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Labbadia’s return, Borussia bouncing back? – Bundesliga Talking Points

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It’s taken a while – a whole summer, in fact – but it’s finally back. That’s right, fans of the Bundesliga were finally treated to a full weekend of top class football for the first time since May, and with another week following hot on its heels, there are a number of talking points.

The weekend already gone contained two games watched widely by football fans around the globe as champions of the last three seasons, FC Bayern, took on the spectacularly woeful Hamburger SV and Borussia Dortmund faced up with Borussia Mönchengladbach. However, with seven other matches taking place, fans of the league enjoyed further entertaining games and with a weekend without a particularly huge game for the neutral on the horizon, it’s probably worth being in the loop about some of the league’s other clubs.

Hoffenheim – Ready for Bigger Things?

Since their struggling against relegation a few years ago – going into a match against Dortmund needing a result to stay up – Hoffenheim have improved manyfold. The likes of Roberto Firmino and Kevin Volland pushed the club onto very comfortable mid-table finishes in consecutive seasons under now-coach Markus Gisdol, and Hoffenheim look set for even better.

They lost at the weekend, play Bayern next, and have lost their talisman in Firmino this summer, so this may be an odd time to say this, but things do look like they’re on the up for the Sinsheim-based club. With fairer fixtures in the coming weeks, and a ridiculously strong transfer in which they signed the likes of Fabian Schär, Pavel Kaderabek, Jonathan Schmid, Mark Uth and Joelinton – plus, oddly, Kevin Kuranyi – while making a huge profit too, Hoffenheim should at least show signs that this year could be the year in which they push on for Europe. A good performance against Bayern would certainly be a great indicator of a strong season ahead, especially given that very little will be expected of them even if they’ve given Bayern a somewhat tough time in recent years.

Bayern themselves head into the game somewhat buoyed by the past few weeks as they opened the season with a 5-0 win. Okay, so it was against HSV and they would usually win by more, but the strong showing of new signing Douglas Costa should prove a good omen for Bayern’s season – adding a more direct option for Guardiola’s men up on the wings – while Arturo Vidal has started life in a Bayern shirt well too.

Ultimately though success for Bayern will only be judged through a strong showing in the Champions League given that they’ve won the title at a canter the past three years. Nonetheless, it’ll be interesting to see how this Bayern team fares against a remotely competent side.

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Darmstadt’s Fairytale

We’ve had Fürth, we’ve had Braunschweig, and we’ve had Paderborn. None of them have been given much of a chance by fans or pundits alike, and probably for good reason. None of the clubs have had the resources to sustain a realistic challenge. Enter Darmstadt stage right.

A few years ago, Darmstadt were relegated to Germany’s fourth tier but were saved at the last minute by Offenbach’s insolvency losing them their license for the 3. Liga; Darmstadt stayed up in their place. The next season, Darmstadt pushed on, storming to third place in the 3. Liga and playing Arminia Bielefeld in probably the most exciting relegation play-off since the introduction of the format in 2009 from a neutral perspective. They followed this up last season with another successive promotion, this time automatically as they finished in second behind Ingolstadt. One might perhaps expect them to continue the series of 3rd, 2nd with a 1st placed finish, but it’d be ridiculous to even harbour thoughts of them finishing 15th.

Even so, there’s a lot to like about a club that, last time they were in the Bundesliga in the 1980s, employed players with day jobs in a by-then professionalised league, and are nowadays managed by Dirk Schuster, better known as a player but also a very tactically competent manager who’s completely football managered the life out of the club. To put it into perspective, Darmstadt are a fairytale like Bournemouth would be if they weren’t owned by Russian investors pumping money into the club and being linked with highly paid Premier League players like Jermain Defoe.

As for last weekend, Darmstadt probably deserved three points, with Marcel Heller scoring two incredible goals on the break and saving a penalty but eventually succumbed to Hannover’s Bundesliga quality with a Charlison Benschop goal and, after Heller’s second, an Aytac Sulu own-goal consigned die Lilien to a draw.

Their opponents this week, Schalke, are enjoying a new lease of life having won two games in a row comfortably under new coach Andre Breitenreiter. Breitenreiter managed Paderborn last year so will know what Dirk Schuster is up against as he clashes with one of the clubs with the best resources in the league, but fingers crossed that Schuster doesn’t have to thank the “experience” of playing one of the league’s bigger clubs having been battered.

