The Bundesliga’s been back a matter of a week and already it’s hard to remember what that pesky Winterpause felt like – how did we last so long without football? Friday evening will play host to yet another exciting game in the German top flight, and indeed one of the key games of Matchday 20 – especially when looking at the European race – as Borussia Mönchengladbach – currently sitting pretty in third place, after two successive wins – travel to the Veltins-Arena in Gelsenkirchen to face one of their rivals for the Champions League positions, Schalke 04. Schalke haven’t done too badly themselves since current coach Roberto Di Matteo took over – despite being eleventh in October, they sit just two points behind Borussia, in sixth.
The table, then, is tight, and this should reflect the spirit of the game; both teams should make it hard for the opposition. The Veltins-Arena isn’t an easy place to travel – Schalke have the fifth-best home record in the league – but Mönchengladbach are also the sixth-best away side in the league, so can perhaps still hold out some hope of causing some damage to their hosts’ bid for an automatic Champions League place.
Both teams played on Saturday, followed by a second game on Tuesday, so there’s not been much time for the respective coaches to go through a masterclass of tactics in training this week, but hopefully this will give way to an exciting, end-to-end affair, rather than the drab non-contest it could very well become. Either way, there’s a lot at stake for both teams, so the managers will have to think carefully about rotating too much.
For Schalke, the big headline is that nineteen year-old goalkeeper Timon Wellenreuther is expected to start on Friday. Wellenreuther was substituted on in place of the injured Fabian Giefer against Bayern München on Tuesday, while first choice custodian Ralf Fährmann remains injured. Also on die Königsblauen’s lengthy injury list are Sead Kolasinac, Dennis Aogo, Leon Goretzka, Julian Draxler, Jefferson Farfan and Chinedu Obasi; Marco Höger and Jan Kirchhoff could also miss the game but should, according to Di Matteo, be a part of final training before the game.
Meanwhile over in Mönchengladbach, Lucien Favre will be missing his defensive general and usual on-pitch captain Martin Stranzl, who is ruled out after taking a hefty blow to the head on Tuesday evening. Tony Jantschke should therefore be expected to take the armband with Alvaro Dominguez probably playing in place of the Austrian centre back. Outside of that, André Hahn remains out with an Achilles injury, so it’s as you were for Lucien Favre’s men. The Swiss tactician has hinted at making a few rotations, given the demands of three matches in a seven-day period, but he does have virtually a whole squad to pick from, unlike his counterpart Di Matteo.
Head to Head Record
Borussia Mönchengladbach have a slight advantage in the head to head record, winning 34 of the 83 Bundesliga games the two sides have played throughout the history of the league, compared to
Schalke’s tally of 24. The remaining 25 fixtures have been drawn. While much of this is skewed by die Fohlen’s success in the fixture during the early days of the Bundesliga, Schalke have also only managed one win in six against Gladbach; that coming away in Borussia-Park in 2012/2013, thanks to a solitary Julian Draxler goal.
Di Matteo hasn’t yet faced Mönchengladbach as a manager, while Favre’s record is relatively good against Schalke – winning five and drawing one of eight games whilst manager of Mönchengladbach.
Draxler’s goal the last time Schalke beat Mönchengladbach was actually assisted by Raffael, one of only two members of the current Mönchengladbach squad to have previously plied his trade at Schalke. His spell with die Königsblauen lasted for the duration of 2012/2013’s Rückrunde, playing sixteen games, scoring twice, and assisting five goals while on loan from Dynamo Kiev. Schalke then passed up an option to buy, leading to the Brazilian forward’s transfer to his current club. Christofer Heimeroth is the other current Foal to have played for both, but his spell in the Schalke goal lasted just nine games, as he played backup to Schalke’s first choice, Frank Rost.
For die Königsblauen, Roman Neustädter is the man with the inside knowledge, having played for Borussia between 2009 and 2012. Neustädter was a lynchpin in the Borussia midfield which reached fourth in the Bundesliga in the magical season of 2011/2012 but eventually left on a free, and has cemented himself as an important member of the Schalke midfield too. He should probably play on Friday evening.
The Form Book
Given that the Winterpause has only just ended it’s hard to tell exactly where to start any runs of form. Schalke are unbeaten in four – winning away in Paderborn and drawing to Hamburg before the end of the Hinrunde, before a scrappy win over Hannover and that famous draw against Bayern on Tuesday, while Mönchengladbach have won both of their games this year without conceding a goal. From the last five games, however, Schalke have picked up eight points while Borussia have picked up ten. Will that count on Friday night? Probably not. Both are good examples of pretty reasonable form in a European race.
The last time the sides faced was, obviously, three games into the Hinrunde, and both sides enjoyed (or suffered, as the case may be) very differing fortunes on the day. In what was a Saturday “Toppspiel” in early September, Mönchengladbach’s attacking combination linked together fatally for Schalke to gift die Fohlen a 4-1 win. André Hahn opened the scoring with his first league goal for the club, before adding another early in the second half. Both of Hahn’s goals were assisted by former Freiburg forward Max Kruse, who seemed to be everywhere in the attacking third, harrying the Schalke defence and creating chances out of nothing.
Choupo-Moting scored a penalty generated virtually from nothing – the ball hit Martin Stranzl on the hand, and in spite of the Austrian quite clearly being unable to do anything about it, the chance to make the game more even was given. But even then, Schalke couldn’t push on, as Raffael and Kruse linked up sumptuously for the German international to grab his first goal of the campaign, and put the cherry on top of an excellent performance. Raffael added a fourth before too long after an excellent solo effort which also topped off his game – one of his finest performances wearing the Raute of Borussia, and even sweeter, coming against his old club.
Then-Schalke boss, Jens Keller, didn’t last much longer after the game – being sacked less than a month after the rout – while Lucien Favre’s men continued their run of unbeaten games from the start of the season, which eventually reached eighteen in all competitions.
Expect a relatively entertaining affair between two of the Bundesliga’s better sides, but the toll of playing so many games in a short space of time could affect the quality of the game. That said, with so much to play for, and the good form of both sides going into the game, both sides have to focus on playing their own game on Friday night.