A stoppage-time goal by Álvaro Domínguez earned Gladbach a point in a poor game played at Borussia Park. A stunning goal by Rafael Van der Vaart was cancelled out by a Stranzl header from a corner, but Artoms Rudŋevs put Fink’s men ahead with the last kick of the first half with an excellent header. Hamburg had the perfect chance to make it 1-3 after Iličević was brought down in the area by Stranzl, but Rafael Van der Vaart hit the post from the spot after the Austrian man was sent off. Hamburg had other chances to increase their lead but their inability to do so meant that they leave with a point and a bitter taste in what should have been a comfortable win for them.
Lineups and tactics
Lucien Favre tweaked his side after the weekend’s lucky 1-1 draw against Leverkusen. His 4-2-3-1 changed to a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1. Álvaro Domínguez was back in the side in place of Roel Brouwers and Tolga Ciğerci was replaced, by Mike Hanke, with Granit Xhaka moving back into central midfield and Hanke partnering Luuk de Jong in attack, flanked by Arango and Herrmann.
As expected, Thorsten Fink fielded an unchanged side from the excellent 3-2 victory against Borussia Dortmund. Many expected Heiko Westermann to play in holding midfield this year but Fink seems to prefer him in defence with Michael Mancienne, allowing new signing Milan Badelj to accompany Tolgay Arslan in that role, once again placed a bit deeper than he is used to. Van der Vaart sits in front of him pulling the strings in attack and Ivo Iličević gets another start after his goal against the reigning champions. Heung-Min Son is on the other wing following his excellent brace and Artoms Rudŋevs starts once again up front in favour of Marcus Berg.
It took a few minutes for the teams to warm up but it seemed like Gladbach had the upper hand, with the first chance of the game falling to Luuk de Jong on 8 minutes, shooting just wide after Westermann failed to clear. The reply came soon enough, after Artoms Rudŋevs powered through the home defence but saw his low shot blocked by ter Stegen. This seemed to open the game up a bit but HSV took possession of the ball, helped greatly by the fact that Gladbach were giving it away cheaply in midfield and weren’t pressuring the away defence in attack, allowing die Rotenhosen to bring it out of defence calmly and construct play easily.
It was a slow game until the 22nd minute, when Rafael Van der Vaart saw his free kick kicked away by the wall, with the clearance reaching all the way back to Rene Adler. The Hamburg goalkeeper kicked it up field on the left flank, with Westermann winning the header and flicking it backwards to Van der Vaart himself, who on the volley from 25 yards out unleashed an unstoppable shot from the left past the helpless ter Stegen, a truly stunning strike that is an early contender for Goal of the Year. The advantage could have been doubled ten minutes later as another Gladbach defensive error, this time from Martin Stranzl, saw Tolgay Arslan nip behind him and pick up the bouncing ball, with the Turkish midfielder squaring it to Ivo Iličević, who cut inside but saw his shot blocked by Tony Jantschke as the goal seemed inevitable. Stranzl then went from villain to hero. Five minutes before the break, Nordtveit whipped a perfect outswinging corner and the Austrian rose above Heiko Westermann to power the header in past a static Adler and level the scores for die Fohlen. The goal was against the run of play and arguably undeserved but the home fans did not care one bit. However, the joy didn’t last very long. In the last kick of the first half, Artoms Rudŋevs scored a header after a Van der Vaart cross from the right, of course after Gladbach had once again lost the ball in their own half. It was the first ever Bundesliga goal from the Latvian striker signed from Lech Poznań in the summer.
The second half started very differently to the first. After 7 minutes, Tony Jantschke was dispossessed by Iličević on the left wing, and the Croatian striker entered the box but was brought down by Martin Stranzl, and referee Deniz Aytekin had no choice but to award a penalty and to send the Austrian defender off, despite his protests. No other but HSV’s Dutch midfield maestro was going to take this penalty and you would mostly put your house on him scoring after the good game he was having. However, his effort clipped ter Stegen’s right post and went out, leaving the Dutchman with his head in his hands. In any case, with an extra man and dominating play, it didn’t seem like a disaster for Fink’s men. Favre brought on Tolga Ciğerci on for the invisible de Jong and pushed Nordtveit into central defence, but further problems came for the Swiss coach as Patrick Herrmann limped off after what seemed like a blow on his ankle, being replaced by Swedish attacker Branimir Hrgota.
