Munich - When SC Freiburg arrive at the Borussia Park to meet Borussia Mönchengladbach on Sunday evening (kick-off 17:30 CET), they will be greeted by a grateful and familiar face.
From Freiburg to Germany
Max Kruse has a lot to thank Freiburg for, and although he may be envious of their place in the UEFA Europa League this season, the attacker will be doing what he can to ensure that he will savour that same experience with a year's delay next term.
Kruse forewent the opportunity to appear in Europe this campaign when he left Freiburg for Lucien Favre's Gladbach in the summer and the 25-year-old has no regrets about watching, rather than playing, as the Baden-Württemberg side kept their hopes alive of reaching the last 32 of the Europa League with a 2-1 win at Slovan Liberec.
"One year doesn't make any difference," said the left-footer. "Gladbach seemed to be the best alternative to me." Kruse has taken the next step up in his career this season, having raced from 1. FC St. Pauli in Bundesliga 2, via the Black Forest, to a place in the Germany set up. All, or at least a lot, thanks to Freiburg tactician Christian Streich.
Streich "ideal" coach
"He was the ideal coach for me," Kruse said. "He put me in an attacking position where I had never played before. My strength is that I'm a quick learner." The result? 11 goals last season, his first caps for Germany and move to Mönchengladbach, where he has not looked back either, netting seven goals and providing eight assists already as part of a blistering Foals attack this term.
Things have not been so straightforward for Streich, who has to weigh up the fitness of those players who took to the field in the Czech Republic under 72 hours prior to kick off in Gladbach. He did have some good news to deliver to his club's fans, though, by announcing that Vladimir Darida will be back in the squad. The Czech frontman will be vying for a place in attack, as is former Foal Mike Hanke.
"I'm just really looking forward to it," said Hanke ahead of the return to his former hunting ground. "Borussia are great at their own place." That's putting it lightly. Favre's troops have won all six home Bundesliga fixtures this season, scoring 20 and conceding just four - the same quota, incidentally, as league leaders FC Bayern München. "Gladbach are currently in great shape," said Streich. "It's going to be an enormously tough challenge for us."
With 1. FC Nürnberg and Eintracht Braunschweig both losing on Saturday, Freiburg know how big a boost victory would be to open up a greater gap over the bottom two, but Gladbach will be equally keen on the points to keep FC Schalke 04 four points in their wake in the push for fourth.
Gladbach: ter Stegen - Korb, Jantschke, Stranzl, Wendt - Kramer, Xhaka - Herrmann, Arango - Raffael - Kruse
Freiburg: Baumann - Sorg, Krmas, Diagne, Lorenzoni - Ginter - Klaus, Fernandes, Mehmedi, Coquelin - Freis