Borussia bouncing back?

The story of the weekend was, no doubt, Borussia smashing Borussia, however, as Thomas Tuchel’s Dortmund started well and never relented in a 4-0 win over Mönchengladbach. It was arguably Dortmund’s best performance in two years, whereas a first half in which Gladbach ended up 3-0 down was their worst under Lucien Favre and worst as a club since May 2010.

However Mönchengladbach have enjoyed a brilliant 2015 so far and it’s no coincidence that they finished the Rückrunde of last season with a runaway lead. Dortmund away is a very tough game, especially with the home side having played a few more competitive games in the Europa League, and you’d imagine they’ll bounce back. Their first chance to do so is at home to Mainz on Sunday.

Mainz also, of course, need to come back from another loss – in their case a narrow one to newly-promoted Ingolstadt – so it should be an interesting clash. The last game between the clubs, both with Swiss managers of course with Mainz employing Martin Schmidt, ended 2-2 in Mainz as Raffael led the Foals into a 2-0 lead and Geis and Okazaki – now playing elsewhere – destroyed the deficit.

A key area for improvement will be in the midfield. Against Dortmund, it looked like Granit Xhaka and Lars Stindl had never even met each other, and this exposed the youthful partnership of Marvin Schulz and Andreas Christensen in defence, with the 20-year old and 19-year old respectively both making their Bundesliga debuts.

Labbadia’s clash with his old club

Saturday’s Toppspiel this week sets all eyes on Hamburg again as Bruno Labbadia takes on his old club, VfB Stuttgart. Potentially not the most interesting game from a neutral viewpoint, at least on view of the table in recent years as both have been right near the bottom recently.

Hamburg remain a bit of a shambles having been knocked out of the DFB-Pokal by Jena, but Stuttgart appear to be on the up with a very strong game against Köln last week being undone by some poor goalkeeping by Przemyslaw Tyton and some clinical play by their opponents. Again, though, the performance was excellent and it’s a step towards having a better year under new coach Alex Zorniger, and to be quite frank, HSV should be there for the taking.


 

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Conor is a lifelong fan of Swindon Town. He hosts Dreierpack Podcast, a podcast about the Bundesliga, and writes about Borussia Mönchengladbach for the Bundesliga Fanatic.

Borussia Monchengladbach

Exclusive: Thorgan Hazard – From Chelsea to Gladbach and comparisons with brother Eden

The Belgian international discusses his development as a player since leaving Stamford Bridge.

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Getty Images

Due to the fact that his brother is regarded as one of the best players in the world, Thorgan Hazard was always going to face an uphill battle to establish himself in football.

Like his older sibling, the Borussia Monchengladbach player is an attacker who likes to run with the ball and create problems for opposition defences.

His family name would have had positives and negatives for him, but ultimately, he has managed to break through and forge a reputation on his own merit during recent years.

The comparisons between the two have been impossible to miss. The 25-year-old has grown used to them as it has happened throughout his career, but he believes that his path in professional football has been more normal than Eden’s.

In an exclusive interview with The Boot Room, Hazard revealed the following:

“I’ve always been compared to him. But I have often said that he is one of the best players in the world at one of the best clubs in the world. He is a genius on the pitch who has skipped several career steps. I, on the other hand, had normal development as a footballer. Although we play in a similar position, we are different players.”

Although he believes his journey has differed to his brother’s, Thorgan was signed by Chelsea shortly after the club paid big money to land Eden.

(Photo credit should read PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images)

The attacker was 19 years of age at the time and likely signed to appease his big brother, but it provided him with an opportunity to take his own career to the next level. He didn’t stay long and took the first chance to gain first-team experience through a loan spell.

“I spent only a month at Chelsea. Then I was loaned directly to Belgium and then to Germany. I do not want to say that I learned a lot during the one month, but it was nice to meet the club.”

The Chelsea loan policy has been heavily criticised during recent years as the club was accused of hoarding talent. However, there were benefits for young players as they got a healthy wage and were loaned out to clubs that could give them substantial playing time.

Hazard spent three seasons out on loan before eventually leaving Stamford Bridge without making an appearance in the Premier League. His third season was spent with Borussia Monchengladbach.

