A weak bench can be costly

This time last year, they were languishing at the bottom of the table. Seven points away from safety, and a game against table toppers Dortmund only made things seem bleaker for The Foals. Another season in Germany’s top flight seemed a far fetched dream. Yet, a month later Lucien Favre managed to lead this Borussia Mönchengladbach side to the relegation play offs. They had earned a remarkable ten points in four games to move into 17th place. They continued their brilliant form in the play offs by beating 2.Bundesliga team VfL Bochum to ensure another season in the Bundesliga.  That brilliant form continued into the new season and after a historic year Gladbach are faced with a completely different predicament.

Having spent just four matchdays outside the top four this season, they are currently in pole position to claim the fourth Champions League spot. Not even the most eccentric augur could have prophesied this sort of a change in their fortunes. Luck has indeed been on Favre’s side, as Gladbach have suffered very few long term injuries, but one cannot discredit the magic of the Swiss genius.

To pin point one player and name him as the sole reason for Gladbach’s exponential rise is almost impossible. Many people might claim that Marco Reus has been their most influential player. To disagree with this would be blasphemous, but he is not the sole reason for their memorable year. Marc-André ter Stegen, Dante, Patrick Herrmann, Juan Arango… the list goes on. This has been a brilliant team effort that has lasted almost an entire year. Sadly, fatigue has begun to creep into the squad and Favre’s main weakness – an extremely weak bench – has been exposed.

Initially sitting in a position to challenge for the title at the end of the Hinrunde, Gladbach have gradually slipped down to fourth and are now having to worry about losing the final Champions League spot. Their worries started with Patrick Herrmann’s injury against Kaiserslautern. Although Gladbach did manage to win that game, their fluency and creativity was greatly reduced following Herrmann’s absence. This was most evident during his month long absence, where The Foals lost to Nürnberg, and managed scrappy draws against Hamburg and Freiburg.

The two players who attempted to fill in for Herrmann, Igor De Camargo and Oscar Wendt, have been disappointing to say the least. Favre has used De Camargo as an outright striker alongside Mike Hanke, pushing Marco Reus onto the right flank. On the other hand, the inclusion of Wendt has seen Reus being used as a striker. It has to be said that this inability to maintain a stable setup was caused the incapability of both Wendt and De Camargo to slot right in. Wendt has playing time in excess of 500 minutes this season, but hasn’t managed to score a single goal nor provide an assist. With experience on his side, a lot more was expected of De Camargo. But the story has been the same. The striker has managed a meager 4 goals all season. This inability to provide adequate back up to an otherwise elegant and efficient system has cost Favre dearly.

The story has been no different in midfield. Roman Neustädter and Håvard Nordtveit have laboriously destroyed opponents game plans all season. To expect an entire season of top notch performances, even from players below 25, may be unrealistic. A drop in form is inevitable, and that is when a good substitute comes into play. An extra pair of legs would have been most useful throughout the season, but the likes of Thorben Marx and Alexander Ring have failed to impress. When one looks at Gladbach’s squad list of, it is shocking to see that there are almost no substitutes worthy of being a part of the first team. If Favre was faced with an injury crisis at any time this season, we could well have seen Gladbach struggle to even make a European spot, let alone the Champions League.

Let us assume that both Herrmann and Juan Arango had suffered injuries at the same time, and were ruled out for at least a month. The names that pop up as replacements are Oscar Wendt and Igor De Camargo. This would mean that Gladbach would be lining up with two sub standard players, and the fielding of a bench of seven senior players seems impossible.

Even with their full squad back, Gladbach are showing signs of being unable to cope up with the wear and tear of an entire season. They are currently on a four game winless streak, and have the dreaded tie against defending champions Borussia Dortmund to come. The real bad news for Gladbach is that Stuttgart’s run of form has put their fourth spot in jeopardy. With a seven point cushion, losing it seems highly improbable. But one must never write anyone off in the world of football and Gladbach would know
best.

On a brighter note, Gladbach are just four points behind third placed Schalke. If they do manage to overhaul Schalke by the end of the season, they will have guaranteed their spot in the group stage of the Champions League. At the moment, hanging on to fourth place will be of utmost importance to Favre, but even if they do lose out to Stuttgart, they will have every right to hold their heads up high after this remarkable season.

 

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