Borussia Mönchengladbach Still Seeking Consistent Form

First half goals from wingers Patrick Herrmann and Juan Arango set the tone for yet another win in Kaiserslautern, as Borussia Mönchengladbach climbed up to second in the league standings with a 2-1 win at the Fritz-Walter-Stadion back in February 2012. They could not have imagined, though, that the win over the Red Devils would be the last time they would win back-to-back Bundesliga matches in the same season for over a year and a half.

Following that fixture against Kaiserslautern, the fairytale story of a club who escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth and challenged at the top of the table the following season ended and normal service was resumed. The Foals only managed to win three of the remaining twelve league outings that season, a cry for help compared to the fourteen wins in Gladbach’s previous twenty-two league matches.

The following season was even more lackluster for Lucien Favre’s side as they finished in eighth place, a letdown mostly excused by the void left following the summer departures of Dante, Roman Neustädter and, most important of all, Marco Reus. The whole season saw Gladbach fail to collect six points from consecutive league matches. For the first six weeks of this season, Die Fohlen maintained a 100% home record, not to mention scoring a league highest eleven goals in three home matches. However, their travel story isn’t any different as they have lost all of their three away matches.

Finding the right balance

Even though Mönchengladbach have returned to winning ways in front of their fans after an away defeat three times already, there are worries in Borussia’s camp about the fact that the unpleasant away record still continues this season as well. The Foals only picked up seven points from their travels since January, which obviously was the main they missed out on a European berth at the end of last season. Only Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen and Hannover recorded fewer defeats at home than Mönchengladbach last season, but the Foals only won as many away matches as cellar-dweller Greuther Fürth did. One might argue that playing against two of the top three sides in their first two away games, Bayern and Leverkusen, didn’t help the case and Gladbach put forth a focused effort for the last fifteen minutes in their latest trip to Hoffenheim, probably deserving an equalizer; however they still find it hard to transform the more-than-satisfying results at home to their road trips.

It’s difficult to individually criticize any of Gladbach’s regular starting defensive players, but they did concede some easy goals   in the past weeks, especially giving Sidney Sam all the space he needed to restore Leverkusen’s lead right after they leveled a two-goal deficit on Matchday 3. The first thing Lucien Favre fixed when he joined Gladbach following a horrendous defensive Hinrunde, in time building one of the league’s strongest defensive lines and handing the goalkeeping duties to young talent Marc-Andre ter Stegen.  It’s fair to say, though, that while ter Stegen has blossomed into a top Bundesliga goalkeeper,  the current back-four of Die Fohlen is nothing like the one from the 2011-12 season, despite the only difference being Álvaro Domínguez’s inclusion in place of Brazilian Dante.

Domínguez didn’t have an ideal season opener as he committed not one but two hand-ball fouls  in the space of a minute against Bayern Munich, but as the matches have progressed the Spaniard looks to be more part of the team than in his maiden season. His partner in the heart of the defense, Martin Stranzl, is solid as ever and seems like has put his injury worries aside as he is yet to miss a single minute of the league action. Still, the Foals have conceded 1.83 goals per match from the first six matches of the season; a quite visible difference from the 0.7 record of the 2011-12 season.

Inconsistent form, consistent lineup

Somehow strangely, Lucien Favre kept his faith with the same starting eleven for the first five Bundesliga matches of the season. And when there was a change in the line-up, it had to do with a player’s injury, not a tactical decision. Skipper and penalty-kick specialist Filip Daems was sidelined with a muscular injury from Friday’s match against newly-promoted Eintracht Braunschweig and Oscar Wendt stepped up to the board fittingly as he opened the scoreline in his side’s comfortable win.

The summer signings of Favre fave Raffael and newly-minted German international Max Kruse have boosted the team’s attacking creativity and, along with familiar faces  Herrmann and Arango, form a quartet that has combined for nine goals, eight assists and has created 117 scoring chances.

Luuk de Jong seems to be the biggest name suffering from the recent change of plans, as the poacher has had to settle for just thirty minutes of football from the first six Bundesliga matches. The Dutch striker endured a quiet debut Bundesliga season last term, though he ended up notching six goals in which most of them broke deadlocks and paved the way for a Gladbach win. Norwegian international Håvard Nordtveit has joined the former Twente goal-getter on the substitute bench. The central midfielder played an integral part to the Foals’ progress from being the bottom of the standings to one of the formidable league sides, but this season Favre is relying on the partnership of Leverkusen’s loanee Christoph Kramer and Granit Xhaka, who experienced a hard time last season and was no stranger to the bench himself.

Youngsters Branimir Hrgota and Amin Younes are also waiting for their chances up-front as they are now adapting to a regular appearances from the substitute bench. Swedish striker Hrgota has played himself into the club’s big picture with a hat-trick in his starting debut at the end of last season, while a further indication of his talent came when he pulled one back for Gladbach at Hoffenheim two weeks ago. Gladbach academy graduate Amin Younes is the other player who has impressed and actually scored in his starting debut as his famous strike against Dortmund salvaged a draw for the Foals.

Possession football – Lucien Favre’s team foundation

Apart from the matches against powerhouses Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen, the Foals have enjoyed more than 55% of the possession in each of the four league outings.  Favre insists time and time again that he wants his team to patiently overcome the opposition defence by having most of the possession and reducing the mistakes by building up play from the back. To give such stability to the side, Christoph Kramer joined on a loan deal and his partnership with the revitalized Swiss international Granit Xhaka is showing promising signs. Xhaka improved on his passing accuracy and even though he still has many things to work on, such as playing under pressure from the opposing team, he perfectly fits the deep-lying central midfielder position.  Combative midfielder Kramer has caught many by surprise as his first season in the top flight has exceeded the expectations.

Accelerating Gladbach’s attack and finishing off the swift moves is the task expected from the dangerous quartet of  Arango, Herrmann, Raffael and Kruse. They all scored when Mönchenglabach beat Werder Bremen 4-1 in Matchday 4 and their interchangeable play causes confusion for the opposition defense.

Next up – a trip to Augsburg

Borussia Mönchengladbach will feature in another second Friday Bundesliga fixture this weekend as they pay a visit to FC Augsburg. The Bavarians’ exciting run of three consecutive league wins was halted after a narrow defeat at Hannover in Matchday 6, but they rebounded Tuesday for a Pokal win in Munster. The corresponding fixture of the Foals and die Fuggerstädter from last season ended all-square after Herrmann cancelled out Sascha Molders’ opener.

A first Bundesliga win at SGL-Arena (since Augsburg’s promotion, the sides have met twice) for Borussia Mönchengladbach would end the undesired run of going without a back-to-back league wins for over a year. More importantly, the Foals hope they will come back with something in their latest trip for a consistent season ahead. Fourth time lucky?

Header courtesy of facebook.com/Borussia-Mönchengladbach

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Eskender born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Despite the geographical differences, he's interested in every detail of German football, if not any kind of football. Wolfsburg's industrious away win at Hamburg started his Bundesliga obsession back in 2005. You can also follow him on Twitter @eskeBMG

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