bundesliga

The Rhine Derbies explained: Borussia Mönchengladbach, Cologne and Bayer Leverkusen

Rhine rivals Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Cologne duel for regional supremacy in north-west Germany as well as Bundesliga points when derby day comes around each season.

bundesliga.com focusses on the footballing hotbed of North Rhine-Westphalia and the major derby rivalries that mean these fixtures are among the biggest games of any season for the fans — and players — of the three clubs.

Cologne - Bayer Leverkusen
First Bundesliga derby: 15 September 1979, Leverkusen 1-1 Cologne
Most recent derby: 17 April 2021, Leverkusen 3-0 Cologne
Bundesliga derbies: 66, Leverkusen lead the series with 26 wins, 24 draws, 16 defeats
Distance between clubs: 9.3 miles as the crow flies

This derby does not have the history of the rivalry between Cologne and Mönchengladbach simply because Leverkusen were only first promoted to the Bundesliga in 1979. Suffocating geographical proximity between the two clubs and cities, however, means there are all the ingredients for a fiercely passionate derby atmosphere when the pair meet.

Watch: Leverkusen leave Cologne cold in their April '21 derby

It is just a short train ride from the Domstadt — the Cathedral City — of Cologne to the town the Bayer pharmaceutical company built, and it is one that has been made regularly by fans of both clubs since their first Bundesliga meeting in 1979.

While the roughly one million Cologne residents disparagingly call their neighbours' functional and much smaller abode a 'car park' for their beautiful city, Leverkusen — home to some 160,000 — can certainly boast of having had the better football team over the last four decades.

Cologne fans will rightly point out they were the very first Bundesliga champions in 1963 and that they also won it in 1977/78 while Leverkusen have never been champions of Germany.

Leverkusen's BayArena is one of the Bundesliga's most distinctive stadiums. - Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

But Die Werkself — the Factory Eleven, in reference to Bayer's ownership of the club — have finished league runners-up five times, racked up over 100 UEFA Champions League/European Cup appearances, and claimed continental silverware in the shape of the 1987/88 UEFA Cup.

They have derby bragging rights too. They have the better head-to-head record by some margin, and achieved a near-14-year unbeaten run against the Billy Goats (if you're wondering, 'What's with that nickname?', see below) between November 1997 and April 2011.

This derby also generally provides excitement on the pitch. Only five times in their 66 Bundesliga meetings to date have the pair served up a goalless draw, and Leverkusen have found the net 10 times in the duo's last three, winning them all.

The highest-scoring encounter to date came in May 1985 when future FIFA World Cup winner Pierre Littbarski scored twice to help Cologne into a 3-2 half-time lead. They then went 4-2 up only for Herbert Waas to find the net twice to secure a point for Leverkusen, and ensure both sets of fans went home with smiles.

Despite the division, some players have crossed the divide. Patrick Helmes was born in Cologne and started and ended his professional career with his hometown club, but in between, the Germany international striker had a three-year spell at Leverkusen (2008-11).

More recently, Florian Wirtz — born in the Cologne suburb of Pulheim — spent ten years at his hometown's youth academy before making the switch to Leverkusen where he has developed into a record-breaking bona fide Bundesliga star.

Cologne - Borussia Mönchengladbach
First derby: 20 November 1965, Mönchengladbach 2-3 Cologne
Most recent derby: 6 February 2021, Mönchengladbach 1-2 Cologne
Bundesliga derbies: 92, Gladbach lead the series with 51 wins, 16 draws, 25 defeats
Distance between clubs: 35.4 miles

Although Mönchengladbach is not situated on the Rhine like the other two, this one is considered 'the big one' in terms of local rivalry. Why? History. And the man who wrote much of it for both teams is one of German football's greatest figures, Hennes Weisweiler.

Just after Cologne claimed the inaugural Bundesliga title, one of their former players, Weisweiler, took charge of second-tier Gladbach. And to give you an indication of what he then did simply search for the BORUSSIA-PARK address and you'll find it's located at Hennes Weisweiler Allee 1.

