Cologne - Asked, in the wake of Saturday's clinical 3-0 win away to Hannover 96, whether Borussia Mönchengladbach were now a legitimate threat to FC Bayern München's defence of the Bundesliga title this season, Lucien Favre's response was categorical.
“That's nonsense,” the Gladbach head coach said. “We've played all of eight games so far. There are another 26 still to come.” The query, though, was far from irrelevant. On Matchday 9, a sell-out crowd at the Borussia Park will watch the hosts try to earn the victory that would take them within a point of the defending champions and current league leaders.
Favre is more than happy to concede that so far constitutes “a good start to the season...we're solid”. So solid, in fact, that this weekend's encounter between the sides will be their first as the top two in the table since the heyday of their classic Bundesliga rivalry back in the 1970s. Favre is far from alone at the club in refusing to have any truck with the notion of a potential reboot of that golden Foals era but there is a growing sense among fans and pundits alike that the Swiss tactician is, at the very least, well on track to guide the team back to the upper echelons of the German game on a longer-term basis.
Unbeaten in 13 competitive outings at home and abroad, Borussia are certainly displaying the required consistency. Sporting director Max Eberl acknowledges they have thus far enjoyed the good fortune of “almost always having a full squad at our disposal, keeping the need for rotation to a minimum.” That said, Favre has yet to send the same side out twice running this season, and by his own admission spends an inordinate amount of time before every game “thinking about the best line-up to face each respective opponent”.
Praise for Xhaka
At Hannover, for example, he opted for a first-time combination of Patrick Herrmann out wide on the left and Andre Hahn in the same position down the right. The duo successfully throttled the attacking potential of 96ers full-backs Christian Pander and Hiroki Sakai and the hosts, normally so strong on home turf, barely got a sight of goal until well over an hour into the contest. By then, Gladbach had the proceedings well under control courtesy of Max Kruse's early header and a thunderous free-kick from Granit Xhaka soon after the restart.
Kruse, who rounded the scoring out at the death with a delicate lob, has been garnering further plaudits for his attacking exploits this season, but Favre had a few special words for Xhaka at the weekend. “Granit's position is pivotal in a 4-4-2 system,” he noted, adding that the 22-year-old Swiss international midfielder had “made great progress over the past few months. But he knows he still has a lot to learn”.
It was a typical analysis from the 56-year-old tactician – a dash of objective individual praise followed by a sober-minded return to the bigger picture. While the media's post-match focus was inevitably already turning towards the upcoming summit showdown, Favre made a point of stressing that Mönchengladbach's next assignment was with Apollon Limassol in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday and until then, all planning for the game against Bayern was on hold: “We always take it step-by-step.”
The mantra has served them well thus far and Bayern, themselves on a four-game winning roll in the Bundesliga and having kept a clean sheet in their last six, are gearing up for their toughest domestic challenge yet this season. While the men from Munich have had the upper hand in the sides' three most recent league meetings, they managed to win just one of the previous six. Their own coach, Pep Guardiola, is all too aware that Gladbach are already one of Germany's most dangerous counter-attacking sides, and still improving.
Favre may consider the prospect of taking Bayern the distance in the title race to be “nonsense”, but a three-point haul against the record champions on Sunday would present further evidence that these Foals are perhaps in with a thoroughbred's chance after all.
Relive some of the best moments from this fixture down the years, courtesy of the
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