It is becoming increasingly common for English youngsters to move to Germany whether permanently or on loan. When asked about for his thoughts on that, Hazard acknowledged the benefits that the Bundesliga provides to a young, developing player.

“A lot of playing time is best for young players to develop. And in Germany, the clubs often give the boys good chances. The Bundesliga is also a very good competition to develop.”

It was in the German top-flight that Hazard really made his name, stepping out of his older brother’s shadow in the process. He went on an initial season-long loan to Borussia Monchengladbach before making the move permanent 12 months later.

During his first campaign with the German club, he started only seven league matches with another further 21 appearances coming from the bench. Despite his limited role, the attacker ended the season with seven assists showing the creativity that he possesses.

Hazard has provided dynamism to the Monchengladbach team since arriving at the club and has played his best football when used in a central role, as his direct style causes problems for opposition teams.

(Photo credit should read CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

It wasn’t a huge surprise when the Bundesliga side made his deal permanent as they could see his potential and decided they could put the time into his development. He has been an important first-team player since signing, but it has only been this season that he has become an indispensable member of the starting eleven.

Hazard has started 29 times in the Bundesliga and the club have been rewarded with the attacker’s best season in the final third. The Belgian international currently has nine goals and four assists. At the time of writing, he is the team’s top scorer and he has shone in a mixed season for the club as they are currently positioned in 8th.

Monchengladbach are an ambitious club and having played in the Champions League in two of the last three seasons, they will be looking to challenge towards the top of the division. Their current position is not bad, but they will look back on it with some regret.

“I think we had a good first turn, we have achieved good performances and good results. The second half of the season is very difficult.

“We had many injured players and some unfortunate decisions of the referee against us. But that cannot be an excuse. In some cases, we have not shown our best performance. That’s why we are in the middle of the table. Now we want to win the remaining games if possible.”

The team still have an outside chance of qualifying for Europe, but they will require a perfect end to the season and other teams to slip up. They have had problems in both halves of the pitch, but it is their defensive record that has troubled them more. In total, the club have conceded 48 goals, which ranks them as the joint-third worst defence in the division.

In the final third, they have been decent, but they still have the second-worst record in the top half of the table. One player to impress and show consistency has been Hazard. The 25-year-old has scored more league goals than any other player in the squad and he admits that it is enjoying his responsibility in the final third.

“Of course, it’s nice to be the top scorer of his team. But it’s just my job to help the team win games. Being a decisive player also means I’m doing a good job. Whether I’m involved in goals or someone else is not the most important thing.”

(Photo credit should read ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Hazard has certainly been a decisive player this season, as he is having his most productive campaign since signing for Monchengladbach. There are a lot of talented players in the squad, but the Belgian international is arguably the standout and it will be important that they keep him if they want to challenge higher up the league next season.

There won’t be a shortage of clubs looking at his as a potential target and this summer could be huge in determining his future. Hazard looks likely to go to the World Cup with Belgium and that will put him in the shop window if he plays and performs well.

Given his brother’s success in England, there could be Premier League interest in the 25-year-old at some point soon. However, he isn’t looking too far ahead of himself.

“Everyone knows the Premier League and it’s an interesting competition. But right now, I have another two years contract with Borussia Mönchengladbach. We will see what the future holds. But I feel very comfortable with Borussia and in the Bundesliga. At the moment I do not think about a change.”

At the age of 25, Hazard has several seasons left at the top level and his gradual improvement until now should offer encouragement that greater things are to come in his career. He has a lot more to give and this season has seen him take his career to the next level.

The Monchengladbach man has gone from decent squad player to leading attacker and he isn’t finished yet.

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Borussia Monchengladbach vs Fiorentina: Match Preview, likely line-ups and score prediction

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The Europa League is back for the start of it’s Round of 32 ties this Thursday, and this is one of the mouth-watering ties coming from Europe, as two-time winners of the old UEFA Cup Borussia Monchengladbach of the Bundesliga, take on Fiorentina of Serie A, whose only European title was the Old Cup Winners’ Cup back in 1961.

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‘Gladbach dropped into the competition after finishing third in their Champion League group behind Barcelona and Manchester City, whilst Fiorentina progressed from the Europa League group stages after topping Group J ahead of Greek club PAOK Salonika, Azeri outfit Qarabag, and Czech side Slovan Liberec. The Italians won four, drew once and lost once on the way to progression.

