Mönchengladbach - Anyone with older siblings will be able to identify with the great epiphany of adolescence when the lifelong feeling of inferiority begins to disappear.
Europe in sight
No longer do pesky noogies have to be tolerated; there are no more hand-me-downs to put up with and playing sports with the family suddenly becomes enjoyable again.
For Borussia Mönchengladbach, Saturday’s Matchday 28 fixture could be their coming-of-age occasion when they take on namesakes Borussia Dortmund. Lucien Favre’s side have begun to leave the gangly awkwardness of their early teenage years behind them in 2014/15, looking increasingly comfortable in their own skin in their fourth full season under the Swiss tactician’s tutelage.
Favre took over at the Foals in February 2011 with the club at the bottom of the Bundesliga table, before orchestrating a spectacular escape act that kept them in the top-flight via the relegation play-offs. Ever since then, Gladbach have been on a steady upward trend that is on course to culminate in a first ever automatic qualification for the UEFA Champions League in its present format.
Gladbach on top
In recent years Dortmund have almost come to take participation in Europe’s elite club competition for granted, their shadow even looming large over record champions FC Bayern München for a while in 2011 and 2012. However, after what has been a dismal season for Jürgen Klopp’s charges, they head into the home straight in tenth place, clinging to an outside chance of playing in the Europa League next term. The other Borussia, meanwhile, keep getting better and better.
That much was evident in the Foals’ recent eye-catching 2-0 away win over Bayern on Matchday 26, which they followed up with a thumping 4-1 triumph over TSG 1899 Hoffenheim last weekend to stay in third. The fact that the last time Gladbach were ahead of Dortmund prior to the duo meeting in a Rückrunde fixture was 26 years ago (on 18 March 1989), puts into context just how extraordinary the present state of affairs is.
The reversal of roles has less to do with Dortmund’s demise, however, than it does with Gladbach’s development under Favre. “He’s a perfectionist,” said Patrick Herrmann, one of a number of players to benefit from the 57-year-old’s meticulous approach. “He watches every match on DVD and takes note of every little detail. It’s the details that decide games. He’s taught me an awful lot but there’s still room for improvement.”
Dortmund won the reverse fixture 1-0 on Matchday 11, but Herrmann and Co. have matured since then are now unbeaten in their last seven league assignments, scoring 14 and conceding just four; indeed, they have a better record than Bayern in the second half of the season. On Saturday it will be fascinating to see just how far their growth spurt has taken them.