Well, here we are again. Another week, another loss for Borussia Mönchengladbach, and a whole raft more of reasons not to be cheerful for fans of the Fohlenelf. Mainly, that is, if you look only at the result of a match or, even worse, at the table after two matchdays. Yes, Borussia are rooted bottom, and yes, they’ve lost twice in two attempts in the Bundesliga this season, but football isn’t that clear cut. Borussia played pretty well against this weekend’s opponents, Mainz 05, falling short in the end to a couple of goals scored against the run of play.
That’s not to downplay Mainz’s win – Martin Schmidt’s side were tactically excellent and it would be impossible to argue they didn’t deserve anything from the game at all – more aimed at highlighting the fine lines between victory and defeat, and had Lucien Favre’s men put away some of their chances in the first half, there’d be every chance we’d be writing about a win which lifted Borussia out of the relegation and into the European race. Apparently. So what was so good about this game in comparison to the thumping away in Dortmund?
Favre made three changes from the opening day, with Julian Korb replacing Chelsea loanee Andreas Christensen at the back (moving Tony Jantschke into the centre of defence alongside Marvin Schulz), Patrick Herrmann playing in place of the injured Fabian Johnson and, perhaps most interestingly, Thorgan Hazard receiving the nod instead of Josip Drmić up front.
Mainz replaced Florian Niederlechner with Yoshinori Muto up top but otherwise were unchanged from their narrow loss to Ingolstadt last week. Interestingly, though, Mainz have lost players in similar positions to Borussia, with Johannes Geis and Shinji Okazaki leaving the club in the summer in parallel to Christoph Kramer and Max Kruse’s moves.
A Return to Fluidity
The latter change was perhaps the most interesting in the sense that Hazard has, for the most part under Favre so far, played as a winger or sparingly as a second striker, but it was the Belgian who would lead the line on Sunday evening and he didn’t look particularly out of place. Dropping out of the attacking line at times to run the channels and rotate with Raffael behind him and Herrmann and Ibrahima Traoré to either side, Borussia looked a lot more flexible up front than they did last week with Drmić up top, with die Fohlen attempting a lot more neat combination play than seen in the previous two competitive games.
Playing a player clearly used to the system was a clear advantage for Borussia going forward and highlighted just how much the team missed Kruse on the opening weekend. He could, however, become a distant memory very quickly if Hazard continues to receive the nod in this position, at least while Drmić acclimates to life at Borussia-Park.
For his part, Drmić didn’t look too bad during his ten minute cameo against Mainz, but the team were already chasing the game and didn’t create too much to shout about, so he didn’t really have time to affect the game in a positive or negative manner.
Clinical Finishing Needed
The second half was almost a catalogue of chances for Borussia as Traoré, Herrmann, Hazard and Raffael went close numerous times, but only one chance found its way into the back of the net.
That was from winger Herrmann who had drifted to the edge of the box towards the centre of the pitch from wide, receiving the ball from Lars Stindl before shrugging past Julian Baumgartlinger and rifling a lethal shot past Loris Karius in the Mainz goal. The goal has been described as “from nothing” – entirely inaccurate as Borussia had controlled the opening stages of the second half and were pushing confidently for an equaliser, and continued in this vein after Herrmann’s strike as they went in search of a winner.
Moments later a 3-on-1 situation – in Borussia’s favour – was uncharacteristically squandered as neither Hazard, Herrmann or Raffael could carve out a brilliant chance, with the Brazilian’s eventual drive from the edge of the box whistling wide of the post. Traoré also tried a couple of efforts with his characteristic drift inside and curled effort that has resulted in memorable goals against Hertha, Leverkusen and St Pauli, but each time the Guinean winger didn’t trouble Karius in the slightest.
Hazard and Herrmann were probably the brightest of the four attacking players but even then neither could turn the advantage in terms of run of play into a goal advantage, with Herrmann eventually being substituted while Borussia chased the game and Hazard taken off in the match’s twilight minutes.
