Borussia Mönchengladbach will play in the UEFA Champions League for the first time in four years next season, but how did Marcus Thuram, Alassane Plea and Co do it?
bundesliga.com explores how they managed it…
1) Shrewd summer signings
Having missed out on fourth to Bayer Leverkusen on the final day of 2018/19, Gladbach went about righting that wrong immediately in the off-season. Ramy Bensebaini was recruited from Stade Rennais, Stefan Lainer signed from Red Bull Salzburg, Breel Embolo swapped Schalke for Gladbach and Thuram made the move from Guingamp.
All four went on to play important roles in helping Gladbach return the favour and edge Leverkusen out on a thrilling final matchday this time around, and sporting director Max Eberl must take great credit for making these moves happen. A former Gladbach player himself, Eberl clearly knows how to sell the club to new signings and what attributes fit the Foals’ culture.
He said Bensebaini brought with him versatility and “a lot of experience”, while the “dynamic” Lainer was “strong mentality”, Embolo was a “deadly forward” and Thuram all things “fast, robust and dangerous”.
Nearly a year down the line, it’s hard to argue with any of those assessments with that quartet making 109 Bundesliga appearances between them across their first season, chipping in with no less than 24 of the club’s 66 league goals (36.4 per cent) in the process.
Watch: Marcus Thuram making his own name
2) The Marco Rose effect
Another significant arrival last year was Rose, who is a thoroughly modern breed of coach. The 43-year-old former Hannover and Mainz defender had enjoyed a highly successful two-year stint at Salzburg, winning back-to-back league titles and the Austrian Cup before Eberl and the board came calling.
And he wasted no time in getting Gladbach galloping, roaring to the top of the Bundesliga table after Matchday 7. They would hold top-spot for seven more weeks, beating reigning champions Bayern Munich 2-1 on Matchday 14 to perfectly cement their best start to a Bundesliga season since 1976/77.
It had the club dreaming of a sixth Meisterschale - and first since that 76/77 season - and despite ultimately being unable to keep pace with Bayern, Gladbach supporters will be more than happy with a top-four finish and a place at the top table of European football. The man himself is, that’s for sure.
“Qualifying for the Champions League is a very special moment for this club,” said Rose after the win over Hertha. “I am incredibly proud of the boys and the club and am delighted for everyone whose heart beats for Gladbach.”
Rose’s debut season record reads P34, W20, D5, L9 with a win percentage of 59. If this is what Rose can achieve in his first year at the club, what more does he have in store between now and the end of his current contract in 2022?
3) Plea’s perfect 10 performance
"They showed me analyses, stats. They had seen a lot, a lot of matches since I was 18," Alassane Plea explained of his first meetings with Gladbach when he signed on the dotted line two summers ago. "I liked that. They thought I was the perfect player to complete their attack, because they didn't have a profile like mine."
Now positively an old hand compared to the aforementioned new recruits, Plea certainly seemed to enjoy his second season with the Foals and is indeed looking every bit a perfect fit at Borussia-Park.
Having hit 12 league goals in his first season in Germany, Plea looked further invigorated by the additions of Embolo and Thuram either side of him in attack this time around. The French forward bagged 10 goals and 10 assists - topping both of those charts among the Gladbach ranks.
Those 20 combined goals are a four-goal improvement on his return of 16 last year (12 goals/four assists) and the 27-year-old’s contribution was key to his side ending the campaign as the league’s fourth-highest scorers - only outdone by the three teams above them.
Such is the strength of Gladbach’s attacking depth now that Plea’s absence through a mixture of both fitness and suspension for the final four games of the season, paired with injury to Thuram that ruled him out of the last three matchdays - all of which Gladbach won - was softened by the late season form of Embolo, fit again captain Lars Stindl, Patrick Hermann and Jonas Hofmann who notched up eight goals and five assists between them across Matchdays 30-34.
Watch: Jonas Hoffman: "Now we can put our feet up a bit"
4) A settled foundation
Yann Sommer was quick to recognise the remarkable turns played by those stand-ins after Champions League qualification was assured, saying: “We’ve lost a number of key players in recent weeks, but the guys who have come into the side have done a fantastic job. We’re a proper team and that is the reason for our success.”
But it was a more settled formula further back that allowed Sommer’s teammates to make the difference going forward. The Swiss stopper himself made more saves (126) than any other ‘keeper in the league this season and had the best shot-to-save ratio (75.2 per cent) in the league of anyone who kept goal in more than 10 league games in 2019/20.
Sommer, Lainer, Nico Elvedi and Matthias Ginter were ever presents in a rock-solid defence that conceded just 40 goals all season. Bensebaini and Oscar Wendt largely shared left-back duties and only Bayern (32) and RB Leipzig (37) conceded fewer goals than Gladbach.
Gladbach were comfortable playing out from the back, highlighted by Elvedi ending the year with the equal-highest pass completion rate in the entire division at 95 per cent. That provided the platform from which Gladbach could play as the Rose blueprint fostered an exciting, vibrant style of football that once gave the Foals their nickname while running over opposition in the 1970s with a team full of youthful vim and vigour.
5) Home comforts
The Matchday 34 win over Hertha was Gladbach’s 12th victory at home this season. All-in, they picked up 38 points at Borussia Park, losing just three times on home soil and drawing the other two.
They were clinical at home as well, with 61 per cent of their total goal haul plundered against their visitors. It is a remarkable home record and one only bettered by Bayern (41 points), who registered one win more as they extended their record number of Bundesliga titles to 29.
Gladbach picked up some memorable wins on home soil along the way, but none more so than that come-from-behind win over the champions on Matchday 14 back in December. Bensebaini struck both goals that day, including a 93rd-minute penalty and, incredibly, that was the last time Bayern lost in the league.
Had Gladbach's away form been better (P17, W8, D3, L6) then that early title tilt may have been longer sustained. That return - the seventh-best in the league - was despite Stindl’s superb displays on their travels as the 31-year-old hit braces in three of those eight away wins.