For the first time in over eight years, Borussia Mönchengladbach are top of the Bundesliga table, having made their best start to a campaign since they last won the title in 1976/77.
Their 5-1 dismantling of Augsburg on Matchday 7 and subsequent jump to first place got bundesliga.com thinking: in what looks like one of the most open title races in years, could Marco Rose be the man to restore the Foals to their former glory of the 1970s?
As Gladbach spend the international break gearing up for one of the season's trickiest outings – a journey to Dortmund for the Battle of the Borussias – we take a trip down memory lane before putting their title credentials under the microscope.
The weight of history
Modern fans of the Bundesliga have become accustomed to Bayern Munich's all-conquering march to the Meisterschale, with only four other clubs – Borussia Dortmund, Werder Bremen, VfB Stuttgart and Wolfsburg – lifting the famous shield since the turn of the century. And that quartet have only amassed a total of six crowns since 2000, compared to Bayern's 14.
But back before the Bavarians had emerged as Germany's pre-eminent footballing force, they enjoyed a sensational rivalry with Gladbach. For nine consecutive seasons between 1968 and 1977, the title ended up going to either Munich or Mönchengladbach.
The legendary Hennes Weisweiler – after whom Germany's national coaching centre is named – was the man who provided the blueprint for Gladbach's domestic triumphs, developing a fast-paced and youthful brand of attacking football that earned the club the 'Foals' nickname they still bear proudly to this day.
On the pitch, they had a brilliant team built around Günter Netzer, including Berti Vogts, Herbert Wimmer, Horst Köppel and Jupp Heynckes. Heynckes, who would go on to enjoy unprecedented success as Bayern coach, plundered 168 Bundesliga goals for Gladbach in a glittering eight-year spell.
Gladbach's swinging 70s also included UEFA Cup glory in 1975 and 1979, and a run to the European Cup final in 1977 – but their stint at the top table ended abruptly in the 1980s, as they were no longer able to match Bayern either financially or on the pitch. The club's stoutly loyal fans have had precious little to celebrate ever since, aside from a DFB Cup title in 1994/95 and the Bundesliga 2 crown in 2007/08, in amongst relegations in 1999 and 2007.
A genuine title race?
After some teething problems on their return to the top flight, Gladbach improved to become European regulars from 2011/12 onwards, with current Dortmund boss Lucien Favre responsible for restoring some measure of pride at the Borussia-Park. After mixed fortunes under Andre Schubert and Dieter Hecking, Rose is now looking to step things up a gear in 2019/20.
If the early signs are anything to go by, this could well be the season that finally spells the end of Bayern's seven-year hegemony. After seven games, the top eight teams in the Bundesliga are separated by four points, and they all look capable of beating each other.
Bayern have already dropped seven points, drawing with Hertha Berlin and RB Leipzig before being stunned at home by Hoffenheim. Gladbach beat Hoffenheim but lost to Leipzig and drew with Schalke, while the Royal Blues were brushed aside by Bayern but defeated Leipzig at the Red Bull Arena. After thrashing Bayer Leverkusen 4-0, Dortmund have drawn successive games with Eintracht Frankfurt, Bremen and surprise package Freiburg, while second-placed Wolfsburg remain unbeaten. Predict any future scorelines at your peril.
"Taking top spot in the league is a nice bonus," Rose confessed after the commanding win over Augsburg. "But in the past few weeks, we've seen that the table is very prone to change, so it's hard to say exactly how we feel about being top at the moment!"
Rose's players echoed his sentiment, with Christoph Kramer declaring that being top had "no significance" at the moment, and Tony Jantschke agreeing that "nothing has ever been decided after seven games".
The delighted fans at the Borussia-Park were somewhat less restrained in their analysis, singing 'German champions? Only Gladbach!' as their side put Augsburg to the sword. It is still very early days, but if the Foals can continue to dismiss teams with the same ruthless efficiency they showed on Sunday, they may be hard to shift off top spot.
Come up smelling of Rose(s)
Kramer was quick to praise Gladbach's new boss for the manner of their Matchday 7 win, their second in a row at home in the Bundesliga after a 10-match drought stretching back to early February. "We won the match in the first 30 minutes," the 2014 FIFA World Cup winner explained. "And the coach deserves the biggest share of the credit for that."
"We haven't given our fans much to cheer about at home for a long time," Jantschke added. "So it was a great day for us as a team and for the fans. It's a brilliant result."
Watch: Gladbach's attacking masterclass against Augsburg
Rose's high-press tactics worked a charm against Augsburg, as a rampant Gladbach scored on their first three forays forward, going 3-0 up in the 13th minute and effectively putting the game to bed. The former Salzburg coach appears to have instructed his men to target Tomas Koubek's near post, because that was how they got their first three goals, through Denis Zakaria and Patrick Herrmann. A mistake from the out-of-sorts Augsburg keeper then allowed Alassane Plea to add a fourth before half-time.
