MOENCHENGLADBACH, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 19: Marco Reus of Gladbach (L) and Sebastian Proedl (R) of Bremen battle for the ball during the Bundesliga match between Borussia Moenchengladbach and SV Werder Bremen at Borussia Park on November 19, 2011 in Moenchengladbach, Germany. (Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Gladbach have had a sensational rise from relegation battlers to title challengers within less than a year. Ross Dunbar looks at their revival under Lucien Favre.
In the middle of February this year, Die Fohlen were rooted at the bottom of the Bundesliga with a seven-point gap between them and safety, as Head coach Michael Frontzeck was deservedly shown the exit door by Sporting director Max Eberl. Frontzeck's Borussia Mönchengladbach were on course to be relegated with just 16 points from 22 matches under the 47-year-old, who made over 200 appearances for ‘the Foals' in his playing career.
With many of the Gladbach faithful busy entertaining their partners on Valentine's Day, the club took a quick step to restoring stability at Borussia-Park by appointing 54-year-old Lucien Favre on a two-year-deal. It would prove to be a masterstroke by Eberl with Gladbach winning seven and drawing three of their next 14 games to secure their safety in the Bundesliga, which included a nail-biting relegation play-off against VfL Bochum.
The Swiss coach spent two years in charge of Hertha Berlin where he led the Berliners to a stunning fourth place finish in the top-flight. But his time in the German capital did not last much longer and Hertha struggling in 2009-10, he was sacked. Gladbach's incredible turn-around from February to May was one of the most enthralling aspects of the Bundesliga with the relegation places already looking settled before Favre took charge at Borussia-Park.
The new Gladbach coach immediately put his shape on the team and implemented a new mentality of being compact and tough to break down. It was a mentality that would prove to serve Favre well with Gladbach collecting five clean sheets up until the end of the season, including a terrific 1-0 win over league-leaders, and eventual champions, Borussia Dortmund.
Favre brought a new way of playing to an under-performing Gladbach side and opted for a 4-4-2 system, as opposed to the much-preferred 4-2-3-1 in the Bundesliga. Between the sticks, Favre decided to axe Christian Heimeroth who was the number one under Michael Frontzeck and handed the gloves to rookie 18-year-old keeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen. He has excelled in his new role, becoming one of the best goalkeepers in the Bundesliga. Despite his age and inexperience, Ter Stegen brought a presence to Gladbach's defence and already similarities have been cast with German international Manuel Neuer.
In front of the young keeper, Favre was keen to keep a solid, and consistent defence with Jantschke, Dante, Stranzl and Daems featuring regularly in the last few weeks of the campaign. Probably one of the most effective changes to the Gladbach side was the inclusion of two ‘defensive-minded' midfielders in to the 4-4-2 formation. Former Arsenal kid Havard Nordtveit was drafted in alongside Roman Neustadter which brought so much solidity to the side.
What can be said about Marco Reus? The young German international has been a revelation under Favre and is already on the shopping list for Arsene Wenger, Roberto Mancini and FC Bayern's Jupp Heynckes, amongst others. In the attacking positions, Gladbach were without a regular goalscorer with both their frontmen struggling to find the net.
The workhorse Mike Hanke, who has netted just once in the white of Gladbach, provided a terrific outball for Gladbach in their 4-4-2 system but what made Hanke a firm favourite with Favre was his ability to tuck back in to the midfield to make it a 4-5-1 leaving Mo Idrissou up front. The 31-year-old Cameroonian striker was something of an enigma towards the end of last season but brought a focal point to the attack with his power and hold-up play.
Favre's focus on continuity can't be underestimated in the title race and the Gladbach starting eleven almost became a regular feature in the Bundesliga. But the Swiss coach shuffled his pack to some extent during the summer with Marco Reus joining the strike force - a decision which would turn out to be another masterstroke for Favre. After netting 10 goals last season, the 22-year-old has scored 10 in 13 for Gladbach in the Bundesliga this season, forming a strong partnership with Mike Hanke, who unsurprisingly, hasn't added much to his goal-tally this year.
Favre has been able to draft in the likes of Patrick Herrmann, Mathias Zimmerman and Aussie Matt Leckie to the squad with Gladbach continuing to produce some talented young players from their academy setup and pick some superb bargain buys from abroad. The table doesn't lie if you're a Gladbach supporter.
The Foals absolutely thrashed their European rivals Werder Bremen 5-0 on Saturday, with Reus adding three goals to his tally for the season and the other goals coming from Herrmann and Arango.
Borussia Dortmund's victory in Munich against FC Bayern on Saturday evening has blown the title race wide open with Gladbach just two points off top-spot. Gladbach spent last season fighting relegation, but thanks to Lucien Favre, they could be spending this season chasing Champions League football.