The first five away games for Borussia Mönchengladbach, including a trip to Champions League participants Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen, couldn’t have gone any worse – only a single point was taken by the homesick club from a possible fifteen. But, became a thing of the past once Gladbach secured their first win on their travels, coincidentally in Lucien Favre’s 56th birthday, as they won at Hamburg 2-0, courtesy of a couple of goals from the undisputed bargain of the season, Max Kruse.
The match didn’t only just end the winless run away from home, but it also marked Borussia Mönchengladbach’s first back-to-back league wins in a same season for over a year and a half. They held their momentum to repeat the same scoreline against Stuttgart two weeks later after a 3-1 win against Nürnberg and last week’s hard-fought victory against Freiburg (1-0) means Gladbach have now won five Bundesliga matches in a row for the first time since 1995-96.
When Swiss tactician Luicen Favre replaced Michael Frontzeck in February 2011, Borussia Mönchengladbach was at the bottom of the table without a home win in nine matches. Their defense was undoubtedly the most generous one in the league, conceding 47 goals over the course of Hinrunde – A staggering twelve goals more than the second worse at the time.
They ended up avoiding the drop following a nerve-wracking playoff win against VfL Bochum, with their five wins in eight home matches under Favre proving to be pivotal for the turnaround in their fortunes. The next season caught everyone by surprise, which started with a rare win at Bayern’s Allianz Arena (0-1), as they managed to finish in 4th place and consequently in a Champions League berth at the end of the season, only losing a single home match. Last season was not particularly memorable for Foals fans, with a mediocre campaign that began with their return to Europe’s elite tournament, which was cut short by a disappointing defeat at the hands of Dynamo Kiev, finishing eighth in the league standings. However, their home form was impressive, both in domestic and Europa League, for which they automatically qualified and reached the knockout round.
This season, just two home matches before the Winterpause, Gladbach still hold their perfect home record with seven wins out of seven, scoring 21 goals in the process while allowing only four goals. They picked up easy wins in the first three matches of the streak as Hannover, Werder Bremen and Eintracht Braunschweig all returned home with a heavy defeat from Borussia Park. However, Gladbach needed to dig deep to the very end in the three of the last four home matches to keep their home record intact with a win against Borussia Dortmund, Nürnberg and Freiburg. It’s not an ideal thing to expect the Foals to win all of their seventeen home matches at the end of the season, but with the improved away form, it’s all going smoothly for Gladbach.
Filling in the puzzle
Last season, Lucien Favre opted to go for the signing of international players outside the Bundesliga in a quest to deputize the outgoing trio Dante, Roman Neustädter and Marco Reus, with the acquisitions of Álvaro Domínguez – who had participated in the Olympics with Spain in the summer – Granit Xhaka – highly rated midfielder from FC Basel – and Dutch striker Luuk de Jong from FC Twente, a club-recording signing at 12m€. He and Sport Director Max Eberl changed their approach for their three major signings of this season by bringing up players with German football experience. Raffael arrived from Dynamo Kyiv and was reunited with Favre for the third time in his third Bundesliga club overall after an outstanding time with Hertha and brief spell at Schalke last season; Max Kruse joined the Brazilian at the club after a breakout season with Freiburg in which he helped the minnows to a fifth-place finish; and youngster Christoph Kramer signed for a two-year loan spell from Bayer Leverkusen.
Kramer wasn’t expected to fill one of the starting central-midfielder roles at the start of the season, but his partnership with Granit Xhaka, who had a frustrating maiden season last term, fulfills Favre’s build-up play philosophy perfectly, which involves a patient style giving priority to short-passing football. However, the main difference between this season and last one’s is most definitely further up the pitch. The inclusion of Raffael and Max Kruse have raised the creative level of the attacking department, forming one of the league’s best attacking quartets alongside wingers Juan Arango and Patrick Herrmann.
Despite successive injury worries, the defense stood up firm with Tony Jantschke, who might also join the national team soon, performing extremely well as a makeshift center back besides the ever-present Martin Stranzl, who’s taking the captain’s armband in absence of Filip Daems. The Belgian penalty-kick specialist has his successor in Oscar Wendt, whose spectacular form has relegated Daems to the bench after his return from injury. Wendt scored three well-taken goals from a full-back position and has performed equally as well in his defensive duties. Also in defense, Julian Korb has settled in well after making his starting league debut in the home win against Eintracht Frankfurt. And finally, even though his future with the club is uncertain with rumours of Catalan giants Barcelona knocking on his door for next season, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who made his debut under Lucien Favre, is in inspiring form between the posts.
Lucien Favre’s rigid approach when it comes to picking his starting lineup is not drawing admiration from all fronts, though, as the likes of Havard Nordtveit and Luuk de Jong only see the last few minutes of action week-in, week-out. The latter didn’t have a bad debut season, all things considered, but is still awaiting his first starting nod this campaign. Former Arsenal defender Nordtveit played his 100th match for Gladbach in the 2-2 draw against Augsburg, but finds himself down the pecking order in the midfield position and Favre didn’t call his service when two of the regular defenders were sidelined due to injuries. 20-year-old Branimir Hrgota is also around the corner to provide further options upfront, alongside Peniel Mlapa – who is yet to feature this season – and Amin Younes.
Six-pointer on the cards
If it wasn’t for the high standards set by Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund, five league wins in a row would probably be enough to lift a team up to the title race. The Foals will entertain fifth-place Schalke this weekend, with four points separating the sides in one of the top-of-the-table-clashes on Saturday (second-place Leverkusen visit third-place Dortmund on the same day). The Royal Blues were eliminated from the DFB-Pokal in midweek as they stumbled to a 3-1 home defeat against free-scoring Hoffenheim. Whatever the result this weekend, Gladbach will not surrender their fourth place to their visitors and most probably will not climb up to third (Dortmund have three more points and +5 in goal difference in comparison with Gladbach).
Lucien Favre’s incredible success with Mönchengladbach has attracted interests from bigger clubs, most notably from Schalke. Favre previously led Hertha Berlin to a fourth-place finish in 2008/2009 after being in the title race until the last two matches, but parted ways with the club after a sequence of bad results the following season. With an eye for nurturing young talents, attacking philosophy and obsession with discipline and organized play, Favre is among one of the best managers in Europe. But right now, the important thing for the Swiss tactician is to extend their winning run to eight matches, as he will waste no time in insisting the importance of the six-pointer against Schalke after getting past stubborn Freiburg.
Header courtesy of sueddeutsche.de
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