It almost goes without saying that fans of Borussia Mönchengladbach are in dreamland. The past twelve months have been a near-constant source of good news on the pitch; a number of top players joined the club in the summer, slotting into a squad with the potential to achieve great things, and headed up by the magnificent duo of Max Eberl and Lucien Favre, who by now have to be considered the most effective sporting director/coach duo in the Bundesliga. A sixth place finish in 2013/14 was a wonderful achievement, both on its own and when put in perspective of the previous 15 or so years, in which the club had struggled in the Bundesliga, at times slipping down to the second tier, and at the start of the season a continuation of Borussia’s recent progress was perhaps the main expectation.
In our season preview, TBR earmarked die Fohlen for a European finish, with a decent shot at reaching the Champions League places for only the second time since 1978. Additionally, a good cup run and a berth in the Europa League was predicted for the club. To what extent have those goals been achieved?
As with last year, Borussia fell victim to a side who’d go on to get promoted from the 3. Liga; last time it was Darmstadt (who are incidentally now a Bundesliga club) and this year the club crashed out to Bielefeld. Fortunately this season it wasn’t in the first round, and wins over Homburg (not Hamburg!), Eintracht Frankfurt and Kickers Offenbach gave realistic hope of a place in the showpiece final come the end of May. Losing to Bielefeld in the Quarters ended that ambition, but the cup run was nonetheless pleasing, and hopefully allows some room for improvement in future seasons – with the cup being Borussia’s potentially most realistic shot at silverware.
Overall, while it was disappointing for Borussia to crash out to Bielefeld, but equally the club reached the stage you’d expect them to, avoiding three potential banana skins away from home on the way. Hopefully the experiences of this season’s cup run will stand the team in good stead for the future.
A 10-2 aggregate victory over Sarajevo – including a 7-0 rout at home – set the tone for the rest of Borussia’s involvement in the Europa League during 2014, as the club eased through a group containing Villarreal, Zürich and Apollon Limassol in first place. While the Europa League arguably hindered the team in terms of progress in the league – their first win in the game after a Europa League match only came in their tenth and final attempt, at struggling Paderborn – taking part in the competition was arguably one of the many highlights of the season, with several memorable European nights at Borussia-Park and a great turn-out from fans of the club in all five away games.
Borussia eventually found themselves casualties of a strong Sevilla side in the Round of 32 – the same stage they bowed out to Lazio in back in 2013 – but even the nature of the exit, a 3-2 loss at Borussia-Park following a 1-0 loss in Spain, was slightly heroic – with the players fighting tooth and nail for their status in the competition, and with the fans belting out a goosebump-inducing rendition of “Die Seele brennt” after Sevilla’s winner had sent the side virtually out.
It would have been great had the club ventured further into the Europa League, but in the end it turned out to be an adventure which probably ended later than most had expected, and the exit also allowed the club to push on in the Rückrunde, adding a little bit of consistency to their results having struggled to win after European games with just two full days to recover.
The league, however, is the bread and butter, and where seasons arguably come to be judged. Here, the club rarely put a foot wrong. A slightly slow start – with two draws against Stuttgart and Freiburg opening the season – soon made way for a period full of style as Borussia began to record rampant victories over the likes of Schalke, Hoffenheim and Paderborn.
To put it into perspective just how good the Borussia of late 2014 were, it took them until the end of November to be beaten. That, after 19 consecutive unbeaten matches in all competitions – the club’s strongest start to the season since the legendary team of the 1970s under Hennes Weisweiler – fed into a slightly blip, with three league losses on the bounce to Dortmund, Frankfurt and Wolfsburg – but even then, this tough patch was brief and, thanks to an excellent second half, pretty much forgotten come May.
