Connect in the back of the net

Lucien Favre couldn’t hide his emotions after the final whistle in the last match of the Hinrunde against Wolfsburg, throwing his bottle before storming out of the dugout immediately in utter frustration.

Despite the late equalizer from the visitors that denied the Foals all three points at home for the first time this season, Borussia Mönchengladbach’s manager witnessed his side leapfrogging potential title contenders Borussia Dortmund to climb up to third in the standings – their best finish in the first half of the season in three decades.

The discontent from Favre goes to show how this season’s exuberant ‘Gladbach side set the bar high after a mediocre last campaign, which ended in the side missing out on European qualification.

 

Background

When the Swiss tactician joined the club in 2011 following the sacking of Michael Frontzeck, ‘Gladbach were everyone’s favorite to get relegated at the end of the season, with their abysmal home form and worst defensive record in the league being the main reasons for their downfall.

On his debut, ‘Gladbach secured their first home win of the season with an inspired performance to beat the then Champions League semi-finalist, FC Schalke 04.

Soon their defensive record joined the ranks of the top teams in the league, boosted by Favre’s decision to name youngster Marc-André ter Stegen as his number one in between the posts, and via the relegation playoff Gladbach saw-off promotion hopefuls VFL Bochum to secure their status in the Bundesliga in one of the memorable survival stories in recent seasons.

Fast forward to three years after the struggle to avoid relegation, they are now competing in the top level having their eyes set on a European berth much thanks to the unbeaten home record.

Favre did guide ‘Gladbach to a Champions League participation in his sophomore year at the club, but what followed was an exit from the preliminary round of the elite European tournament. The departure of star players; Marco Reus (Dortmund), Dante (Bayern) and Roman Neustädter (Schalke); to the top three teams resulted in a somehow transition period for the club after their fairytale season raised expectation high.

The new signings in replacement for the trio takes time to adjust to the German football, with highly-rated midfielder Granit Xhaka spent much of his debut season in the substitute bench for disciplinary reasons, while Luuk de Jong and Álvaro Domínguez couldn’t quite able to made ‘Gladbach faithful forget about the dynamic play of Marco Reus and ever-reliable Dante’s service.

At the end of the season, ‘Gladbach had to settle for an eighth place finish as they witnessed surprise packages Freiburg and freshly-promoted Eintracht Frankfurt sides making it into the top six, whereas their Europa League adventure couldn’t go further than the last-32 following a defeat by Italian Serie A club, Lazio.

This season, Favre’s troop take the high road to success with a remarkable first half of a season resulted in them finishing the year above their namesake, Borussia Dortmund, with Champions League football on their sight.

Here are some reasons behind the scintillating first half of the season from Borussia Mönchengladbach.

 

Making Borussia-Park a fortress

Only closest rivals VFL Wolfsburg were able to take points off Mönchengladbach’s ground this season and they were even trailing the match until the final five minutes, in which substitute Bas Dost snatched the points to keep the distance between the sides to three points going into the Winterpause.

They scored twenty-five goals in nine home matches, which is the league best, and only conceded seven in return, only one more than league-leaders Bayern Munich.

In the process, the Rhine-Westphalia side beat the likes of Schalke and Dortmund, as Borussia-Park becomes the toughest place to play against for visitors. They hold more than sixty percent of the possession over the ninety minutes in matches against Freiburg and Nuremberg, which further cemented their dominance when they play in front of their supporters.

They started the season with four consecutive away defeats, including falling short in a heavy tasks to visit top dogs Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen, but once they recorded their first win against Hamburg courtesy of a brace from Max Kruse, they extended their unbeaten run to four matches in their travels, eight overall, ahead of the start of the second of the season.

 

The mesmerizing quartet upfront

The summer acquisition of Max Kruse from Freiburg and Brazilian Raffael, who had a wealth of experience in German football thanks to his stint at Hertha and Schalke before rejoining Lucien Favre for the third time in his career, couldn’t have come at the right time for ‘Gladbach. Alongside long-serving Patrick Herrmann and Juan Arango, the duo played a pivotal role in delivering the goods in the final third of the pitch.

Kruse – who was just plying his trade in Bundesliga 2. with St.Pauli a couple of seasons ago – finds his name in contention for the strikers who’ll represent the national team in this summer’s World Cup following an immediate impact he’s making in his new territory, in addition to last season’s heroic performance for the minnows, Freiburg.

Raffael rejuvenated his carrier with possibly his best performance to date, as he tops the chart of goal scorers in the team with nine goals, including a belter against Schalke. But his game is more than scoring goals, as his work rate, versatility and involvement in possession football provides multiple options for the ‘Gladbach frontline.

Herrmann didn’t quite start the season in high note, but he quickly finds his feet to contribute to the remarkable Hinrunde for the club. Specially, he produced man of the match performances against Nuremberg and Stuttgart, which might attract national team coach Joachim Löw to consider calling the service of the youngster to his squad this summer.

Venezuelan master-class Juan Arango completes the fearsome quartet, as he continued to impress in, maybe, his last season with the club. The 33-years-old free-kick specialist contract will expire at the end of the season, and ‘Gladbach are yet to offer him a contract extension, despite the fact that he keeps scoring the finest goals in the league.

Overall, Lucien Favre started all seventeen league matches this season so far with the same four players in the attacking department.

 

Consistent lineup

Those four players are not the only ones who are yet to miss a game this season, as Lucien Favre remains faithful in his formation and player selection, since the first day of the campaign. Luckily for the rigid manager, they didn’t have to deal with any serious injury problems – unlike fellow league teams, most notably Borussia Dortmund.

Skipper Filip Daems finds it hard to get playing time once he returned to fitness after a brief spell in the sidelines, thanks to a top-class performances from Swedish Oscar Wendt, who has excelled in his attacking play of his game – scoring three goals from left-back position.

Defensive rock Álvaro Domínguez, who started the season in the most bizarre way by being penalized for handball twice in a space of a minute against Bayern, is yet to feature since he was forced to depart against Dortmund due to an injury.

However, debutant Julian Korb has stepped up to the task flawlessly in fullback position with Tony Jantschke – another candidate who might go to Brazil for the World Cup, even though he is yet to play for the national team – filling in for the Spaniard in the center of defense.

Other than that, the remaining players stayed unchanged for the course of the season which left some players to languish in the substitute bench waiting for their rare playing times. Thankfully that list doesn’t include a certain name – Granit Xhaka.

The Swiss international finally performed to high expectations partnering with Leverkusen-loanee Christoph Kramer in the middle of the pitch to great effect.

 

A Stalwart to Depart the Foals this Summer?

Shot-stopper Marc-André ter Stegen revealed he is not going to extend his contract at the club further than the current one – which will run out at the end of next season – following interest from Spanish giant FC Barcelona, and he’s getting even better with experience to become one of the up-and-coming goalkeepers of his generation.

The Foals are in chase of finding a successor for the current German International, as they’re not expected to keep ter Stegen after this summer in order to not lose such a player for free a season later.

That might happen eventually to most of their star players, as it was the case with the club record transfer of Marco Reus to Dortmund, but the current success of Mönchengladbach is more about team effort.

It’s hard to pick the standout player from the current squad, like we pointed Marco Reus out a couple of seasons ago, as the club looks very stable and healthy in every department, which might even get better with the money pouring from Champions League participation next season.

But, first, they have to stay on their feet and not get carried away for the second half of the season, which will resume by the visit of none other than Bayern Munich to Borussia-Park this coming Friday.

 

Written by Eskender Tamrat

Follow Eskender on Twitter @eskeBMG

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