After missing out on the group stages of the UEFA Champions League, Gladbach then exited the Europa League at the last 32 stage recently, and the fixture burden has hampered their consistency in the league. However, their has rekindled hopes that European football, and possibly even in the Champions League, can return to Borussia Park.
From the start of the season, the focus has been on regrouping after losing three key players last summer. Dante, Marco Reus and Roman Neustädter all left for pastures new following the Foals’ phenomenal fourth-place finish last term. Following the 1-0 win over Hannover 96, another tilt at the Champions League is once again within their sights, and De Jong is warming to the idea. “Fourth place is still a possibility,” he said.
De Jong himself needed time to settle in following his summer arrival from FC Twente, but after being the match-winner against Eintracht Frankfurt a fortnight ago, and again against Hannover, he now feels he has arrived in the Bundesliga. “Things are going really well at the moment,” he said. “Of course I’m really happy to score such important goals, but the team is always more important. We desperately wanted the three points in this game and we managed that, so we’re delighted.”
It has taken some tinkering by Gladbach coach Lucien Favre to find the right balance, but with the emergence of youngster Amin Younes and the successful shift of Patrick Herrmann into a more advanced position, he appears to have finally got it right. The new system also means De Jong has to track back a bit more than he is used to, but this is a new aspect of his game that the Dutchman is happy to improve upon.
“I’m always helping out defensively because it’s important for the team,” he said. “I picked up the ball in midfield (for my goal) and saw that Patrick Herrmann was free. He kept his composure and threaded the ball through perfectly for me. I was then able to chip it over the goalkeeper because he came out quickly.”
With Juan Arango in midfield and Mike Hanke and Peniel Mlapa ready and waiting from the bench, Gladbach look well served in attack at present. “We have so many options that the coach is spoilt for choice,” said De Jong. “Amin and Patrick are always looking for the killer pass, but Mike did well after coming on too. Peniel also scored in the last game.”
The jury is still out on whether the Foals can qualify for Europe's premier club competition again, but de Jong for one believes it is still possible. “It’s going to be tough. There are still so many games to play and so much can happen still. Hopefully we can get three points in the next game [against SC Freiburg] too, which would be important to keep us on course for the Europa League.” That may well be the minimum aim for this season.
Markus Hoffmann reporting from Mönchengladbach