Not conceding to Bayern over two games – in fact, quite deservedly beating the Champions in their own back yard in March – as well as drubbing Leverkusen and Dortmund at home, and a deserved last-minute win against Wolfsburg thanks to Max Kruse (who is incidentally headed there next season) will live long in the memory, while perhaps the season’s outstanding moment was Granit Xhaka’s last gasp headed winner against local rivals 1.FC Köln in the first derby at Borussia-Park since 2011/12. Having endured over 180 minutes of goalless football against the Billy Goats – as the away tie had ended in a 0-0 stalemate – it was a moment of great relief as well as incredible joy, but also showed the mental strength of a team who play from the first whistle to the last, a huge improvement on the side earlier in the season and in previous years.
This is probably the best way to summarise Borussia’s season, both in the Bundesliga and in all competitions. They’ve done everything we know they can do – defend resolutely, attack with flair, keep the ball when needed, and hit teams on the counter with aplomb. This team has several plans to break opposition down, as well as incredible depth in both defence and attack to cover for any missing players or players out of form. Most game plans executed by Favre’s men have paid off – evidenced in the results, reaching a Champions League berth with time to spare – and both Favre and Eberl have pieced together a squad with an excellent dynamic, a blend of experience and youth, solidity and flair. Despite ending on a sour note with the loss to Augsburg, it’s genuinely been quite an incredible season.
The bottom line is that Favre, Eberl and Borussia were aiming for another Europa League finish to continue the rapid development of the club in recent years, and have, thanks to the hard work and also the stumbling of positional rivals such as Schalke and Dortmund, find themselves ahead of schedule regards the club’s development into a top team. That is nothing but a huge success.
There are many candidates to choose Borussia’s player of the season from. A defence which, at times, looks impenetrable, is rivalled by one of the league’s most competent midfields and an attack which has torn apart many opponents throughout the season, while summer arrival Yann Sommer has probably been the Bundesliga’s outstanding shot stopper this year.
First, the honourable mentions. Martin Stranzl has commanded a mean defence and, during his time on the sidelines in the Hinrunde and at points in the early part of 2015, Borussia seemed to lack his presence on the field, collecting markedly fewer points without the Austrian than with him. Tony Jantschke has played a larger proportion of the season and can now be ranked among the league’s top defenders, having proven consistently for the past three to four seasons that he is a reliable Bundesliga player who should probably be viewed in contention for the German national team. Patrick Herrmann has continued his development and risen to the challenge of the additions of Andre Hahn, Fabian Johnson and Ibrahima Traore to the squad with an unbelievable season, scoring sixteen goals and assisting a further seven. It’s perhaps harsh to overlook a player with such obvious pedigree, but given the season Borussia have had, probably necessary.
Granit Xhaka, though, has probably been the most important player for Mönchengladbach throughout the season. It shows when he’s not on the pitch; the club look notably less dangerous going forward and much more porous going backwards, as his intelligent playmaking on the ball and combative nature off the ball aren’t matched by many in the league, let alone in Borussia’s squad.
With a passing success rate of 86% – around two thirds of which go forward, something also important to consider in comparison to players with higher ratios such as Philipp Lahm, whose 89% success rate is largely down to the fact he only sends the ball forward half the time – Xhaka looks to set Borussia on the front foot and largely succeeds in doing so; even when not on top of his game, his style is vital in allowing Borussia to boss the midfield battle by transitioning quickly, and this has been evident in the games which Xhaka has missed this year; Borussia have only won once in the league without him this season – albeit only in four attempts – while Favre’s men looked a lot worse on the pitch against Augsburg last Saturday after Xhaka was substituted off before half time, eventually surrendering a goal lead and losing to Augsburg.
With key goals and assists – notably, of course, that goal against Köln, but also screamers against Villarreal and Sarajevo, among others – it’s really hard to argue against Xhaka as player of the season for the club.
Borussia certainly had a good summer, welcoming Yann Sommer, Fabian Johnson, Andre Hahn, Ibrahima Traore and Thorgan Hazard to Borussia-Park. All have done well and have played important roles since arriving. Hahn carried the team forward in the opening weeks of the season and generally had an impressive Hinrunde, but injury and confidence hampered his chances in the Rückrunde and the former Augsburg man played more of a role from the bench after the winter break. Hazard stepped somewhat out of the shadow of his brother Eden, especially with important performances in the thick of Europa League action between October and February; a number of assists and a smattering of goals have whetted the appetite for hopefully a larger role next season now that he’s permanently signed from Chelsea. Traore has mostly figured from the bench but his goals against Hertha and Leverkusen towards the end of the season were key, while his vibrant style of play has livened up many a game.
