Cologne - On the back of a five-match losing start to the new campaign, Borussia Mönchengladbach are determined to arrest the slide in Saturday’s Rhine derby with 1. FC Köln.
The Bundesliga’s bottom club suffered a chastening 3-0 defeat to Sevilla FC on their UEFA Champions League debut in midweek, but are united in their belief that they can turn a corner as long as they iron out the schoolboy errors.
'Too many mistakes'
"I’ve had another look at the last five games, and we’re making too many mistakes that are being punished by the opposition," admitted Gladbach head coach Lucien Favre in Thursday’s pre-derby press conference. "With a lot of hard work we will get ourselves out of this rut. I’m convinced that we can beat a lot of teams. We have to correct a few things and be more solid at the back. If we do so, then we’ll move off the bottom."
At first glance it’s an unfathomable turn of events for a side that finished third only to FC Bayern München and VfL Wolfsburg last term. Only Bayern (18) conceded fewer goals than the Foals (26) all season, yet with injuries mounting, Favre’s men have already shipped 11 Bundesliga goals, more than they gave away during the entire second half of 2014/15.
Struggling for goals
"The results haven’t been going our way, but we need to play with more belief," Favre opined. "We can’t play with any fear and we have to be brave going forward. For that to happen, all the players have to want the ball a lot more than has been the case in recent matches.” Gladbach winger Andre Hahn also alluded to the club’s lack of punch in attack after the game in Seville, saying “We didn’t do much up front".
The Foals were one of eight Champions League outfits that failed to find the net on Matchday 1 of the competition, but it is their alarming Bundesliga form that needs to be addressed before anything else. While the current top two of Borussia Dortmund and FC Bayern edge closer to the 20-goal mark, beleaguered Gladbach find themselves joint-bottom of the pile in the goals-for department, along with FC Augsburg and FC Ingolstadt 04 (all on two). At this juncture last season, on the other hand, Borussia had already notched five and conceded just two (W2, D2).
The Xhaka factor
Last week’s 3-0 home defeat to Hamburger SV was symptomatic of Gladbach’s early season plight in a performance lacking in self-belief and punctuated with defensive errors. The absence of bolshy holding midfielder Granit Xhaka certainly did not help matters, the Swiss international representing the much-needed shield in front of the back four as well as the link between Gladbach’s shaky defence and misfiring attack.
"We’re pleased Granit is back again," Favre said of the midfielder’s return following a one-match ban. "He’s a leader who demands the ball and dictates the play. Granit always likes to win and so he plays with a certain level of aggression. I think it’s positive. He knows that he will have to control himself, as he is only of use to us on the pitch."
After Xhaka scored an injury-time winner the last time Borussia locked horns with local rivals Köln on Valentine's Day, it goes without saying there will once again be no love lost when the two clubs collide at the RheinEnergieStadion on Saturday afternoon. "We know we can play better and we absolutely want to show that against Köln," affirmed Gladbach summer signing Nico Schulz. "Derbies are always special."
A game guaranteed to put fire in the bellies of players and fans alike, it might just be the spark needed to reignite the Foals' faltering campaign.