Raffael was probably a weaker link for Borussia on Sunday, holding up the play at times and not finishing opportunities with the zeal of the Rückrunde form he showed last season. Fans will remember that it took the Brazilian a while to grow into the Rückrunde – his first goal(s) of 2015 actually coming away in Mainz in mid-March – and as long as he’s getting into the right positions, he will eventually come back into a spurt of form. Hopefully.
Last week, Borussia were far too narrow and sat far too deep against a dominant Dortmund side. This week, they were caught twice on the break, which at least means they’re not continually making the same mistakes, right?
The two late chances from Muto should probably go ignored in terms of analysis of Borussia’s performance, as they happened while Borussia were aggressively chasing the game with three recognised strikers on the pitch, as well as Hazard who’d also been playing as a striker. Worryingly, though, both goals came from wide positions, with a cross not dealt with eventually falling to a winger following in and slamming a drive past Yann Sommer.
First it was Christian Clemens who teed up Jairo Samperio for the opener, latterly it was Jairo who teed up Clemens; both times, the scorer was unmarked and the cross wasn’t even closed down, leaving Jantschke and Schulz in the middle with a difficult situation.
These weren’t the only opportunities Mainz had – to the contrary, Yunus Malli hit the post early on and Fabian Frei ferociously drove a shot at the underside of the bar – but every time Mainz did have a clear-cut chance, the lack of a commanding presence in the middle was made somewhat clear. The pending return of Martin Stranzl should hopefully help shore the defence up in the coming weeks, but a lot of the defensive frailties at the moment seem to come from wider positions and so it’ll be interesting to see how Favre tries to remedy this.
At the very least, Stindl and Granit Xhaka in the midfield looked a lot more cohesive as they began to pull the strings, especially in the second half. There’s still a lot to work on for the partnership, especially defensively, but there isn’t really much evidence that the pair cannot play together. Mo Dahoud, too, received a handful of minutes for Borussia yet again and could become a reliable option in the near future.
Equally, Schulz has clearly benefitted from playing Bundesliga football and he looked impressive yet again against Mainz. It’d be no surprise to see him dropped for either Stranzl or Alvaro Dominguez upon their return to fitness, but at the very least he has made an impression during this baptism of fire.
“This defeat obviously hurts a lot – to start the season with two defeats is a bitter pill to take. We imagined it quite differently. We have to find our defensive stability again immediately. We’ll continue to work hard on that.” – Tony Jantschke.
“At the end it’s a defeat again, but we didn’t show a bad performance. We created a lot of chances for ourselves, even if we didn’t take them.” – Thorgan Hazard.
“In the first half we were temporarily too hasty and conceded an unnecessary goal. After the break we were much better and deservedly equalised. After that we had some great opportunities which we didn’t use. We were punished for our negligence. That’s a bitter pill to take – we deserved at least a point.” – Lucien Favre.
Borussia head to Bremen for another Sunday evening game next week in what they’ll be hoping will be their first win of the season. Last year Borussia beat Bremen twice – 4-1 at home and 2-0 away in what was their first win at the Weserstadion since 1987. Given that from the corresponding fixtures last season – Dortmund away and Mainz at home – Borussia have actually only dropped a point so far, die Fohlen will be hoping a win can hope to allay the fears of a poor season.
The Champions League draw will also be held on Thursday. Borussia are likely to be in pot 4, which is likely to bring about a “Group of Death”, but the prospect of six exciting games against top clubs is nonetheless exciting.
Borussia Mönchengladbach 1:2 (0:1) FSV Mainz 05
Herrmann 54. – Samperio 42., Clemens 79.
Borussia: Sommer; Korb, Schulz, Jantschke, Wendt; Traore, Stindl (Drmic, 81.), Xhaka, Herrmann (Hrgota, 81.); Raffael; Hazard (Dahoud, 88.).
Mainz: Karius; Brosinski, Bungert, Bell, Park; Baumgartlinger, Frei; Clemens (Balogun, 82.), Malli (Latza, 65.), Samperio; Muto (Koo, 90+1.).
Frei 44., Wendt 78., Korb 90.