Borussia Mönchengladbach simply won’t be budged from top spot in the Bundesliga table and there is now ever-increasing belief around a quiet town in north-western Germany that the country’s biggest prize could once again be coming home.
The Foals have led the Bundesliga standings for the last eight matchdays and most recently came from behind to down champions Bayern Munich at Borussia-Park. It’s a show of strength that got the world wondering if Gladbach are the side to end Bayern’s seven-year reign.
bundesliga.com looks at five reasons this could be Mönchengladbach’s year…
1) Looking Rosy
The appointment of Marco Rose in the summer looks to have brought Gladbach out in full bloom. They are the only club to reach 10 victories this league campaign, while Rose’s record of 31 points from 14 games is one of the best in Bundesliga history.
Although still a young coaching career in the German top flight, the Leipzig native’s win rate of 71 per cent is also third only to Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti in 57 seasons of Bundesliga football.
Himself a serial winner with Red Bull Salzburg, where he won back-to-back Austrian Bundesliga titles, the double last season and previously the UEFA Youth League there in 2016/17, Rose has instilled a winning mentality back at Borussia-Park. For example, the win over Bayern was the third time this season Gladbach have come from behind to claim three points. They managed that just once in the whole of last season.
The 43-year-old has quickly fixed a number of other issues from the previous campaign.
No team have been better at home in 2019/20 than the Foals, who boast 19 points from their eight matches on their own patch, only losing once. Gladbach had previously won just one of their nine outings at Borussia-Park in 2019. It’s a bit of a Rose party trick to turn home grounds into fortresses, as he didn’t lose a single one of his 52 competitive matches in charge of Salzburg at their Red Bull Arena.
Goalscoring is also no longer a problem (more on that later) with the club’s 30 goals after 14 games already 11 more than they scored in the final 17 matches of 2018/19.
Watch: Rose’s Gladbach under the tactical microscope
At the other end, the Foals boast the second-best defence in the league this term with just 16 goals conceded, showing that their ability to attack freely doesn’t have a detrimental effect at the back but is based on their solid foundations.
2) Indian Sommer
A key figure in that watertight defence is goalkeeper Yann Sommer. The Swiss No.1 has been first choice for Borussia since replacing Barcelona-bound Marc-Andre ter Stegen in 2014. Following his signing from Basel in his homeland, the 30-year-old has missed a total of just six league games over six seasons.
Always highly regarded but perhaps sometimes overlooked, Sommer has constantly proven himself one of the Bundesliga’s top goalkeepers over his 178 appearances. This season alone he boasts the highest save rate among first-choice ‘keepers at 77.14 per cent. That is despite facing the fifth-highest amount of shots in the league, while Gladbach remain the only team yet to concede from outside the box in open play.
And even when he’s beaten, the two-time Swiss Player of the Year has shown that may not quite be the case. The result against Bayern could’ve been so much different if not for Sommer’s rapid reactions. Despite Joshua Kimmich’s deflected first-half effort creeping through his legs less than two yards out, the Borussia stopper spun on the ground and threw himself at full stretch to claw the rolling ball off the line with his fingertips with just an inch to spare.
3) Smart signings
In the summer Bayern brought in Philippe Coutinho, Benjamin Pavard, Lucas Hernandez and even Michael Cuisance from Gladbach, while Borussia Dortmund made moves for Mats Hummels, Nico Schulz, Julian Brandt and their own Foal in Thorgan Hazard. Such sizeable transfers provided an ideal cover for Mönchengladbach to go quietly about their own business.
As well as bringing in Rose as coach, right-back Stefan Lainer joined him on the flight from Salzburg, while Breel Embolo arrived from Bundesliga rivals Schalke, Marcus Thuram came from relegated Guingamp in France and left-back Ramy Bensebaini was signed out of relative obscurity from Rennes.
All four of those summer arrivals have settled in and began to repay the faith the club showed in them by securing their services.
Lainer is the only outfielder to start every league game this season and he has created a club-best 28 chances, Embolo and Thuram have combined with Alassane Plea and Patrick Herrmann in attack to lethal effect, and Bensebaini has won all five Bundesliga appearances to date, while also bagging a match-winning brace against Bayern.