Johnson has been a surprise in the sense that he has played in a different position to expected; Favre considers the American international a left midfielder rather than a right back, the position Johnson played his best football at Hoffenheim in and had an outstanding World Cup at, but the Swiss tactician has been proven right as Johnson has cemented a starting place in the side at left midfield since the end of February. Slightly more defensive an option than Herrmann who tends to start on the opposite flank, Johnson adds balance to the side and is almost the natural choice in that position now. Perhaps the only unsurprising thing about Johnson’s move is that it has been a success.
However, the best signing is clear. Yann Sommer had big gloves to fill when replacing Barcelona bound Marc-Andre ter Stegen, but he managed it with a strong first half of the season and the best Rückrunde a goalkeeper has ever had, conceding just ten goals since the break. With 26 goals conceded overall, fifteen league clean sheets and one of the best save-to-goal ratios in Europe (3.52 saves per goal), it’s safe to say that Sommer’s probably the best signing Max Eberl made in the summer, with such a big task for the Swiss goalkeeper.
Additionally, Sommer’s become Switzerland’s first choice goalkeeper – aided by the international retirement of Benaglio, but also an achievement given the competition in the outstanding Roman Bürki and clinical Marwin Hitz. If that’s him adapting to the Bundesliga, imagine what he’ll be like next season!
Does much more need to be said? Almost every aspect of 2014/2015 has gone excellently for Borussia Mönchengladbach, with big wins at almost every turn and pleasing developments, new contracts and a raft of new signings set to come in at the beginning of next season. We’ll find out if things can realistically get any better in the coming years, but for now, this is the vintage.
One winner and one loser as Rhian Brewster extends his Liverpool contract
The teenager has a bright future ahead of him.
On Tuesday night, Liverpool’s highly-rated youngster Rhian Brewster signed a new five-year professional contract at Anfield.
The signing will come as a superb boost for Liverpool’s academy, as they will see another young player make his way to the first team set-up.
However, it spells bad news for Borussia Monchengladbach, the Bundesliga club who had been strongly pursuing Brewster’s signature.
Winner: Liverpool’s academy
The academy at Kirkby deserves a massive round of applause for the development of Rhian Brewster. The Englishman was signed by the club in 2014 from Chelsea and has simply flourished in Merseyside, improving his skills at the club while scoring for fun at U-23 level.
Brewster is another example of a Liverpool academy product succeeding at the club and entering professional football. The likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ben Woodburn, Harry Wilson, and Sheyi Ojo have all drawn plaudits for their performances after graduating from Kirkby.
The club’s academy has produced another gem yet again, and a five-year contract is a richly-deserved reward for Brewster’s talent and hard work.
Loser: Borussia Monchengladbach
The Bundesliga club were heavily linked with Brewster this year but, as per the Telegraph, reportedly crossed the line and made an illegal approach for the 18-year-old.
This caused Liverpool to write a letter to Borussia Monchengladbach criticizing them for their conduct, and the Premier League club even called off a scheduled friendly between the two teams this summer.
All this drama and loss of business ended up harming the Germans, as they were left without Brewster and without a high-profile friendly at Anfield.
Exclusive: Thorgan Hazard – Belgium’s World Cup chances and facing England in Group G
The Belgian international discusses his countries hopes at the upcoming World Cup.
The World Cup is fast approaching and the excitement is beginning to build as the club season draws to an end.
Belgium are going to be England’s biggest challenge in Group G, with the other two teams being Tunisia and Panama.
The two European nations are set to face each other on the 28th June in the final group match and it is likely that the fixture will decide who goes through in first place.
England will know the Belgium squad well, as a lot of their players ply their trade in England.
However, Thorgan Hazard is less known to English defenders and the Borussia Monchengladbach attacker could have a role to play this summer.