Gladbach insisted in not wanting to keep the ball but HSV did not capitalise on this. Most of the time, the ball was being played by the away team inside the home half but without them being able to find a breakthrough. Efforts by Van der Vaart and Rudŋevs brought no real danger, and Gladbach seemed to be punting the ball up to Hanke up front, who had little chance to do much by himself. After Stranzl’s sending off, but Favre’s new 4-4-1 formation didn’t seem to be going anywhere. If there was any team looking likely to score, that was Hamburg, but their constant failure to do so made it inevitable to think that they could live to regret it later on.
The home side’s first and best chance of the half came from a Juan Arango free kick on the edge of the area that hit the side netting, a shot that had half of the stadium celebrating thinking it had gone in. Favre’s last throw of the dice came when he took Jantschke off for Igor De Camargo and Gladbach tried to do in 5 minutes what they hadn’t done in the whole match. And despite them not deserving it entirely, one may say that HSV’s wastefulness was duly punished. In the first minute of stoppage time, Hrgota was fouled on the right flank inside the Hamburg half and Juan Arango whipped in a perfect ball in that met the head of Álvaro Domínguez and sailed into the back of the net, sending the stadium into raptures. The Hamburg players could not believe it and most probably neither could the Gladbach ones. Once again, they had got out of jail free and earned a point where there seemed to be nothing there for them. It was almost the last action of the game, a match that will leave both teams unhappy overall and that will give plenty of food for thought for both managers.
This match pitched together two teams in desperate need of a win and Lucien Favre made that clear with his change of tactics and a more attacking formation. However, fielding a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 against a team with a 4-2-3-1 can mean that the latter will have an advantage in numbers and therefore possession in the middle, and that was what happened. Gladbach seemed that they didn’t want the ball tonight and they were lucky that HSV aren’t really a counterattacking team or the result could have been a lot different. Their wastefulness in midfield was rivalled only by their defensive mistakes, with all their defenders putting in a poor shift tonight, especially Martin Stranzl who, despite the goal, had a nightmare at centre-back, topped off by his sending off. Tony Jantschke was not his usual self and Álvaro Domínguez seemed to struggle in order to contain the HSV attack, with only Filip Daems being able to put up a fight against Son. Defence and ball possession is something that Favre will definitely have to work on for the next match, since neither Nordtveit or Xhaka were in the game tonight, often outnumbered by their rivals.
Whilst this is an improved HSV side since Van der Vaart came back, there’s still the feeling that there’s something missing. They weren’t as mercurial as they were at the weekend against Dortmund and the general feeling is that they thought the game was won. It’s easy to feel that with a man extra, ball possession and the other team playing extremely badly but this was ultimately their demise. They gave away many silly free kicks in dangerous positions and with a man like Juan Arango on the other team, who we all know can put in one of the most dangerous balls in the Bundesliga, this was always a risk, a risk that ended in tears in the last minute of the game. In general, the defence were very good but you cannot ignore that both goals came from set pieces. Westermann should have made life a bit harder for Stranzl in their goal and better marking should have been carried out on Domínguez for the equaliser. Those two set pieces aside, HSV were comfortable on the ball tonight but lacked that lethal touch up front. Van der Vaart seemed a bit too lethargic at times and Son was not in the game at all. Rudŋevs took his goal well and had another one disallowed for offside but more balls need to get to him if he’s going to score, something which might be a bit of a problem due to Van der Vaart’s occasional selfishness. However, despite the late equaliser, Fink can take some positives from this game into the next one, at home to Hannover, a match that will most definitely not be an easy one.
Where do Gladbach go from here? Well, not many teams recover straight away after losing their best player, their best centre half and arguably their best midfielder. The replacements have the quality but still seem to be adjusting. De Jong will need to step up his game if he doesn’t want his transfer fee to start being a weight on him and Xhaka will also need to improve or adapt quicker if he wants to be a decent replacement for Neustädter. This team has spent a lot of money and, after the disappointment of the Champions League elimination, they will want to finish in European places, places that seem very far away judging by current performances. They’ve been lucky to get the last two draws, which should have been losses, and something needs to change soon. Away to the champions next week might not be the best fixture to try and turn things around… or will it?
Man of the match:
Not many men stood out tonight in a match where one team were mistake-prone and the other one too laid back. Michael Mancienne and Heiko Westermann kept De Jong and Hanke quiet all match, committing very few mistakes. However, we cannot ignore the incredible goal by Rafael Van der Vaart in the first half and his assist for the second goal later on. Despite missing a penalty in the second half, the Dutchman has clearly turned around the fortunes and morale of this squad that was set for the abyss only a few weeks ago and HSV fans will have the feeling that he is the talisman to bring better times to die Rotenhosen.
Attendance: 46233 at Borussia Park, Mönchengladbach.