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18.10.2017Bundesliga

Our next opponents: Borussia Mönchengladbach

Time for the first clash with the neighbours this term. The Werkself are at Borussia Park in Mönchengladbach on Saturday (15.30 CET). It will certainly present a challenge for Bayer 04 as past games have shown. The lowdown on the Foals.
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POSITION

Everybody at Mönchengladbach shares the assessment of last Sunday’s away win at Werder Bremen: The three points are worth their weight in gold. Coach Dieter Hecking's team jumped up from ninth in the table to fifth spot to be where they want to be at the end of the season. "There are moments in the season where it all gets going and the leading pack forms. You have to be with them if you want to finish there at the end of the season. So the victory was very important," said Hecking in discussing the first away win. His captain, Lars Stindl, who made it 2-0 with a fine effort, added: "We'll do everything we can to stay in these positions for as long as possible." A target that seems realistic: After the 6-1 drubbing at Dortmund on matchday six, Hecking's team have recently looked more secure and shown more of their potential on the pitch.

Personnel

Captain, leader, top goalscorer: Lars Stindl is the personification of Borussia. After moving from Hannover 96 in 2015, the 29-year-old was a hit in Mönchengladbach in a flash and is now a full international with good prospects of making the Germany World Cup squad. Up front, the Brazilian Raffael and Stindl are one of the most potent striking partnerships in the Bundesliga. Vincenzo Grifo is supposed to feed the front men with passes from midfield. The new signing from Freiburg, seen as a marquee transfer by Borussia in the summer, suffered an injury at the start of the season and has only made his first two brief appearances for the Foals in the last two matches. For two of the Borussia players, the game against Bayer 04 provides a reunion with former team-mates: While the game has come too soon for striker Josip Drmic (six goals in 38 games for Leverkusen in 2014/2015) following a long injury lay-off, Christoph Kramer is a regular first choice in the centre of midfield for Borussia. The Solingen-born player went through the Bayer 04 youth ranks at Kurtekotten between 1999 and 2011 before graduating to the first team in 2015/2016. He signed for Gladbach after a period there on loan.

PROBLEMS

Since being appointed last December, Hecking has shaped a stable team with a clear structure on the pitch. This rarely leads to breathtaking attacking football but does ensure consistency in his team. The one question mark: Is that approach the right one for top teams? So far, Borussia have played five games against teams from the top half of the table and have only won once (plus two draws, two defeats). In the 6-1 defeat at Dortmund, it was clear the back four had significant problems in defending against opposition attackers of high individual quality.

POTENTIAL

In the football-mad city of Mönchengladbach, fans still dream of the glory days when the legendary Foals eleven, led by playmaker Günter Netzer, the permanent rivals for record champions Bayern Munich in the 1970s. That makes it even more pleasurable for the Gladbach fan community that Borussia were able to establish a top team in record time and secure qualification for the Champions League after nearly being relegated in 2009 and 2011. Sporting director Max Eberl, one of the key people in the Gladbach revival, has stuck with his approach of making small steps: Talented youngsters should be brought through at Mönchengladbach and then, as with Granit Xhaka (now at Arsenal) or Mahmoud Dahoud (now at Borussia Dortmund), sold on. The best example: Five of the new summer signings at Gladbach are 20-years-old or younger – and that is not the only investment in the future. Last week saw the start of construction work on a new Academy residential block opposite the main offices at Borussia where young Foals will be brought through the ranks from 2019.

Prediction

After finishing ninth last season, Borussia are looking to qualify again for European competition. The prospects are looking good: The team are playing to a clear plan, are solid and, in Stindl and Raffael, have strikers who can make the difference. If the duo up front plus key players like Kramer and Jannik Vestergaard remain free of injury then a finish between fourth and seventh should be on the cards for Borussia.

 

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