Roberto Martinez is a big fan of the 25-year-old and has included him in the majority of squads since becoming manager of the Red Devils.
He may not have had the success of his older brother, Eden, at international level but he has collected seven caps and one goal for his country.
At the age of 25, he is approaching the peak years of his career and it would be great for his development if he could announce himself on the global stage.
In an exclusive interview with The Boot Room, Hazard spoke about his hopes for both Belgium and himself this summer.
“I hope to be part of the Belgian team travelling to Russia. Since our current coach Roberto Martinez took over, I was invited to all matches and could also make a few matches.
“The decision is of course with the coach. I have to show good performances in the club, then we will see. Of course, it would be very special for me if I could be there.”
It won’t be easy for Hazard to get into the team this summer, as Belgium have their own Golden Generation at the moment and Martinez has a number of talented attackers available to him.
Eden Hazard is likely to be the key man, but Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens and Michy Batshuayi have all had good campaigns for top European clubs. Meanwhile, Divock Origi, Kevin Mirallas and Yannick Carrasco all provide solid options for Martinez.
Although the younger Hazard brother won’t be one of the first names on the team-sheet, he has had his best season in professional football and stood out as the best player at Monchengladbach this season.
It has been a year of progression from the 25-year-old and his regular involvement with the national side shows that his manager has taken notice.
Hazard is currently the leading scorer for Monchengladbach with nine goals in the Bundesliga, which is his best return for a single league season. His consistency has been impressive, as he has averaged 2.01 chances created and 2.59 shots per ninety minutes. The attacker has been a regular threat to defences.
To put his performances into context, his older brother has averaged 3.13 chances created and 2.67 shots per ninety minutes for Chelsea. Considering Eden is playing in a superior team and has more opportunity to express himself, these stats show the quality of Thorgan.
“I think it’s the best generation of footballers Belgium has ever had. Of course, we want to go far at this World Cup, beyond as in 2014. But winning this title is very difficult. Everything has to fit, including health and luck in the matches.”
It is the pinnacle of the sport to lift the World Cup and Belgium have never managed to do it in their history. That isn’t surprising due to their size, but the names listed earlier show the quality that they currently possess. There is a belief that this is their best chance and Hazard clearly agrees with that. In 2014, they got experience in the tournament and reached the quarter-final stage, but they will be looking to improve of that this summer.
They will go into this summer with confidence after easing through their qualification group. Although they didn’t have the most difficult opposition, they managed to win nine of their ten matches and scored an incredible 43 goals, which averaged out at over four per game. Martinez has given the squad license to play attacking football and that certainly plays to their strengths.
However, Hazard is right to allude to the difficulty of winning the World Cup. Only one nation can do it every four years and Belgium won’t be one of the favourites. They will need everything to click and get the bit of luck required to go deep into a tournament. The first challenge will be England and the Monchengladbach winger spoke of the benefits his country will gain from having a number of Premier League players in the squad.
“Many of the best Belgian footballers play in the Premier League. So, we know many English players well. But it makes a difference whether you play against them with the club team or meet each other with the national teams. We will definitely do everything we can to win this difficult and important group game.”
They do have an advantage through knowing the English players well, but England have the same knowledge that could prove an important factor. This is why those that play in other top European leagues could be crucial in the final group game. Mertens, Radja Nainggolan and the younger Hazard could all be key figures for the Red Devils.
This summer will be special for the Hazard family. It is rare for two siblings to play to a high level in professional football and even rarer for them to feature alongside each other at a World Cup. It could be a tournament that takes both players to a new level.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Exclusive: George Williams on his Fulham spell, Euro 2016 and two year ambition
We caught up with the former MK Dons and Fulham prospect, now plying his trade for Forest Green.
Exclusive: Christian Doidge discusses new season, career highlights and transfer speculation
The Forest Green Rovers striker spoke to The Boot Room ahead of the 2018/19 campaign.
Exclusive: Cardiff City’s Joe Bennett discusses his new contract; promotion and new signings
The full-back spoke exclusively to The Boot Room as he looks ahead to the Bluebird's top flight return.
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