The feelgood story of Borussia Mönchengladbach’s resurgence under reluctant savior Andre Schubert appears to be encountering some problems. The Foals’ season is comparable to a rollercoaster, allow me to explain using some physics: Newton’s First Law of Motion (law of inertia), “an object in motion tends to stay in motion, unless another force acts against it.”
Remember, this is the team that started with five straight losses resulting in Coach Lucien’s departure – and one of those was the 2-1 defeat home to this Mainz side.
For the Foals, the game featured some comical defending, awful positional play, allowing the visiting Mainz side acres of space in midfield and if it wasn’t for the post or Muto’s poor finishing, the game could have been 4 or 5 to 1.
After Favre left, BMG reeled off 8 wins and 2 draws in a ten match stretch that reached its zenith with a 3-1 demolition of Bayern, handing the defending champions their first loss. But, as the song “Learning to Fly” by Tom Petty says : “What goes up, must come down!” and so did Gladbach, getting crushed 5-0 by Leverkusen. While they were able to overcome the third red card of Granit Xhaka to triumph over Darmstadt 3-2 in the final match of the Hinrunde, the Rückrunde posed a vital question for the team with the Nordkurve supporters: Which direction would the rollercoaster go?
Gladbach came into Matchday 19’s game with injury problems , missing their two excellent central mifielders, 20-year-old wunderkid Mahmoud Dahoud to a hand injury (suffered at home) and Granit Xhaka still serving his suspension in addition to Tony Jantschke and Patrick Herrmann (scorer of BMG’s lone goal in the Hinrunde match vs the 05ers) who have been out with knee injuries since December and October, respectively.
Mainz entered the game in a funny little situation, on one hand they are on a 3 game winless streak, one away from the team’s worst under Martin Schmidt. On the other hand, they have been unbeaten against BMG in their last 3 matches. The two-man wrecking crew of Yunus Malli and Yoshinori Muto have accounted for 15 of the team’s 24 goals, but were both quiet in last week’s 1-0 defeat to the offensively anemic Ingolstadt. (Muto came off the bench). So, the question for the Nullfünfer was: Would the M and M duo return their excellent Hinrunde form, or was last week a sign of things to come?
Gladbach (4-2-3-1, sometimes 4-1-4-1) – lining up with Lars Stindl behind Raffael with Ibrahima Traore (R) and Jonas Hoffman (L) , and CDM Havard Nortveidt (playing along the ever versatile American Fabian Johnson) started the game with more enthusiasm. The 25-year-old Nortdveidt had the first chance of the game from a corner, but his header was well saved by Loris Karius. The Norwegian has had a decent season under Schubert after being completely ignored by Lucien Favre (zero appearances in 5 matches), scoring 3 goals and even becoming the target of some Arsenal (the Norwegian left the Gunners without ever making a senior appearance in 2010)
In the early parts of the game, the most interesting going for Mainz was there rainbow-colored jerseys, reminiscent of Dariusz Wosz era VfL Bochum.
At the 20 minute mark, Traore lost the ball for what was like the 5th time and BMG were unable to recover, culminating in Jairo Samperio (who had the most touches of all players up to this point) slaloming through 3 Gladbach players (Traore, Nordveidt, Stindl) before Christian Clemens unleashed a bomb from about 20 yards out to give FSV the lead. It is perhaps worth mentioning at this point, that Mainz are 7-0-1 when taking the lead in a game for 22 points, which is relevant, when they have 24 altogether.
The revitalized Raffael (earning the epithet for his awakening under Schubert) and Borussia Dortmund castaway Jonas Hofmann decided to put on a bit of a passing exhibition on 35 minutes, with the Brazilian missing a glorious chance. Or rather we should say the 22-year-old Karius made an absolutely killer save.
The Foals were mounting a comeback with Lars Stindl sandwiching a lovely run between being denied first on a header by Karius, and then in the 42nd minute his own right foot let him down, as he stretched, but could only put his effort wide.
Yann Sommer also kept out a clever curling shot by Yunus Malli on 43 minutes.
At halftime, BMG had the edge in possession 58-42 and in shots 6-5, but Mainz were deservingly up. The biggest problem, for Gladbach was that Mainz’s Austrian central midfielder Julian Baumgartlinger was having his way versus the duo of Nortveidt and Fabian Johnson, the former a central defender, the latter a fullback/outside midfielder being required to play as CDMs in the absences of Xhaka, Dahoud and Jantschke. Their utter failure to get their fullbacks Oscar Wendt and Julian Korb involved in attacks going forward has reduced them to only being able to threaten from rare moments of individual brilliance (Raffael, Stindl) and/or set pieces (Nordtveidt/Stindl).
After the break, Mainz were the more dangerous side. Finally, Traore has worn out Schubert’s patience and was replaced by Thorgan Hazard. Not exactly the greatest substitution when one of the worst Bundesliga midfielders is replacing your attacking mid who was at 63% passing on 30 passes and was directly responsible for conceding the goal.
Muto was replaced on 66 minutes by Cordoba. The Japanese revelation had a quiet game, failing to get a shot off on 30 touches. Despite his 178cm frame he was able to win 5 aerial challenges, which quite frankly should not happen when Gladbach has loanee Martin Hinteregger (184cm) and Nortveidt and Andreas Christensen at 188cm.
71 minute – Wendt finally awakens, but Stindl and Raffael somehow managed to botch two attempts at an empty net, though Karius did superbly to recover after diving out some 10 yards on the touchline to stop the cross.
At the other end, Christian Clemens almost doubled his tally after Jairo played him in with a brilliant through ball, but the goalscorer was only able to poke the ball wide of onrushing Yann Sommer.
84minutes – Hazard finally showed something with a couple of quick moves to fire wide. Die Fohlen have even brought on Josip Drmic (perhaps in an effort to troll me – as I had him in the worst Bundesliga forwards) for underwhelming right back Korb.
88 minutes – Samperio starts cramping up and is promptly substituted after a quieter 2nd half (only 24 touches).
89th minute – Christensen gets a deflection from a set piece, but hoofs it over the bar. Gladbach were throwing every able body forward, but were not really able to get a better chance than that and FSV hung on for a one goal victory.
A massively disappointing night for Borussia, as their injuries have really hurt them, and their lack of real squad depth (Hazard, Drmic, Traore, Hofmann – are not really cutting it at this level) coupled with disappointing performances from their better players in Stindl and Raffael (wasting the few glorius chances), as well as sub-par games from Nortdveidt and Fabian Johnson have left them empty-handed.
FSV Mainz should get all the credit in the world for the victory, which now puts them in 6th place in the Bundesliga! Despite the Muto/Malli duo putting in an underwhelming shift and only having 37% possession (compared to their usual 46.5%), Mainz were able to pull the game out thanks to these 5 key contributors: Goalkeeper Karius was massive with 6 saves made and was voted man of the match. Danny Latza’s 6 key passes should get some attention, given that 26-year-old German central midfielder had 14 in the whole season! His fellow central midfielder, Baumgartlinger was able to control the middle of the pitch very effectively with 39 passes on 93% accuracy and with 6 (trademark) tackles. Christian Clemens is becoming somewhat of a nemesis for Gladbach, as his beautiful goal was the difference again, just like on Matchday 2. Last but not least, diminutive Spanish winger Samperio was my man of the match, with an unlikely 6 interceptions, 2 shots, 2 key passes and 1 amazing run to set up Clemens. When he cramped up after 88 minutes, nobody was surprised, as Mainz broke the Bundesliga record with 125.1 kms for most distance covered…