Mönchengladbach - A glance at the current Bundesliga standings is enough to show what the stakes are when Borussia Mönchengladbach host Hertha Berlin on Saturday evening (kick-off 16:30 GMT / 17:30 CET).
Both sides are still in the hunt for a place in Europe next season, and accordingly the mutual respect was evident in abundance prior to their Matchday 26 meeting.
"Hertha are having an outstanding season and I expect it to be an even game," said Gladbach forward Max Kruse to herthabsc.de. "We know that we're up against a side who are strong away from home, and who have even beaten Borussia Dortmund. As a promoted side, they're doing amazinly well. Alongside 1. FSV Mainz 05 and FC Augsburg, Hertha are one of the biggest surprises of the season."
The Foals are not doing too badly themselves, although Kruse does not want to get ahead of himself after last weekend's 2-1 win at Dortmund. That result - Gladbach's first win of 2014 - revived their hopes of qualifying for Europe next season. "We've still got to take each game as it comes," said the Germany international. "Then at the end of the season, we'll see where it gets us."
Praise for the Foals
Kruse ended his own nine-game scoring drought at the Signal Iduna Park a week ago, enabling him to look a little more optimistically to the future. "It was a difficult time," admitted the 25-year-old. "But I always knew I would score again sooner or later, even if it took quite a while. Of course you're relieved to score again after nine games without a goal, but all that mattered was getting the three points."
Hertha could take a leaf out of Gladbach's book, according to their coach Jos Luhukay. He knows the Foals well having coached them between 2007 and 2008, and he has extolled their recent revival. "They've taken things step by step, acting prudently and improving constantly," Luhukay told the Rheinische Post. "Gladbach now deserve to be where they are. I'm sure they'll be fighting for a place in Europe right to the end of the season."
The visitors don't have their sights set quite as high, even if the 15 goals of top-scorer Adrian Ramos suggest they have the personnel to do so. The Colombian striker's form has kept the Old Lady within touching distance of the top six places, but Luhukay has dismissed his side's chances of mixing it with the big clubs in Europe. "I don't want to make ourselves out to be smaller than we are, but people have got to stop talking about the Europa League," the Dutch coach said.
"That's not our objective this season, nor in the next two or three. Our first half of the season raised the expectations a bit too high." Instead, Luhukay is building a side which can follow Gladbach's example in years to come, based on youth and talent embodied by Änis Ben-Hatira, Hajime Hosogai and Tolga Cigerci. Yet if Ramos' goals just happen to fire Hertha along that path quicker than they expected, they would surely not not turn the chance down.
Gladbach: ter Stegen - Korb, Stranzl, Alvaro Dominguez, Daems - Xhaka, Kramer - Herrmann, Arango - Raffael, Kruse
Berlin: Kraft - Pekarik, Langkamp, Brooks, van den Bergh - Hosogai, Skjelbred - Allagui, Ronny, Schulz - Ramos
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See how Kruse made a mockery of the Borussia Dortmund defence to break his goalscoring drought on Matchday 25, courtesy of the Bundesliga's official YouTube channel.