capture all three points at Mercedes-Benz Arena to keep pace.
The first half began with both teams exhibiting the type of caution befitting a contest whose result was so mutually important. Newcomer Ibišević was seldom found in attack, as his few days with the club and the unfamiliarity between him and his teammates was apparent, while young Rüdiger displayed some debutante nerves, sending two crosses too deep into the box to be effective. Gladbach superstar Marco Reus was quiet early on, although his few early touches always carried threat with them. The game’s first corner didn’t occur until the 18th minute as opportunities by both teams were betrayed by passes just a bit out of reach and good defending by their opponent. Tamas Hajnal had a chance very early but directed his shot right at Gladbach goalkeeper ter Stegen, whereas Gladbach midfielder Juan Arango had two chances but both shots were well off target.
But the discrepancy in the quality of teamwork between the two clubs eventually put Gladbach ahead for good. Though they didn’t gain their first corner until the 28th minute following an effective Herrmann dash upfield, Gladbach earned the first truly threatening chance of the match when Juan Arango’s shot was blocked off the goalline. Three minutes later, the Foals were on the scoreboard. A offbalance foul by Rüdiger resulted in a free kick attempt by Reus, whose ball in the box found hard-working Mike Hanke, who netted for the fourth time this season, giving Gladbach a lead they wouldn’t surrender.
Stuttgart’s excellent goalkeeper, Sven Ulreich, made a fine save on Juan Arango near the 38th minute mark to keep the Swabians in the match, while Tamas Hajnal was stopped by the very talented ter Stegen and a good free kick by Hajnal hit the near post to end the half at 1-0.
Stuttgart came out more energized early in the second half than they had in the first, but top-drawer defending by Gladbach nullified Stuttgart efforts. Martin Stranzl’s fine tackle destroyed one Stuttgart foray at the 49th minute and Tony Jantschke flicked away possession deep in the box from Ibisevic after the forward had done well chesting down a pass. A combination of Ulreich’s quality backstopping and Gladbach’s errant finishing kept Stuttgart in the match despite the Swabians own rather dismal attempts in Gladbach’s third.
But the dam burst in the 81st minute, drowning Stuttgart hopes of finding a point, when the Foals, the best counter attacking club in the Bundesliga, doubled their lead as Herrmann found the streaking Reus with a quality throughball that the Dortmund-bound attacker could not waste. Herrmann played provider again three minutes later, sending substitute Igor de Camargo to finalize the score at 3-0.
Although Reus and Herrmann provided the offensive heroics, it was again Gladbach’s quality of defending that frustrated Stuttgart all day long. The return of the irrepressible Dante, who connected on 45 of 46 passes, certainly helped, but this is a team that can seemingly defend with quality no matter which four players start at the back, as Oscar Wendt deputized well for Filip Daems, a late scratch. Håvard Nordtveit and Roman Neustädter both covered more ground than any Swabian while Ter Stegen was called upon to make five saves en route to his clean sheet, but most were of a routine nature. Gladbach continue to increase their positive goal differential even on a day when their own finishing was mostly off-target. In their first two post-winter break matches, they’ve outscored Bayern Munich and Stuttgart away by an aggregate 6-1…. and before that they defeated Schalke in the Pokal 3-1. This is a remarkable club fully capable of earning the salad bowl in May.
What a contrast with the disappointing Stuttgart club. Not known for their Hinrunde performances in recent years, Stuttgart gained four points in their first two matches last August against Schalke and Gladbach. One can point to the absence of Bouhlarouz, Gebhart and Delpierre, but Bruno Labbadia still had the luxury of fielding a veteran Bundesliga side (except for the inclusion of debutantes Rüdiger and his late substitute, Raphael Holzhauser — each performing decently) and playing before a home crowd. Unlucky perhaps in their finishing, still the sum lags behind the whole. One can point to many positives at Stuttgart this season, including the acquisition of Mexican international Maza and now the addition of Ibisevic, but the team still manages to underachieve and collapse as the match goes on, despite Labbadia having talents such as Shinji Okazaki and Julian Scheiber (albeit a bit rusty) to pull from the bench.
Unaware of any internal personality clashes, it is puzzling why this team that on paper looks talented enough to pursue a European spot, fails to rise to most occasions. Lack of fitness? Fragile mentality? It amazes that a club abounding with so many players who regularly represent their nations in international play can perform so casually in important matches. Something is certainly amiss.