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Recent form

German club ‘Gladbach are enjoying an unbeaten run of five matches in all competitions in 2017, winning each of their last four and currently lying 10th in the Bundesliga table, and so will go into their home leg with Fiorentina in encouraging form. They did, however, fail to win any of their three home fixtures in the Champions League group phase on the way to finishing third and dropping into the Europa League.

Meanwhile, Fiorentina have been shaky on the road in recent months, with just two wins in their last six away games in all competitions, losing the other four. Their away form in Europe has faired slightly better, however, with two victories and a draw coming in their three away matches in the Europa League group phase. Their one loss on the way to topping the group was a 2-3 reverse at home to PAOK.

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Predicted line-ups

‘Gladbach are expected to stick to the 4-4-2 formation implemented by Dieter Hecking that has seen them start 2017 unbeaten. With forward Raffael doubtful for the first-leg, Lars Stindl and Andre Hahn are in line to replace him, with the former the likelier to get the not to start alongside Thorgan Hazard (brother of Chelsea‘s Eden), in attack. On-loan Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen is set to start at the heart of the defence.

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Paulo Sousa is expected to deploy his side in a defensive 3-4-2-1 formation, with Khouma Babacar likely to get the nod to start as the lone forward ahead of Nikola Kalinic, having been widely used throughout their Europa League games this season. January signing Riccardo Saponara is expected to be handed his European debut in attacking midfield alongside Federico Bernadeschi. On-loan Aston Villa man Carlos Sánchez is expected to start in the midfield four despite being one booking away from suspension.

Borussia M.Gladbach predicted starting XI            Fiorentina predicted starting XI

 

Injuries/suspensions

Raffael remains a doubt for ‘Gladbach after having sat out their last two games, with Jonas Hofmann also rated doubtful for the clash with La Viola. Indeed, the Germans have had several injury problems to contend with coming into this one, with Kolo, Ibrahima Traore, Marvin Schulz and Mamadou Doucoure all on the treatment table. Mahmoud Dahoud is expected to start, but is one booking away from suspension and will miss the away leg at Stadio Artemio Franchi if he is carded here.

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Fiorentina’s only expected absentee is Federico Chiesa, who sits out the first-leg trip to Germany after carrying over a suspension from the group stages. Meanwhile, Carlos Sánchez is one booking away from suspension and although expected to feature, a booking at Borussia Park would see him out of the return leg in Florence.

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Our prediction

‘Gladbach’s recent upturn in form under Dieter Hecking is cause for encouragement, and they will be striving to pick up their first win at home in a European proper competition this season. With Fiorentina’s rocky away form in mind, there are always goals in their games, with over 2.5 goals going in during each of La Viola’s last five in the competition, the Italians netting at least two in all of those games.

Their most difficult away assignment in the group stages saw them pick up a point at PAOK, but we expected Fiorentina’s struggles to continue against an in-form side who should finally get off the mark at home in Europe this season. Our call is Borussia Monchengladbach 2-1 Fiorentina.

 

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Five things we learnt from Celtic and Manchester City’s 3-3 thriller

Martyn Cooke

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Celtic and Manchester City played out a thrilling 3-3 draw in Matchday Two of the Champions League group stage on Wednesday evening in a wonderfully thrilling night of European football in Glasgow.

The result ended Pep Guardiola’s 100% record as Manchester City manager, which has seen The Blues win all ten of the Spaniard’s previous matches in charge so far this season, and helped Celtic to bounce back from the heavy defeat that they suffered to Barcelona earlier this month.

For Brendan Rodgers, it looks increasing likely that he will need to content himself with competing for third place in Group C but this contest will certainly live long in the memory and demonstrated tentative signs that the former Liverpool and Swansea City manager has the Scottish Champions moving in the right direction.

Over the next few pages, we have included five things we learnt from the night’s proceedings.

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Celtic can match anyone when they play at Parkhead

The atmosphere generated by the Celtic supporters at Parkhead on Wednesday evening was loud, raucous and, at times, deafening. From the moment that Dembélé opened the scoring early in the first period of the game, you sensed that this would be a special, picturesque European night under the floodlights and, for long periods, the home side more than matched their illustrious opponents.

Celtic have yet to win on their travels Champions League this campaign, having lost three and draw one of their four away ties so far, but at Parkhead, they look like they can go toe to toe with any side in Europe.

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