Borussia Dortmund are currently flying at the top of the Bundesliga, but in the first half of last season they found out how it feels to perform well below expectations. For the entirety of the Hinrunde, BVB made errors they wouldn’t normally make, and lost games they wouldn’t normally lose as the confidence visibly drained from the squad. Kevin Hatchard now investigates why the same is happening to Borussia Monchengladbach.
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In the build-up to Friday’s clash with Hamburg, Borussia Monchengladbach defender Tony Jantschke admitted that if it could happen to Dortmund, it could happen to Gladbach. How right he was. Friday proved to be a disaster, not only for the Foals in general, but Jantschke in particular.
Gladbach finished third in the Bundesliga last season, playing breathtaking counter-attacking football laced with flair and break-neck speed, but they went into this game having lost all three of their league matches. It represented the club’s worst ever start to a league season, and having lost the final game of the previous campaign, it was their worst ever losing run under inspirational coach Lucien Favre.
The hosts had every reason to be confident against a Hamburg side that had lost eight of its last nine away games in the Bundesliga, but from the opening whistle the home side were gripped by stage fright. Jantschke, playing in an unfamiliar midfield role in the absence of the suspended Granit Xhaka, became the poster boy for that unease. The 25-year-old is usually one of the most dependable defenders in Germany, but he gifted the visitors an early opener. A blind back-pass played in HSV’s Pierre-Michel Lasogga, who rumbled past keeper Yann Sommer to gleefully slide home the opener.
A thumping header from Lasogga just before the break smashed a fragile Gladbach recovery, and the defence evaporated just after half-time as Nicolai Muller latched onto a goal-kick to make it 3-0. Having conceded just seven goals in their first 16 Bundesliga games of 2015, Favre’s men have leaked 14 in the last five. A stunned crowd at Borussia Park were left to reflect on a start that has left their team bottom of the table without a single point collected.
So how has a club that finished third last season fallen so far? The loss of two star players has been a massive blow. Wily striker Max Kruse, so crucial to the team’s success on the counter, left to join Wolfsburg. Kruse’s departure has left his former strike partner Raffael rudderless, and the Brazilian has failed to score a Bundesliga goal this season.
Equally damaging has been the end of Christoph Kramer’s two-season loan spell, and his return to Bayer Leverkusen. The German midfielder has boundless energy, an iron will to win, and relentless consistency. He is a true force of nature, and his departure has left a massive hole in the centre of the park. Gladbach have tried to mitigate that loss by bringing in Lars Stindl from Hannover, but although he will doubtless be a regular provider of goals and assists, he won’t offer the midfield platform Favre’s needs to anchor his counter-attacking style.
Gladbach have worked wonders in the transfer market in recent seasons, but sporting director Max Eberl appears to have some rare miscalculations. Striker Josip Drmic is a totally different player to Kruse, he flopped at Bayer Leverkusen, and Favre has already been unwilling to risk putting him in his starting eleven. The failure to sign another defensive midfielder is odd given Favre’s love of 4-4-2, and bringing in Chelsea’s teenage defender Andreas Christensen already looks ill-advised, given the damage done to his confidence in a 4-0 defeat at Dortmund on the opening weekend. Another signing from Chelsea, Eden Hazard’s brother Thorgan, is talented but needs to be more clinical in front of goal and more disciplined in his positional play.
The defence has been severely weakened by the injury problems suffered by Austrian behemoth Martin Stranzl, and having made his first appearance since March against Hamburg, the captain’s eye socket was fractured by his own team-mate Havard Nordtveit.
It never rains but it pours, and it’s hammering down at Borussia Park. With a Champions League trip to Sevilla and an emotionally-charged Rhineland derby against FC Koln on the horizon, things might get worse before they get better.
Read more from Kevin Hatchard here!