A vintage performance at Borussia-Park on Sunday evening ensured that Borussia Mönchengladbach go into next weekend’s clash with Bayern with a comfortable five point gap on fifth-placed Schalke. A brace by Patrick Herrmann – thanks to two of the simplest finishes in his career for Gladbach – set die Fohlen on their way to three points and their sixth consecutive home win, but the particularly impressive factor in the win was the return to the attacking flair of the Hinrunde.
Lucien Favre allowed his squad a three-day rest at the beginning of the week, and the short period of relaxation which was afforded to die Fohlen seemed evident in the zest in Borussia’s play during the opening exchanges. At times in the Rückrunde, Gladbach have looked slightly laboured going forward, with the ridiculous amount of games played since the start of the season obviously weighing heavily on the legs of the squad; Favre’s men have already played 38 (thirty-eight) matches since the start of the season, and as the games begin to become punctuated by larger breaks – on account of the Europa League exit – Borussia have an opportunity to recover somewhat.
This paid off heavily against Hannover. Granit Xhaka continued his excellent form from the early stages of the Rückrunde, spraying the ball in all directions and somehow appearing to be everywhere in the midfield at the same time, providing many of Borussia’s early efforts on goal, whether setting up the play or taking a shot himself.
Oscar Wendt and Tony Jantschke were afforded a lot more freedom down the flanks than usual; both proving integral in the build-up for Borussia’s opening goal, Jantschke providing the fans with a magnificent moment of flair thanks to a (now trademark, given that he did it earlier in the season) roulette, while Wendt pulled the team forward down the left as the ball zig-zagged its way across the pitch with the freedom and verve of a team who understand that they have a real shot at the Champions League places.
Max Kruse and Raffael also continued their return to form – Kruse in particular impressing, with good hold-up play and an assist in the second half – but perhaps the stars of the show were wingers Thorgan Hazard and match-winner Herrmann. Hazard continues to grow in stature in the jersey of Borussia; the Belgian forward assisted his ninth goal of the season in all competitions, and wore down both João Pereira and Miiko Albornoz when switching flanks with Herrmann throughout the game.
His original loan was perhaps met with a surprising level of hype, or at least a level of hype only really permitted by the fact he came from Chelsea as the brother of a world-class player, but Hazard has shown that, under the guidance of Favre and his other teammates, he has the ability and capacity to develop new facets to his game quickly and impressively, to the point where he is now one of the revelations of the season. With his current form for Gladbach, it seems more a matter of time that Hazard is rated as highly as his brother, rather than a question of whether that becomes the case. This is of course conjecture; Hazard has still only played about two-thirds of a season of top-level football; but he brings an excitement to Borussia’s play which will be vital not just in the final stretch of the season, but in the coming years.
Herrmann meanwhile is showing why he’s been such a highly rated talent for years; having added the consistency to his game this season that has always been the main stumbling block in going from precocious talent to established star, Herrmann should surely be on the edge of Joachim Löw’s Germany squad, if not for the coming games then for the near future. Without his goals this season, Borussia would be eleven points worse off (including assists they’d be thirteen points worse off), and having he’s finally beaten his record tally of six Bundesliga goals (achieved in each of the last three seasons), reaching eight in the league (and thirteen overall) with his brace on the day. The fact that Borussia can call upon him, Hazard, Fabian Johnson, Ibrahima Traoré and André Hahn to provide service on the flanks shows an astonishing level of depth in an important position, something befitting a club with Champions League ambitions.
Will the current train of form continue in the coming weeks? Well, it’s hard to tell. Next week’s clash with Bayern will be an incredibly tough task for die Fohlen to negotiate, and with games against Dortmund, Wolfsburg, Leverkusen, Augsburg and teams currently in reasonably good form such as Frankfurt and Bremen, there’s still much for Favre and his troops to do; however, performing as confidently they did on Sunday will absolutely sweep even the best sides in the league away.
And a final point. Hannover attempted to contain Borussia in much the same way as Stuttgart, Schalke, Köln and Hamburg tried to in early parts of the Rückrunde, but die Fohlen finally seemed to have a plan with how to break a deep-sitting defensive line down. The excellent wing play, coupled with a pass completion rate of over 90% – the best rate in a game by any team not called Bayern this season so far – really left Tayfun Korkut’s side without a way to respond. If that’s not progress, then what is?
Borussia Mönchengladbach 2:0 (1:0) Hannover 96
Herrmann 43. 75.
Mönchengladbach: Sommer; Jantschke, Stranzl, Dominguez, Wendt; Hazard (Johnson, 80.), Kramer, Xhaka, Herrmann (Traore, 88.); Raffael; Kruse (Hahn, 84.). (4-4-1-1)
Hannover: Zieler; Pereira, Marcelo, Schulz, Albornoz; Schmiedebach (Andreasen, 65.), Sane; Briand, Kiyotake, Prib (Ya Konan, 77.); Joselu. (4-2-3-1)