Watch: Meet Ramy Bensebaini
“All of our new signings have settled in well. We're a very homogenous team with great characters,” centre-back Matthias Ginter said of Gladbach’s reinforcements.
The 2014 FIFA World Cup winner is himself a result of the Foals' long-term planning, led by sporting director Max Eberl.
The 25-year-old swapped Borussias in 2017 after three years in and out of the side at Dortmund. He has formed a reliable centre-back partnership alongside the league’s most assured passer, 23-year-old Nico Elvedi.
In front of them, midfielders Christoph Kramer, Denis Zakaria, Florian Neuhaus and Laszlo Benes were all signed for relative peanuts a number of years ago. At 28, world champion Kramer is by far the most experienced of the four, while Plea also joined last summer and is the club’s top scorer since signing.
This season Thuram is the Foals' leading source of goals with six scored and five assisted in the league. The Bundesliga’s only summer signing to net more goals this campaign is Augsburg's Florian Niederlechner, although Borussia do boast a league-best 15 through new arrivals.
Watch: Thuram leads Gladbach’s win at Leverkusen
Eberl himself will be the first to admit that not every move he's sanctioned since taking over as sporting director in 2008 has worked, but the former Gladbach and Bayern defender has constantly demonstrated his skill for turning foals into thoroughbreds.
4) Spread the joy
Christmas has come early in a number of senses at Borussia-Park. Leading the standings for the longest period in 43 years, including a win over Bayern, has ensured Mönchengladbach will be enjoying a merry Christmas no matter what.
The spread of seasonal joy has also been evident on the pitch with goals falling like snowflakes and all getting involved in handing out gifts into opposition nets.
Gladbach have scored a league-best seven goals through defenders, while their forwards have accounted for 15, which is third behind only RB Leipzig and Bayern, who boast the Bundesliga’s top two scorers in Timo Werner (15 goals) and Robert Lewandowski (16).
Borussia’s front three have shared those goals amongst themselves, removing the burden from the shoulders of one player and also ensuring that even if one forward has a bad day, there are more who can and will step up.
Watch: Thuram, Embolo and Herrmann all got on the scoresheet against Freiburg
Between Thuram (six), Embolo (five) and Plea (four), they have accounted for the same amount of goals as Werner, while nominal midfielder Herrmann has also chipped in with five of his own, which is more than the previous three seasons combined.
There's also the way Gladbach have been bagging their goals. Only Leipzig have created more clear-cut chances than the Foals this term, whose 38 are almost as many as they managed in the whole of last season (44).
Set pieces proved the key against Bayern with Bensebaini’s goals coming from a corner (the club's first this season) and a penalty (their first in the league for 13 months after missing the previous three). In total, the Foals have scored eight from set pieces – only Bayern and Leipzig (both nine) have netted more – and are now just two short of matching their total from 2018/19, while six goals have come from counter-attacks. Rose's Foals are no one-trick pony.
5) Return to the glory days?
It’s been over 40 years since Gladbach won the last of their five Bundesliga titles, which is the second most together with Dortmund. All those came in the space of eight seasons during the 1970s as the Foals went neck and neck with Bayern for domestic dominance.
The rivalry with their Bavarian foes was stoked ahead of their recent 2-1 win, but the triumph has reignited the feeling that beating Bayern again means a giant leap towards the title.
The result at Borussia-Park took the Foals onto 31 points from their opening 14 games, which is the second-best return in their Bundesliga history. The only time they’ve done better was the last time they lifted the Meisterschale in 1976/77 when Udo Lattek’s side featuring striker Jupp Heynckes had 33 points on the board.
Leipzig may be the closest rivals just a point behind, but putting seven points between yourself and Bayern is a huge boost. In fact, this is the first time since the introduction of the three-points-for-a-win rule in 1995 that Gladbach find themselves so many points clear of the record champions.
For just over a quarter of a million Mönchengladbach residents, it feels like it’s now or never. And they have every reason to have faith this time around.