Following a quick period of transition from perennial strugglers to top 4 chasers in Swissman Lucien Favre’s first 18 months as Manager, it would seem that five-time Bundesliga Champions Borussia Mönchengladbach have struggled somewhat to deal with the collective growing pains of a club quickly changing its fortunes.
Indeed, the loss of three men at the heart of Die Fohlen’s success, namely Dante, Marco Reus and Roman Neustädter, had threatened to spoil the progress of the club since the long, cold winter of 2011.
However, following a season focusing primarily on stability, Borussia Mönchengladbach look poised to challenge for the European spots again. Max Eberl, the club’s Sporting Director, has made some astute signings, and, having only lost Mike Hanke from last season’s team, challenging for Europe looks a realistic goal for the upcoming season.
Borussia will, however, rely on a young squad, with some of the most important players – Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Havård Nordtveit and Patrick Herrmann – all under the age of 23. While there are experienced players in the squad – most notably in defence – how the club’s youthful core will deal with the pressure over the coming months will no doubt be a large factor in any potential success.
The New Boys
Max Eberl has been busy in the transfer market, in particular getting a lot of his business completed early on. While Eberl hasn’t ruled out any further forays into the market, both he and Lucien Favre have said multiple times that they’re extremely pleased with the current quality and depth of the squad in comparison to 2012/2013.
Versatile midfielder Kruse impressed at Freiburg last season – netting ten times in the Bundesliga for the Breisgau based club after signing from second tier St Pauli for €500,000 – with his form eventually leading to a call-up to Germany’s ill-fated tour of America in June. Kruse was by far the bargain of the season in 2012/2013, and could possibly even earn that title for a second term in a row, Gladbach purchasing him for his buy-out clause, a mere €2.5 million.
Though his transfer means Kruse won’t play in European competition this year, the 25 year old has stated that he joined Borussia Mönchengladbach because the ambitions and prospects of the club outweighed what he already had at Freiburg.
Kruse can play anywhere across the midfield and, for periods of last season, even filled in as a striker. His versatility will be relished by Lucien Favre, as his presence will bolster both the midfield and forward ranks; and his playing style will also fit into the Favre’s footballing philosophy, that of playing attractively while keeping the ball.
Another midfielder who’ll be no stranger to Favre’s philosophy – albeit for a different reason – is Raffael. The Brazilian, signed for €5 million from Ukraine’s Dynamo Kyiv following a loan spell at Schalke 04, was one of the club’s main transfer targets this summer.
Raffael was introduced to European football by Lucien Favre in 2005 with Swiss club FC Zürich, and later rejoined Favre at Hertha Berlin in 2008. At 28, Raffael is surely nearing the peak of his career and will be wanting therefore to play as often as possible; this may have been for him, perhaps, the main lure of Borussia Mönchengladbach, where he’ll almost certainly be an important player.
From the club’s perspective, Raffael offers an experienced head in a young squad, and can also be used inspirationally as a gamechanger; something the Foals at times lacked in 2012/2013.
The third, and as yet final summer acquisition, is another midfielder – namely, Bayer Leverkusen’s talented youngster Christoph Kramer. Kramer has joined the club on a two year loan, following a similar stint at second division VfL Bochum.
During this current pre-season, Favre has praised his attempts to get used to the tempo of a top division side’s play, while Kramer himself has put in strong shifts during cameo appearances, especially recently in the 3-0 victory against 1.FC Nürnberg, where in his short time on the pitch as a substitute, the youngster showed assuredness on the ball and also provoked der Club’s defence into the mistake that earnt Gladbach a penalty and their third goal.
While Kramer is by no means the finished article, Kramer will add competition into the defensive midfield ranks alongside more established names such as Havård Nordtveit, Thorben Marx and Granit Xhaka.
The Key Men
In such a young squad, you might expect that the team’s most important players would be, mainly the more experienced ones; and, while players such as Martin Stranzl, Juan Arango and Filip Daems are likely to have very consistent and strong seasons, a large amount of Die Fohlen’s success will rest on the backs of their youngsters.
Locally born goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen has drawn almost universal plaudits in his two and a half year stint as custodian of the Borussia net, provoking interest from clubs as big as Liverpool and even FC Barcelona. While ter Stegen’s number one shirt will likely be safe this season no matter what happens – having been an ever-present for Gladbach over the past two seasons – the youngster still has a lot to prove to international coach Joachim Löw.
Following a nightmare game against the USA at the tail end of last season, he faces stiff competition among the likes of Rene Adler, Kevin Trapp, Oliver Baumann and Ron-yerRobert Zieler to be Manuel Neuer’s backup in the Germany squad, ter Stegen will want to be on top form if he’s to stake a claim for the World Cup squad.
Another player to break through Borussia Mönchengladbach’s academy is winger Patrick Herrmann, and following a season where Herrmann really stepped his consistency up a notch, the 22 year old will want to continue making a positive impression on the team and of course national coach Löw.
Given the plethora of established German attacking talent, it’ll perhaps be a tall ask for Herrmann to play his way into the squad in time for Brazil, but in spite of this, Herrmann is one of the Bundesliga’s most exciting young attacking talents.
If Luuk De Jong can manage to finally hit a rich vein of scoring form this season, something which eluded the ex-Twente man last season, Mönchengladbach can expect to finish slightly higher than their eventual position last time out – 8th. Though De Jong was joint top scorer for the club, he only notched up six goals throughout the whole season, and this no doubt led to some of the inconsistency that scuppered Die Fohlen’s European bid.
A sustained European push shouldn’t be too hard an ask for a squad stronger than one who kept fighting until the final matchday last time around. With legs eased by the lack of European fixtures in midweek, and a raft of versatile new talent, Lucien Favre’s men could quite possibly even find themselves in the Champions League spots come May.