Another vintage performance by Borussia Mönchengladbach, spurred on by a compact defence and two goals from their Brazilian forward Raffael, secured an absolutely invaluable trio of points on a memorable evening at the Allianz Arena. Despite travelling to a team who had only lost once all season, and had only ever lost once at home in the league under their current manager, Borussia Mönchengladbach pulled off one of the season’s memorable results, a win which puts them eight points clear of fifth-placed Schalke and maintains their position in third for yet another week.
What have we learnt from Borussia’s performance? Well, everything and nothing. The way which Favre’s eleven dealt with Bayern’s early pressure, in intimidating (if more due to reputation than the supporters actually being noisy) surroundings, echoes the growing maturity of the team assembled by the Swiss tactician, while yet another tactical masterclass has certainly been appreciated by both Borussen and Bundesliga-following neutrals, and has certainly been seen as a continuation of Favre’s policy in playing Bayern rather than a one-off.
However, Borussia are pretty much only able to play this way twice a season – in their games against Bayern – given the fairly unique way in which die Rekordmeister conduct their play, at least within the league itself. Where on Sunday die Fohlen were permitted to cede possession, play a deep line, and hit the opposition on the break, they’re not going to get that opportunity against the sort of teams they’ve already excelled against in the Rückrunde – the Hannovers, Paderborns and Kölns of the world – and it’s unlikely that teams such as Dortmund, Wolfsburg and Leverkusen will be willing to dictate the play to the extent that Bayern do in the upcoming clashes between them and Borussia in the coming weeks.
So, tactically at least, there’s probably more to learn for other Bundesliga clubs regarding how best to approach Bayern than how best to approach a game with Borussia. This performance and set-up is one which Favre won’t be able to replicate until the two sides clash against next season, or if Borussia face another vastly talented possession side in Europe, such as Barcelona. However, if other clubs are willing to see Mönchengladbach’s approach as a blueprint, we might not be waiting another year for another club to win in the Allianz Arena. Or, at the very least, they might stop having to discuss the ‘experience’ of playing Bayern, in favour of discussing what they did well.
That’s probably a utopian way of looking at things, however. It’s not surprising Borussia are equipped with the means to beat Bayern in their own back yard – they’ve done it in recent history in similar fashion, have one of the Bundesliga’s best tacticians, and have the playing squad to execute their plan to a reasonable level of success. That, firstly, is the difference between this season and last – Borussia tried similar things last year but suffered two narrow losses, but have grown to a draw and victory this time around – but is also secondly a difference between the current state of Borussia and some of the league’s other clubs. Some clubs don’t have the resources to replicate Borussia’s success on Sunday.
Even if clubs can get their team carrying out the blueprint well, there still needs to be a few excellent individual performances to pierce a sturdy rearguard with the world’s best goalkeeper – regardless of his two mistakes on Sunday – behind it. Borussia enjoyed these across the team, but special mentions must go to a few players for their roles.
Firstly, Tony Jantschke. Despite a snub by Joachim Löw – whose current Germany squad laughably omitted the defensive all-rounder, as well as teammate Patrick Herrmann – Jantschke went from strength to strength on Sunday evening. To Bayern fans, Jantschke may have only seemed to have a remarkable game for his slightly clumsy challenge on Arjen Robben, which seems to have injured the flying Dutchman for a relatively long period of time, but he hardly put a foot wrong all game. The foul on Robben was only necessary thanks to irresponsible play in midfield by Christoph Kramer moments before, but otherwise Jantschke was excellent in the challenge, clearing balls well, and avoiding Bayern’s pressing excellently. Recently, Martin Stranzl has received acclaim for the way he’s led Borussia, from fans, his colleagues (including Jantschke), and the media – quite rightly, too – but on Sunday night, Jantschke joined Stranzl in leading from the back, another important step for the defender. In interview with the Rheinische Post this week, Jantschke questioned whether he could be the veteran rock among younger defenders in the way that Stranzl is later in his career. From today’s evidence, he can.
It was also two Jantschke passes which set his right-sided colleague Patrick Herrmann off on the path to both goals. A calculated long ball saw Herrmann get behind Juan Bernat for the first, while the second was not so vital, but found Herrmann in an excellent position to prove architect.
Herrmann himself was a dynamo on the right, running himself into the ground for the cause. His position – as well as Fabian Johnson on the left, and Andre Hahn up top – was one of the most crucial for Borussia’s success, at least in terms of turning any potential point into three. It was in the wide positions where the game was won; Xhaka and Kramer by and large cancelled out the trio of Bayern midfielders, while it’s hard to recall what Bayern’s front three actually did other than fail to bring Yann Sommer into too much action.
While he wasn’t reaching the goalscoring form of last week, Herrmann’s performance was almost more important against Bayern. His assist for the first goal was exquisite – cleverly picking out Raffael just behind the defence, rather than Hahn who was surrounded by Badstuber and Boateng – while his neat pass towards Kramer for the second is a moment which was ignored by the highlight reels, but was almost more important in the goal than the excellent burst from the Leverkusen loanee.
Raffael, of course, was excellent, and should receive yet more acclaim for being in the right place at the right time again, having done much the same in the last away game Borussia played, with his brace in Mainz. However, perhaps the most interesting result of the game was how Andre Hahn played in his first game – ignoring a matter of about five minutes of practice against Hannover – as an out-and-out striker. While there is much room for improvement for the former Augsburg man, Hahn showed he understood how to play as the intelligent link-up man which Favre seems to prefer to the traditional burly centre-forward, as well as possessing the physical attributes to act as a good hold-up man in sticky situations for Borussia. His strength, pace and height mean that Hahn certainly looks the part as a striker – the original acid test for Hahn in the position looks positive, but will have to be checked further throughout the rest of the season if he’s to continue to challenge Kruse, Hrgota and any potential new signings in the summer for a starting role.
Any bones for contention? Not really. Borussia did pretty much everything well. Wendt looked nervous at points, but also defended reasonably well at points, so should also be congratulated like the rest of the team than lambasted. All in all, everything’s rosy.
Some people will argue the result’s a surprise, others that it’s been in the pipeline given Borussia’s performances in recent years against Bayern, but the truth is this: Borussia are now eight points ahead of fifth place with just eight games to go. It’s going to be an interesting battle with the league’s form team, Bayer Leverkusen, for third, but die Fohlen look nigh-on certainties for a top four berth this year. Even within the development of the club in recent years, that’s a gargantuan achievement.
FC Bayern München 0:2 (0:1) Borussia Mönchengladbach
Raffael 30., 77.
Bayern: Neuer; Rafinha, Boateng, Badstuber, Bernat; Alaba, Alonso (Rode, 61.), Schweinsteiger; Robben (Müller, 24.), Lewandowski, Götze (Lahm, 70.). (4-3-3)
Mönchengladbach: Sommer; Jantschke, Stranzl, Dominguez, Wendt; Herrmann (Nordtveit, 89.), Kramer, Xhaka, Johnson; Raffael (Hazard, 81.); Hahn (Kruse, 72.). (4-4-1-1)
Jantschke 22., Hahn 51.