It was becoming one of those recurring nightmares for Borussia Mönchengladbach, who woke up with a sweat after Matchday 20 to realise, thankfully, it was no more than that.
The Foals started the season with five straight defeats, a run of results which led to Lucien Favre tendering his resignation. Little did they know back then that a metamorphosis was about to take place. Andre Schubert was handed the reins and asked to lead the club out of a quandary while a permanent replacement for the Swiss could be found.
Back to winning ways
Schubert delivered more than was bargained for and, with a run of results which was bettered only by FC Bayern München in the 12 games up to the winter break, was given the job on a full-time basis. Winter thus became a much more relaxed break than anybody would have been able to predict back in September, until that nightmare recurred.
Gladbach were beaten – for the second time this season – by Borussia Dortmund and 1. FSV Mainz 05, before facing an SV Werder Bremen side who had beaten them 2-1 on Matchday 3. "There's no cause for panic. The situation is not as dramatic as it is being made out to be," said Schubert prior to last Friday night's meeting.
What followed was a demonstration of strength, as Gladbach flexed their muscles and put five past Bremen to regain their footing in the push for a place in the UEFA Champions League. "It was only a matter of time," Schubert said afterwards. "It was just important that we kept our cool."
Having overcome the first big challenge of his brief career as Gladbach coach, Schubert can now look forward confidently towards the next, in Hamburg on Matchday 21, thanks in no small way to a 19-year-old defender-turned-goalscorer. Andreas Christensen's two goals helped put Bremen to the sword and he was the name on everybody's lips in the Rhineland. "I would certainly welcome it if he were to stay with Borussia for a really long time," said Schubert, whose masterstroke in moving the Dane into a defensive midfield role paid dividends.
Christensen exchanged passes with another young Foal, Mahmoud Dahoud, on his way to putting Gladbach 2-0 in front. It is with these youngsters that Gladbach, after seeing Max Kruse and Christoph Kramer move on last summer, have been plotting their renewed assault on a top-three finish. Paradoxically, the expectations their experienced predecessors left behind in the summer are making that exercise all the more challenging.
"I hope that people can show understanding when these 18, 19 and 20-year-old lads don't have a good game once in a while," Schubert said. "I know we've aroused attention in the first half of the season, but that makes people think we're going to win easily every week, when it is actually very hard work."
Rudnevs' rich vein of form
The same can be expected at the Volksparkstadion on Sunday, against a club who brushed the Foals aside 3-0 at the BORUSSIA-Park earlier this season. That remains the Red Shorts' biggest win of the campaign so far and one they would be more than happy to repeat on Matchday 21, having rescued a draw from the jaws of defeat at home to 1. FC Köln last time out.
The hero of that rescue act was Artjoms Rudnevs, who jumped from the bench to set up the equaliser and fought like a workhorse to ensure coach Bruno Labbadia had reason to celebrate his 50th birthday on Monday. "'Rudi' does us good," said defender Matthias Ostrzolek. "He runs a lot and sets the tone. He did it well in Stuttgart, and he confirmed his ability once again [against Köln]."
Rudnevs' reward could be a place in the starting XI on Sunday with Labbadia not oblivious to the Latvian's contribution. "He brought life to our game, just like against Stuttgart, and that is precisely what we need." With 18 goals in 82 Bundesliga appearances for Hannover 96 and HSV, the 28-year-old has the pedigree to help Hamburg at a time when results have once again eluded the northern German giants.
No new nightmares
Without a win since the end of November, Rudnevs was restored to the first-team roster after spending the first half of the campaign in the reserves. "Players always have a chance to break back in," said Labbadia. "This just shows how quickly it can happen."
Rudnevs took the olive branch extended to him and Labbadia now hopes the rest of his side can do the same, equally fast, and banish the spectre of relegation before it arrives and gives them a nightmare to deal with.