In the wake of a triumphant victory over Borussia Dortmund, just three days after a rare low point for his side this season with the Pokal loss in Bielefeld, Borussia Mönchengladbach coach Lucien Favre was at pains to defy the media narrative of the performance being a reaction. He claimed it was just another league game, business as usual.
Was he right? Well, one thing is certain; Wednesday evening’s loss to Bielefeld was atypical for Borussia Mönchengladbach this season. Saturday was, however, a continuation of the excellent league form this season which has seen die Fohlen go eight games unbeaten in the Bundesliga since that undeserved loss to Schalke back in early February. Favre’s men have been unstoppable at home at points this year, have deservedly beaten the league’s best, and look almost certain to find a Champions League berth. It almost goes without saying that Dortmund have had a torrid season thus far, and have a poor record at Borussia-Park, their last win away to Mönchengladbach coming in 2009. Perhaps the only reason for concern for fans of Borussia was the Hinspiel, a game which was arguably Dortmund’s finest performance of the Bundesliga season to date, and probably Mönchengladbach’s worst; even so, the signs pointed to another step towards the top class for the home side.
The result Saturday was never in doubt from (just after) the start. A rousing rendition of the fan anthem “Elf vom Niederrhein” let the team know that the fans were up for the game, and this was quickly matched on the pitch — after 28 seconds, to be exact.
A neat one-two between Patrick Herrmann and Raffael sliced the Dortmund rearguard open, the German winger finding Max Kruse, whose shot was well saved by Roman Weidenfeller. However, Germany’s second choice goalkeeper could only parry the ball into the path of an on-rushing Oscar Wendt, with the Swede lashing the ball home with aplomb on the rebound. Wendt may have endured a rough patch for a few weeks in February and March, not looking at all impressive against Sevilla and in the league games surrounding it, but his excellent performances against Bayern and Hoffenheim were plainly clear. A place on the scoresheet, and of course the headlines due to the timing of the goal – the earliest ever goal at Borussia-Park, – is perhaps a just reward for a player whose performances have been very strong in recent weeks.
Sweeping, swift attacks have been commonplace for Borussia thus far this season, with similar moves leading to the high-profile wins over the likes of Bayern. A second goal, added by Raffael on the half hour, echoed the first, with Patrick Herrmann picking the ball up from deep and pacing through the entire Dortmund team, unselfishly squaring to his Brazilian colleague who found himself in a better position. Raffael had just the finish to apply and, with Weidenfeller all at sea, didn’t find it particularly troubling, adding his ninth league goal of the season (and sixth in five games). Dortmund obviously saw it coming, but the raw power and precision of Mönchengladbach left them with little way of defending themselves.
It has to be said that Dortmund’s approach to the game played into Gladbach’s hands, however. Despite the agile and slight pairing of Aubameyang and Kagawa in a central attacking facility, Dortmund thought it appropriate to attempt numerous crosses, while the guests’ frustrations were made clear as their defenders began lashing wild efforts from long-range. They didn’t create much of note until they conceded another goal; this time, Havard Nordtveit lashing home at the far post after Dortmund failed to clear their lines from a corner. Nordtveit was only in the team because of usual first choice Christoph Kramer’s suspension, but gave a good account of himself throughout, allowing Xhaka to flourish in a slightly more attacking role and also tidying up well at the back.
The bright spark in a dull afternoon from Dortmund’s point of view was quite obviously the assist by young full back Jeremy Dudziak for Ilkay Gündogan’s goal. Dudziak showed great composure in slotting in the German international for the consolation, but it was the first time Dortmund had looked seriously threatening, and by then the game was over; that is yet another compliment to how Gladbach remained secure at the back while playing with flair moving forward, especially in the absence of usual captain Martin Stranzl.
A footnote to the game is that talented young midfielder Mahmoud Dahoud finally made his Bundesliga debut for Mönchengladbach, having already made a handful of appearances in Europa League games for die Fohlen. Dahoud has been on the radar of fans of the club for nearly two years, after his surprise inclusion in the pre-season training camp right at the beginning of last season, and has shown moments of promise in subsequent training camps and with the reserve team; having finally been blooded, it will be interesting to see if Dahoud starts to play a small role in the first team over the final stretch of the season. With fourth place in the table almost secured – and the small matter of third place to decide – now’s a good time for Dahoud to get the taste of competitive, top-flight football.
So: any other league game? Not quite, this performance and result was still quite special. But a reaction? Probably not; given the past few matches in the Bundesliga, this win was om the cards even before the disappointment in Bielefeld a few days ago. Such a comfortable win, however, will help to clean the palate of Borussia’s fans with just a few games to go now until the end of the season. Berlin’s not an objective any longer, but third place is, and with another three points locked in the bank, it’s just got a whole lot more likely.
Borussia Mönchengladbach 3:1 (2:0) Borussia Dortmund
Wendt 1., Raffael 32., Nordtveit 67. – Gündogan 77.
Mönchengladbach: Sommer; Jantschke, Brouwers, Dominguez, Wendt; Herrmann (Dahoud, 90+3.), Nordtveit, Xhaka, Johnson (Hazard, 77.); Raffael (Hahn, 89.); Kruse. (4-4-1-1)
Dortmund: Weidenfeller; Sokratis, Subotic, Hummels, Schmelzer (Dudziak, 70.); Kehl, Gündogan; Blaszczykowski, Kagawa (Ramos, 63.), Mkhitaryan; Aubameyang (Immobile, 77.). (4-2-3-1)