A former defender with VfB Leipzig and Hannover, Rose joined Jürgen Klopp's Mainz in 2002 and spent the last eight years of his playing career with the 05ers, becoming assistant coach of their reserves in 2010. But it was over the border in Austria that he really earned his stripes, spending four years in charge of the Salzburg youth teams and winning the UEFA Youth League before being promoted to the top job in 2017/18.
During a superb two-season spell he led Leipzig's sister club to back-to-back Austrian Bundesliga titles, reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Europa League, and somehow went every single home game – 53 matches in all competitions – unbeaten at the Red Bull Arena. Even Salzburg's most illustrious European visitors, including Dortmund, Lazio, Napoli, Marseille and Leipzig, couldn't uproot Rose in his formidable back garden.
Klopp once said of his former teammate that he "can have any job, and do any job", and the 43-year-old certainly seems to be cut from the same cloth as the current Liverpool boss, and indeed the glut of young German coaches – Julian Nagelsmann, Florian Kohfeldt, Sandro Schwarz, Ante Covic – currently making up the tactical fabric of the Bundesliga.
Rose is already a proven winner and his exciting, high-pressing style has echoes of the glorious Gladbach of old. There have been some early blips – defeat to Leipzig, and a "nightmarish" 4-0 Europa League loss at home to Wolfsberger, in the words of Matthias Ginter – but the Leipzig native has overseen three away wins in the Bundesliga, and crucially seems to have got his side back on track at Borussia-Park, a fortress for much of 2018.
Foals to thoroughbreds
Rose's influence only goes so far, of course. Getting the job done out on the pitch is down to the players, who are clearly buying into their new coach's methods. Little by little, he has been instilling that Salzburg spirit of resilience into an increasingly well-oiled team, and the Augsburg win was the clearest evidence yet that Gladbach are heading in the right direction.
"In terms of getting around the pitch and footballing quality, the sky's the limit for our team," Rose declared ahead of the 3-0 win at Hoffenheim. "Whether it's handling situations when we don't have the ball, combining with each other, or pushing forward when we do have the ball and keeping possession, there's plenty of room for improvement."
Eight goals and six points later, the coach must have felt he had got his message across. The Foals have now netted 15 league goals this term – only Bayern (20) and Dortmund (19) have more – and in Plea, Marcus Thuram and Breel Embolo, they boast a dynamic attacking trident who could potentially carry them all the way to the title. Between them, the trio have had a hand in all but one of Gladbach's 17 goals in all competitions.
After notching five goals in the first seven games of 2018/19, Plea has hit the ground running again this term, netting four goals in the wins over Mainz, Cologne, Hoffenheim and Augsburg. The Frenchman has also shown his altruistic streak, providing four assists and dovetailing beautifully with new signings Thuram and Embolo.
It's no easy thing being the son of a legend – in this case France's most capped player, Lilian Thuram – but Marcus is proving that he has sufficiently broad shoulders to bear his famous name. The 21-year-old was overwhelmingly voted Gladbach's Player of the Month for September by fans after match-winning performances against local rivals Fortuna Düsseldorf and Hoffenheim. He has already scored three and set up two more since his summer switch from Guingamp.
Fellow recruit Embolo has settled in very nicely as well – also scoring three goals since arriving from Schalke – which is testament to sporting director Max Eberl's keen eye for a shrewd acquisition; this is the man, after all, who discovered Dortmund captain Marco Reus.
Right-back Stefan Lainer has also been a stellar addition, bringing composure in defence and an additional threat in attack. Also the son of a former pro – Leo Lainer – the Austria international followed Rose from Salzburg to Gladbach and has started every game so far, getting a goal and an assist and completing two-thirds of his passes.
Perhaps the only cloud on the horizon for Rose is that both Lainer and Ginter are set for a spell on the sidelines after suffering injuries against Augsburg. After all, Gladbach have the second-best defence in the Bundesliga, starting with a very safe pair of hands in Switzerland keeper Yann Sommer. And his international teammate Nico Elvedi forms one of the division's most reliable centre-back partnerships with Ginter, the club's only starter for Germany.
Even with that double injury blow, there is a feel-good factor surrounding the Foals heading into this international break. Herrmann has just made a stunning return, with two goals and an assist against Augsburg, while 22-year-old Laszlo Benes is emerging as one of the best young midfielders in the Bundesliga since his return from a loan stint with Holstein Kiel. If Gladbach can get the better of Dortmund on Matchday 8, their coach will inevitably have to start fielding questions about an unexpected title challenge.
Rose was barely two weeks old when Heynckes fired Gladbach to a 6-0 win over Rot-Weiss Essen in September 1976, his hat-trick propelling them to the top of the Bundesliga table. Eight months later they were champions for the fifth time, but little did their fans know that the wait for a sixth crown would go on for over 40 years.
Yet after decades in the wilderness, the seeds of a title-winning campaign could finally be set to bloom again at Borussia-Park, home of Rose's fast and furious Foals.