Mönchengladbach - On the back of their best start in the Bundesliga since 1976, Borussia Mönchengladbach have laid down their credentials as a genuine contender for a UEFA Champions League berth this season.
Ten wins in the opening 16 matches is a return last bettered by a star-studded side including the likes of Berti Vogts, Rainer Bonhof and Jupp Heynckes and, despite putting the brakes on a six-game winning run, last weekend's goalless draw at 1. FSV Mainz 05 did nothing to dampen the Foals' current high spirits.
“These things happen. We're obviously not going to win every single time. We're on 32 points now, that's a pretty decent haul,” German international frontman Max Kruse reflected and he and his colleagues will be out to add to it this Sunday when they play host to the team one place and three points behind them in the standings, VfL Wolfsburg.
The visitors are in fine form themselves but Mönchengladbach have an immaculate record on home turf this season and a ninth successive victory at the Borussia Park would at the very least shore them up in fourth and put further distance between themselves and their closest pursuers.
The man behind this renaissance, Lucien Favre, has put together a team whose style of football is as attractive as it is successful. Ultra-swift forward thrusts out of a very tight defence is the formula of choice for the 56-year-old tactician, a proponent of the modern coaching school who places high demands on all his charges: “The players need to work hard every day and improve continuously. I'm talking in terms of pace, technique and control - everyone has to keep progressing.”
Speed is of the essence for the former Swiss international midfielder, who focuses daily in training on the minutest aspects of his side's game both on and off the ball. “It's a never-ending process, there's always something fresh to look at and we have to keep adapting,” he explained. “Everything's sped up these days and football's got quicker as well. Most goals are the culmination of a move involving three touches maximum. The players accordingly have to think and act faster.”
Alongside displaying a greater tactical maturity, Gladbach have been fortunate enough to remain largely injury-free this season, making for a very settled team. Favre has deployed just 20 players in the Bundesliga, the fewest of any side in the division - with seven of them taking part in all 16 games to date, another league benchmark.
The coach's work is already being compared with that of club legend Jupp Heynckes, who guided Borussia to ten straight wins and a third-place finish back in 1987. His own long-term strategy is based around always focusing on the moment, “on the next training session, the next game”. It was good enough to take the team into the Champions League qualifying rounds two years ago and if they manage to improve their current standing by a single notch this time around, they will go one better and earn a direct group stage slot in Europe's most prestigious club tournament.