Chris McClintick returns–(Are you getting college credit for these features yet, Chris?)–to TSG with a feature on Borussia Mönchengladbach (or as we affectionately call them around here “Bo’Munchen) minus one Michael Bradley.
Taking charge of a bottom-of-the table team during the second half of a season is a daunting task when the single expectation and only possible positive outcome is survival. Unfazed by this ominous challenge, Lucien Favre accepted Borussia Mönchengladbach’s head coach position on February 14th last season, inheriting a squad with only 16 points in 22 matches, and quickly transforming the mentality, and philosophy that ultimately led Gladbach to safety.
The nickname, “Die Fohlen” (The Foals), harking back to Gladbach’s young, prolific, and trophy-laden sides of the 70’s, couldn’t be more relevant with Lucien Favre at the helm. Throughout his career, Favre has been known for his introduction and development of young players. While coaching in the Swiss Superliga, the top tier of his home-nation, Favre was responsible for the exposure of youth players such as Steve Von Bergen, Almen Abdi, and Gökhan Inler at FC Zurich who eventually broke into the Swiss national squad. Using this young blood, as well as his dynamic, attacking, and organized system of play, Favre led Zurich to two consecutive titles in 2006 and 2007, the former being the first for the club in 25 years.
Although the current Gladbach squad hasn’t entirely lived up to their thriving predecessors of the 70’s, the former Hertha Berlin skipper’s trust in youth has not only spurred what papers in Mönchengladbach dubbed “The Great Escape”, but also a continuation of their impressive form in the first two weeks of their 2011-12 Bundesliga campaign: a 1-0 upset of Bayern in the Allianz Arena, and a 1-1 draw against the resurgent Stuttgart.
This great escape required the absolute maximum effort and quality out of “savior” Favre’s disheartened squad in order for them to wriggle out of the depths of the relegation zone. His first priority had to be defensive organization and cutting down the amount of goals conceded.
Prior to Favre’s reign, Gladbach conceded 51 goals in 22 matches in the Bundesliga alone. Michael Frontzeck, Favre’s predecessor and former Gladbach defender, addressed this problem by switching first choice keeper Logan Bailly for Christofer Heimeroth two months into the season with little improvement to show for it. Clearly changing the keeper was not the answer entirely. During this poor stretch, Gladbach had their largest defeat in club history, a 7-0 loss to Stuttgart, and had a number of embarrassing performances including 4-1 thrashings from Bremen and Dortmund, and blowing a 2-0 lead at home to Stuttgart in February, a match that ultimately led to Frontzeck’s sacking.
Favre’s first match against Schalke in Borussia-Park on February 20th showed immediate results. After going down 1-0 in two minutes, Gladbach quickly responded with two goals in twenty minutes after a wonder-goal from Marco Reus and later Mohamadou Idrissou.
Gladbach were far from going into the clear however, and although Favre’s squad was producing better results and play on the field, Gladbach picked up only four points in their next five matches, including narrow defeats to Wolfsburg, Kaiserslautern, and Bayern. During this period Favre re-installed Bailly over Heimeroth in the net, and following the 2-1 defeat to Wolfsburg, gave 21-year-old Tony Jantschke the starting right-back position over Tobias Levels in an attempt to sure up his defense.
The pivotal match of Die Fohlen’s Bundesliga survival came on April 10th hosting FC Cologne. It was in this match that Favre made a curious change to his line-up, giving 19-year-old keeper, Marc-Andrés Ter Stegen his Bundesliga debut over both Bailly and Heimeroth. Gladbach went on to embarrass Cologne in an impressive 5-1 showcase of Gladbach’s newfound attacking confidence. With impressive wins over eventual champions Dortmund, Europa League qualifiers Hannover, and Freiburg, along with a draw on the final match day in Hamburg, Gladbach found themselves in 16th position, the relegation play-off. They would go up against third-place 2nd Bundesliga-dwellers, Bochum. Gladbach were always going to find a way to win under their new skipper and architect, and they did just that winning 1-0 at home, and drawing 1-1 in the return leg.
Once again, Favre finds himself with a squad full of young, talented players after a few new signings over the summer. Without question, the most important player of this season will be 22-year-old Marco Reus, Gladbach’s player of the season for the past two seasons.
Reus has a knack for spectacular goals, the ability to weave through a defense with the ball attached to his feet with an imaginary rope, and the creative vision to find space and his teammates in scoring positions. Reus doesn’t need many opportunities, or much time, to make an impact on a match, and what an impact he makes.
It was Reus who scored the first goal of the Favre tenure after ripping the ball with his first touch leaving Schalke’s number one at the time, Manuel Neuer, standing upright unaware the ball just blew past him into the net. It was Reus who scored an inspiring double in the 5-1 win against Cologne, the first goal coming from intelligent link-up play with Mike Hanke, and the second, an absolutely breath-taking volley from 25-yards out. And it had to be Reus who scored the decisive goal against Bochum after a clever give-and-go at the top of the box with the veteran Juan Arango, eventually leading Gladbach to safety. Favre will expect, and surely need Reus to continue his quality performances that have recently earned him a call-up to the German National Team and comparisons with rising German talent such as Andre Schürrle, Mario Götze, and Mesut Özil.
As a kid, Marc-Anrés Ter Stegen held the hand of legend Oliver Kahn during the walk-in of a Germany match; it was then he decided he had to be a keeper. At 19, he has cemented his position as Gladbach’s number one after his Bundesliga debut last season. Ter Stegen’s form has been more than impressive, and he has been undoubtedly been a vital part of Favre’s record of only conceding more than one goal in sixteen matches on one occasion – a 2-1 loss to Wolfsburg, his second match in charge. Ter Stegen has conceded five goals in ten matches with five clean sheets, a level of consistency Manuel Neuer would be envious of. At only 19, Neuer will need top performances to keep Ter Stegen off his heels for the starting position of the German National Team.
Favre’s physical holding midfield of late has consisted of the 6’2 pairing of Russian-born German international Roman Neustädter (23), and Norwegian Håvard Nordtveit (21), formerly of the Arsenal reserves. This of course leaves out US national Michael Bradley. The American has been away on international duty, and not included in either squad so far this season. Public and validated commentary has Favre saying that Bradley will not play for him against at this outpot. Further, Favre has said that if Bradley is to leave, he would invest in a third holding midfield player to likely support Neustädter and Nordtveit.
Favre will have Veterans amongst his younger players, and will count on strong leadership from his older contingent. Bundesliga veteran and former Schalke, Wolfsburg, and Hannover forward Mike Hanke (27) has proved an invaluable resource. Hanke is a proven target forward, and more importantly creates space behind him for Reus to play-off. Venezuelan captain Juan Arango complements Reus’ creativity in the left midfield, allowing accurate set pieces, crosses, and distribution for Gladbach’s potent counter-attacks. Favre has bolstered his central defense by picking up Champions League-experienced Swedish international Oscar Wendt (25) from FC Copenhagen.
Other additions Favre made to his squad this summer include: a duo from Karlsruhe in defender Matthias Zimmerman (19) and attacking midfielder Lukas Rupp (20), and Australian international and former Adelaide United forward Mathew Leckie (20) who made his Bundesliga debut against Stuttgart at a substitute.
Despite Favre’s modest goal of survival this season, expect to see Favre’s system at work yet again, and effective as ever.