The Werkself are the identified target of Borussia Mönchengladbach. Or to be more exact: the part of the table where Bayer 04 are at the moment. "We've always said we want to get back to where we were," declared head coach Marco Rose on Tuesday night, meaning the positions that ensure qualification for Europe. At the start of the second half of the season, his team was still in fifth place after an outstanding 4-2 victory over Borussia Dortmund. There has not been a single win since then. Not in the league where Mönchengladbach have not won for five games. Not in the Champions League were the first leg in the Round of 16 ended in a 2-0 defeat at home to Manchester City. And not in the DFB Cup either where Gladbach suffered a narrow 1-0 defeat against Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday night. "I'd say today was an unlucky defeat," said Rose after the game against his future employers. His team were on a par with Dortmund but too rarely threatened in the final third. Nevertheless, the players involved did show promise that they want to build on. "With the reaction on the pitch, we showed the team is still fully behind the coach," declared all-rounder Jonas Hofmann as he looked forward to Saturday: "We have to be fully focused against Leverkusen. If we win then we’ll be just one point behind them." The hunt is on.
Borussia have recently been spared injuries in spite of the crowded fixture list. Only the squad players Mamadou Doucouré, Torben Müsel and Famana Quizera are currently ruled out through injury with Rose otherwise having a full squad to choose from – or almost. As the only first-choice player that Mönchengladbach will be missing on Saturday, is a very important player at the same time: Captain Lars Stindl picked up a fifth yellow card in the 3-2 defeat at Leipzig last week is now serving a one-match ban. That is a big blow as the stalwart has been at the heart of the Gladbach attack this season. Stindl has played in every competitive match this term and will miss his first game against the Werkself. The 32-year-old is also the top VfL goalscorer in the Bundesliga this season with ten goals and he even netted a brace in the spectacular 4-3 win for the Werkself in the previous meeting.
As the classic number ten is not available, Rose could move away from the 4-2-3-1 formation he fielded against Dortmund and instead play two up front. That was often the case recently when Stindl came off the bench. It is possible Mönchengladbach may play a classic 4-4-2 system or a 3-3-2-2 as in the recent match at Leipzig.
Gladbach are the set-piece kings of the league. While the Werkself are the most successful team from corners, Borussia are in front if you count all dead ball situations. Mönchengladbach have already scored 17 goals from set pieces – the best return in the Bundesliga. That is down, on the one hand, to impressive and technically gifted strikers like Stindl or the midfield maestro Florian Neuhaus as well as the many potential targets on the other. It is true Gladbach do not have a towering giant over 1.90 metres tall but they do have several players like striker Marcus Thuram and central defender Nico Elvedi with extremely skilful heading ability and good judgement with flick-ons or rebounds.
In spite of the great work performed by sporting director Max Eberl for many years, Borussia have a leadership issue. At least on the pitch. A 2-0 lead against Leipzig was not enough to get a result and it was the third game this season where the Foals have lost after being in front – including the first match against the Werkself. The 21 points Gladbach have dropped from leading positions is the highest number in the league. That is down to the many goals conceded in the final 15 minutes – only the teams near the bottom Schalke 04, FSV Mainz 05 and Hertha Berlin have let in more goals after 75 minutes – and, on the other hand, there is the lack of strength in counter-attacks to close down games after taking the lead. Along with FC Köln, Mönchengladbach are the only other team who have not yet scored from a counter-attack.
Against the currently overwhelming Manchester City, Borussia will find it very difficult to qualify for the quarter-finals of the Champions League in the second leg game in the middle of March. After going out from the DFB Cup, that could mean Borussia would be able to fully focus on the race for a European finish. The team showed what they are capable of with wins against FC Bayern and Borussia Dortmund in January and the great performances in the group stage of the Champions League. Now Rose's team have to consistently get points against the supposedly weaker teams. Then qualification for Europe would be a realistic possibility.
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