Goalkeeper Yann Sommer has been the rock for Borussia Mönchengladbach as Marcus Thuram has gone about entertaining up front in an unforgettable 2019/20 campaign.
bundesliga.com looks at how the Foals’ race has unfolded…
Who they signed: Gladbach stayed relatively local for their summer shopping as they strengthened their attack and defence. They made the short hop across the border to France for Thuram and left-back Ramy Bensebaini. Son of FIFA World Cup winner Lilian, the former joined from relegated Guingamp and has added another dimension to the Borussia frontline alongside fellow new forward Breel Embolo, who arrived from Bundesliga rivals Schalke. Together they have a combined 13 goals and 11 assists.
While Bensebaini stepped into the spotlight with a match-winning brace against Bayern Munich, perhaps more crucial to the team’s defensive stability was the signing of right-back Stefan Lainer, who followed incoming coach Marco Rose from Red Bull Salzburg and has quietly gone about his business.
Watch: How Rose has got the Foals into the title race
What they expected: The five-time Bundesliga champions narrowly missed out on UEFA Champions League qualification last season under Dieter Hecking. Although sporting director Max Eberl stated that Europe in general was the goal, a top-four finish would have been the ultimate target with the arrival of Rose, who had secured back-to-back titles in Austria. Having also guided Salzburg deep into the UEFA Europa League and won the domestic cup, the former Mainz defender may have also been targeting runs in that European competition and the DFB Cup.
How it played out: For a coach who had never lost a home game in charge of a professional team, a 0-0 draw to Schalke and 3-1 loss to RB Leipzig in the first two matches at Borussia-Park didn’t bode too well.
However, five wins from the opening seven games in fact saw Gladbach go top of the table and remain there for eight matchdays, which was their longest stint in first place since the club last won the title in 1976/77.
They claimed impressive victories away at Hoffenheim (3-0) and Bayer Leverkusen (2-1) before underlining their title credentials with that come-from-behind 2-1 win at home to champions Bayern in December. A 2-1 defeat in Wolfsburg allowed Leipzig to overtake the Foals at the top and ended a bad week that also saw elimination from the Europa League at the group stage. Their DFB Cup campaign had also been ended early in the second round in Dortmund.
Yet the gap to the leaders over the winter break was just two points as Gladbach posted their best Hinrunde tally in over 40 years. Their eight games since the new year has heralded only two points less than their opening eight of the campaign, including a 2-2 draw with 10 men away at table-toppers Leipzig, to leave the Foals fourth following their rearranged 2-1 derby win over Cologne.
The gap to Dortmund in second is just a couple of points, while Bayern are now six clear of their once arch-rivals. A visit to Munich remains, on paper, the hardest task for Rose’s side, as well as back-to-back games against Eintracht Frankfurt and Leverkusen. Of their other six remaining matches, only two are against sides in the top half of the table.
Key player: More often than not, the spotlight only falls on goalkeepers when they’ve made mistakes. Luckily for Sommer, this time he’s in the limelight for his outstanding work in the Gladbach goal. The Switzerland international has played every minute of the campaign and made more saves than any goalkeeper in the league. Those 97 stops represent 76 per cent of all shots he’s faced, which is also the best rate of all first-choice keepers (minimum 10 games) and helped form the base of the division’s third-best defence behind Bayern and Leipzig. That foundation has allowed the likes of Thuram and Alassane Plea to flourish at the other end.
Watch: The pick of Sommer’s saves, with his fingertips, against Bayern
Best game: Doing the double over local rivals Cologne will have gone down very well with the Gladbach faithful, but the 2-1 victory over Bayern no doubt remains the highlight for fans. For the first time in over 22 years, the Foals were ahead of the record champions in the standings ahead of a direct meeting and the tables were very much turned in December.
Bayern controlled the first half and took the lead soon after the break through Ivan Perisic, but Borussia rallied and began to dominate the play. They equalised through Bensebaini on the stroke of the hour before the Algeria international sealed his place in Gladbach hearts with a 92nd-minute penalty. It kept the Foals out in front in the title race as they claimed a huge scalp over Hansi Flick’s side. They are also the last team to beat Bayern in any competition.
Watch: Highlights of the dramatic win over Bayern
Biggest surprise: When you carry the Thuram name, it’s natural people will expect a lot of you on a football pitch. At 22, Marcus had barely played four seasons of first-team football and scored just 13 goals in 98 league appearances for Sochaux and Guingamp in France. Yet he hit the ground running following his cross-border move to Gladbach, announcing himself with a match-winning brace from the bench against neighbours Fortuna Düsseldorf. In total he’s scored six and provided eight assists as he’s featured in all 25 league games, meaning he’s had a hand in a goal every 128 minutes.