A second functional two-nil victory in the space of a week was enough to put Borussia Mönchengladbach into the DFB-Pokal Quarter Finals, with a penalty from Kruse and a magnificent solo effort from Patrick Herrmann sending die Fohlen on their way. Kickers Offenbach, however, did show a lot of why they currently sit top of the Regionalliga Südwest; Rico Schmitt’s team were well organised and unafraid to go forward, meaning Yann Sommer had more to do than he perhaps expected before Wednesday night, but were ultimately undone by a Müller handball gifting the guests a penalty, and the superior quality of Borussia’s eleven proving crucial as the game wore on.
Can this game be seen as part of a turning point in the Rückrunde, though? Until recently, Borussia’s attack had been relatively ineffective, the points gained since Christmas in the league a result of a stingy defence and a good work ethic throughout the team. While elements of this remain – nobody can really call Borussia’s defence into question after two clean sheets in the space of a few days, regardless of opposition, and the wins over Offenbach and Paderborn stem largely from the hard-working nature of the team – it seems that slowly, die Fohlen’s attacking department is awakening from its winter freeze, the thawing process allowing the attacking hot-shots in Borussia’s stall to finally unleash their talent on the year 2015.
Patrick Herrmann has been particularly impressive. His goal against Offenbach put the game beyond reasonable doubt, as did his goal at a similar stage in the game against Paderborn on Sunday, yet this is a continuation of his good early-Rückrunde form, which saw him the difference-maker against Stuttgart and Freiburg. Certainly, any of the concerns from the start of the season that Herrmann might see his development stinted by the arrival of Traore, Hahn and Hazard seem completely unfounded at this stage, with the diminutive winger having gone from strength to strength in a Gladbach shirt, and it looks that he’s finally having what can be described as his breakthrough season.
For a while, Herrmann had shone as a talent for the future but not necessarily as a player who can bring the level of consistency needed when fighting for one of the league’s top places, or indeed major silverware as was the case on Wednesday in the Pokal. This season – and especially since Christmas – Herrmann looks better physically, able to take on men at speed as usual but with the physicality to keep hold of the ball under tough challenges, and his finishing has risen onto the next level, now looking like a true hot-shot in front of his opposition’s goal. He was Borussia’s main attacking outlet against Offenbach, a willing runner, able to trick his way through the defence or play a neat pass to teammates in a better position. His goal is obviously the best example of this, but was actually more a personification of how he’d attempted to affect the game all evening; as such, there were no doubts about who was the man of the match, at least from the Borussia side of proceedings.
It’s not just Herrmann, though, who continues to impress in the white, black and green of Borussia. Thorgan Hazard keeps growing in stature with every game he plays at the Niederrhein club. His excellent set-pieces add bite to the attack and he’s contributing a number of goals so far in the Rückrunde. On Wednesday, he played just off Max Kruse, his first game centrally for a while, and was in the same sparkling form we’ve seen in the Bundesliga and European competition of late. His corner early in the second half earned Lucien Favre’s men the penalty from which they went into the lead, and he continued to harry the Offenbach defence and create chances for his team before being substituted late in the game with Branimir Hrgota.
Kruse, too, finally has his first goal of 2015, albeit from the spot. His form has been on a slow upturn since a poor start to the year, and while one could still criticise the readiness with which he’ll try an audacious shot in a good position, his performance on Wednesday was unavoidably positive. His penalty was well taken and seemed to relieve some of the pressure on Kruse’s back, just as it did the rest of the team, to be fair, and perhaps his goal will act as a catalyst for improvement in the coming weeks. The upcoming league matches against Mainz and Hannover are a great opportunity for a hopefully-confident-again Kruse to get back among the goals in the league, with the former Freiburg man having remembered where the back of the net actually is on Wednesday. Should he return to form, it would be a huge lift for the whole of the team, who’ve been creating many chances but not seeing them finished by their main goal threat, who is, unavoidably, still Max Kruse.
A brief mention for Andre Hahn, too, who returned to the first team for the first time since the match against Hamburg last month. Hahn wasn’t at his imperious best, looking a shadow of the Hahn who put fellow fourth division side Homburg to the sword earlier in the season. Whether due to nerves at playing against his former side Offenbach, worry at having to sleep on the couch if his Offenbach-supporting girlfriend wasn’t happy with the result, or just because of a slow return to form following injury, Hahn definitely needs to improve and, if he does, will add a definite cutting edge to die Fohlen’s front line; after all, his pacey, direct, powerful style proved so important earlier in the season. Hahn is too good a player to not return to form eventually, and with a run of difficult fixtures ahead – plus the quarter final of the Pokal at the beginning of next month – the sooner Hahn returns to form, the better for him and his club.
Aside from all this, it certainly helped that referee Christian Dingert seemed to have a firm understanding of the rules of the game, giving Borussia a penalty due to a handball for the first time in what feels like a few seasons. There have certainly been a number of appeals for penalties due to a handball turned down in recent months, and Markus Müller’s handling in the area probably wasn’t the most clear of them, but perhaps that, in itself is a turning point – or maybe just a case of the Pokal throwing up a few oddities.
But a turning point in general? It’s difficult to say how this result, in context of the second half of the season so far, will change things, but a few things are clear. Borussia clearly still know how to defend having not been too closely in danger of conceding on Wednesday evening, and are slowly putting their shooting boots back on, having now scored six in their last three games. Additionally, it looks as if Favre’s side are learning how to win difficult games; the victory over Paderborn coming only a few days after Europe, and this victory over Offenbach coming against a very good, organised team, who were clearly up for a game against one of the country’s best teams. That Offenbach rank a few leagues lower was irrelevant on the night, and so plaudits can only be given for the ruthless manner with which Borussia sent them crashing out of the Pokal.
And, of course, the last time Borussia Mönchengladbach beat Offenbacher Kickers in the DFB-Pokal twenty years ago, back in the 1994/95 season, they ended up winning the whole competition. That’s not to say that it’s going to happen again this time around, but it very well could do, with the way this team are developing.
Offenbacher Kickers 0:2 (0:0) Borussia Mönchengladbach
Kruse (pen) 52., Herrmann 83.
Offenbach: Endres; Vetter, Maier, Modica, Mangafic; Gjasula; Röser (S Korb, 72.), Schwarz, Pintol, Cappek; Müller (Bäcker, 64.). (4-1-4-1)
Mönchengladbach: Sommer; Jantschke, Stranzl, Brouwers, Wendt; Hahn (Johnson, 74.), Kramer, Xhaka (Nordtveit, 87.), Herrmann; Hazard (Hrgota, 90+1.); Kruse. (4-4-1-1)
Gjasula 37., Kramer 43., Müller 52., Xhaka 57., Brouwers 75.