Watch: Meet Cologne's living mascot

That's because he took a team of young local talents such as Günter Netzer and Jupp Heynckes to the summit of German — and very nearly European — football in a ludicrously successful period in the 1970s, a decade in which the club won the Bundesliga title five times.

But he's also a legend in Cologne. Why else do you think the club mascot — yes, the goat — is named Hennes?

After leaving Gladbach in 1975 following a legendary 11-year stint, Weisweiler coached Barcelona briefly before taking over as Cologne boss in 1976. Over the next four years he worked his magic again, taking an unheralded team to the domestic double in 1977/78 as well as to a European Cup semi-final.

Players have made the switch too. Part of that great Gladbach side, Rainer Bonhof, captained Cologne later in his career while Hans-Georg Dreßen transferred back and forth no fewer than four times, and — after injury cut short his career at 26 — later became assistant coach with Borussia. "There was never any problem," he said of his treatment by opposing fans. "Neither in Gladbach, nor in Cologne."

That was certainly a good thing for Weisweiler and some of his players who were treated by dentist Franz Wichelhaus. 'Who?!' you cry. Wichelhaus was the very first player to be transferred between the two clubs in 1953 in the pre-Bundesliga days. He couldn't make the breakthrough in Cologne and so moved to Mönchengladbach where he became team captain before switching to the profession he had studied for after his playing career.

Leverkusen - Mönchengladbach
First Bundesliga derby: 15 December 1979, Leverkusen 0-0 Gladbach
Most recent derby: 21 August 2021, Leverkusen 4-0 Mönchengladbach
Bundesliga derbies: 79, Leverkusen lead the series with 31 wins, 26 draws, 22 defeats
Distance between clubs: 26 miles

Almost certainly one of the reasons both Cologne and Mönchengladbach fans treat Leverkusen as their 'little' Rhein derby neighbours is that the Bayer-built outfit have got the better of both of them throughout their Bundesliga history.

Leverkusen's emphatic 4-0 win on Matchday 2 of the 2021/22 season was their fourth successive triumph over the Foals, and third time in that run they have scored three times or more. And just as against Cologne, Die Werkself boast by far the better head-to-head record.

Watch: Or don't watch the first 2021/22 derby if you're a Gladbach fan…

Gladbach fans can console themselves with a weighty haul of silverware that their rivals can only dream of. Five Bundesliga titles, three DFB Cups, two UEFA Cups, and — like Leverkusen in 2001/02 — European Cup runners-up.

That was in the 1976/77 final, however, and the last of Gladbach's Bundesliga titles came in that same year — two years before Leverkusen even played their first German top-flight game.

With only a DFB Cup and Bundesliga 2 title added to the trophy cabinet since the pair first met with league points up for grabs, Gladbach fans have not got much to goad their near-trophyless neighbours about. Not that that will stop them…

While fans would not dream of trading colours, players do.

Christoph Kramer came through at Leverkusen, and made his name at Mönchengladbach. - Lukas Schulze/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty Images

Christoph Kramer joined Leverkusen aged eight and went on to play for the first team before really making the breakthrough at Bundesliga level during a two-year loan spell at Mönchengladbach between 2013 and 2015. He returned to Leverkusen for a season, but the 2014 FIFA World Cup winner made the switch to Gladbach permanent in 2016, and has now made over 200 competitive appearances for them.

The transfer traffic has gone in the opposite direction too. Walter Posner played just two Bundesliga games for Mönchengladbach — that was enough to get him a 1974/75 title winner's medal — but featured in 134 for Leverkusen over a nine-year spell.

Hopefully Heiko Herrlich got a return ticket when he left Leverkusen after winning the 1992/93 DFB Cup to join Mönchengladbach. He won another DFB Cup there before playing for Borussia Dortmund, but he returned to the BayArena as coach between summer 2017 and December 2018.

Ian Holyman