On the weekend of “der Klassiker”, it seems that anything goes with regards to the branding of certain footballing match ups. In the run-up to the game, it might have seemed somewhat ridiculous to brand Hoffenheim’s match with Borussia Mönchengladbach as something of a momentous historical occasion – almost more ridiculous than comparing a game between two very good teams (Dortmund and Bayern) to a politically charged and historically significant match (El Clasico) – but, interestingly, a Saturday afternoon in Sinsheim did play host to history, of sorts.
That’s right – Borussia Mönchengladbach have finally won away to Hoffenheim. It’s only taken 115 years (or, um, nine attempts). A Max Kruse penalty, another Raffael goal, and a brace from man of the moment Patrick Herrmann set die Fohlen cantering to victory with time to spare, but things weren’t always quite so simple. Hoffenheim appeared to have opened the scoring early through Steven Zuber, but the Swiss midfielder’s near post volley was wrongly adjudged as offside.
Borussia’s response was relatively strong, with Herrmann posing questions to Hoffenheim’s full back Kim, while Max Kruse found Spanish defender Alvaro Dominguez unmarked from a free kick, with the former Atletico Madrid man unable to get a decisive touch at the vital moment.
Despite the growth of Mönchengladbach into the game following a rocky opening passage, it was Hoffenheim who drew first blood. A rapid counter, starting with Kevin Volland in a wide right position, edging towards Roberto Firmino in a central position and ending with a neat finish by Sven Schipplock put Hoffenheim ahead after just over a quarter of an hour. Borussia were left with a mountain to climb.
Despite strong form this year, games away from Borussia-Park have still been a tough ask at the best of times – with a limp display against Schalke and a late choke against Mainz playing perhaps most vividly on the memories of the travelling faithful – but perhaps more importantly, die Fohlen were playing without their regular skipper Martin Stranzl. Borussia have played seven games without their Austrian stalwart in the Bundesliga this season and have lost four of them – presumably lacking the sort of authority that a seasoned professional such as Stranzl commands – and so Favre’s young side were thrust into the sort of tough situation which can often be the making-or-breaking point of a season.
Thankfully, Borussia responded to the Schipplock-secured setback excellently. Swedish full back Oscar Wendt squared a low cross into Hoffenheim’s box with around half of the first half played, and the ball looked dangerous from the moment it left his boot. Despite evading former Hoffenheim wide-man Fabian Johnson, who was fouled by a combination of David Abraham and goalkeeper Oliver Baumann, the ball had enough pace to make its way towards the in-form and newly-committed Patrick Herrmann. As has become tradition in recent weeks, Herrmann neatly slotted the ball into the net, but referee Kinhöfer pulled play back to the infringement on Johnson – to the chagrin and confusion of viewers from both sides – and, as Abraham and Baumann received treatment for their collision (a process which took a while thanks to the heavy blow each player took), it wasn’t actually clear whether Borussia had a penalty or not.
It eventually transpired that Borussia did indeed have a shot from twelve yards. Five minutes or so after the original infringement, Max Kruse slotted home his first Bundesliga goal of 2015 from the spot with an incredibly composed penalty, leaving Baumann with no chance.
A very similar move actually put Borussia in front moments later. Kruse this time was creator, sliding a ball out wide to Wendt, whose driven cross was met by a delicate Herrmann wave of the boot, diverting it just into the lower left hand corner of Oliver Baumann’s goal. He’d had one chalked off moments before, but Patrick Herrmann was finally on the scoresheet, immediately beginning to justify the terms of his new contract. It was also in the latest of a line of important Herrmann goals since the turn of the year, perhaps highlighting just how important it was that Max Eberl convinced the nippy winger to tie his future to the club.
Herrmann and Kruse were central to the action moments later too, as Herrmann freed the former Freiburg forward on the counter. Kruse then squared towards Raffael, who was left with most of the goal to aim at and made no mistake. The trio were interchanging at will, playing completely at the level of confidence we’ve come to expect from them and finally replicating the dangerous, free-scoring (or threat of free-scoring football) we’ve seen Borussia playing over the past few years.
In fact, it was probably Mönchengladbach’s most pleasing attacking performance since the previous game against Hoffenheim – Markus Gisdol’s side didn’t know what to do with Borussia then, and very clearly hadn’t learned from their mistakes a few months later, with the margin of victory only getting wider for die Fohlen.
Herrmann’s second, secured on the break shortly after intermission, served only to make the scoreline more commanding; Borussia looked like clear winners by half time anyway. This goal was wonderful again, Kruse hooking a ball around the Hoffenheim defence towards the onrushing Herrmann, who looped a shot around Baumann in the hosts’ goal.
It’s hard to really name a best Borussia player when everyone fulfilled their jobs so well. The defence only really looked troubled in the opening exchanges – shipping just their fifth league goal of the Rückrunde – while picking a best player from Herrmann and Kruse is virtually impossible. With two goals coming in the same week as his new contract, Herrmann should quite rightly dominate the headlines, but a goal, two assists and a ginormous hand in the other goal for Kruse shouldn’t go unnoticed – the German international showing a magnificent response to having to bide his time on the bench against Bayern in the last game.
Concentration now must shift towards what will be another tricky week for Mönchengladbach to negotiate. Bielefeld, though a fixture in the 3. Liga these days, are a tough team and obviously occupy top spot in their league for a reason. As well as that, playing away is generally a tougher ask than the relative ease with which Borussia swept away Hoffenheim on Saturday; with a highly motivated crowd and the prospect of a semi-final slot in the Pokal, Wednesday evening could prove a deceptively tough game. To round off the week, too, Borussia have to take on the other Borussia from Dortmund – thankfully Christoph Kramer will be suspended for that fixture thanks to a late yellow received against Hoffenheim, so there should be no repeat of that painful lob from the Hinrunde.
All, however, seems very rosy in Mönchengladbach. The away victories against Bayern and Hoffenheim may have very different stylistic properties, but both have some vital common-ground – earning Borussia three points towards their Champions League bid. It’s getting more palpable with every game.
TSG Hoffenheim 1:4 (1:3) Borussia Mönchengladbach
Schipplock 17. – Kruse (pen) 26., Herrmann 31., Raffael 36., Herrmann 51.
Hoffenheim: Baumann; Beck, Strobl, Abraham (Toljan, 72.), Kim; Amiri, Rudy; Volland (Modeste, 68.), Firmino, Zuber; Schipplock (Salihovic, 68.). (4-2-3-1)
Mönchengladbach: Sommer; Jantschke, Brouwers, Dominguez, Wendt; Herrmann (Traore, 66.), Kramer, Xhaka (Nordtveit, 76.), Johnson; Raffael (Hazard, 71.); Kruse. (4-4-1-1)
Kim 45., Abraham 63., Rudy 90. – Xhaka 69., Kramer 82.