Losing el trio fantastico
Borussia Monchengladbach had a very successful 2011/2012 season, in which Die Fohlen not only looked fantastic but ended up taking the Champions League qualification spot. This last season was always going to be different. Three of the best Gladbach players, the team's spine, left for other Bundesliga sides. Defender Dante went to Bayern Munich while midfielder Roman Neustadter left for Schalke. Most significantly, rivals Borussia Dortmund wooed away one of the best players in the league, forward Marco Reus.
Gladbach lost their Champions League qualifier to Dinamo Kiev (1:3 defeat at home; 2:1 win in Kiev) and so were demoted to the Europa League where they had a decent campaign but ultimately lost to Lazio in the knockout round. Additionally, Gladbach had a fairly average Bundesliga season -- but again, this is a young side that lost a lot with the departure of Reus, Dante and Neustadter. Perhaps expecting more than a comfortable mid-table finish was too much.
How did Monchengladbach look this season?
Borussia's coach, former Hertha and Zurich tactician Lucien Favre, had to transform the team a bit. This season the Foals played a 4-4-2 formation, which certainly didn't offer the same attractive football as the previous season, when Gladbach had one of the deadliest counter-attacks in Europe. Although Favre's side continued to hit their opponents on the counter, without Reus it wasn't quite as effective.
In fact, this season Gladbach could boast of being the team in the Bundesliga that spent the least time in the attacking third of the pitch and the most in their own. But the result was a side that was one of the hardest to break down (at least at Borussia Park). Favre's team allowed the most shots on goal in the league, but conceded just 49 -- a lot compared to Bayern, to be sure, but good enough to secure eighth place. Goalkeeper Marc Andre ter Stegen was the primary reason for Gladbach's defensive strength this season. He may have made a ridiculous error against the USMNT, but he's young and it doesn't diminish his present or future talent.
A young team with lots of potential
The majority of the squad is very young, but that does not mean it lacks experience. Actually, you could say that Gladbach's side is a mix between youth and experience. Filip Daems, Juan Arango, Martin Stranzl and Thorben Marx are all 32 years or older and have played at least 20 matches this season. On the other hand, there are a lot of youngsters, like Tony Jantschke, the right back who was in Joachim Loew's notebook but still hasn't debuted for Germany. However, Jantschke is playing for Germany's U21 squad and will, almost certainly, be in the starting line up at the European Championship. Fellow youngsters Patrick Herrmann and Paniel Mlapa are also in the squad. Defensive midfielder Havard Nordveidt, one of the most important Gladbach players, will represent Norway in the same competition.
The players who came in the summer are all young and almost all of them have proven they are worthy of the shirt of the mighty Die Fohlen, but at the same time, fans will have to be patient with them while they transform from talented youngsters into quality players. Luuk De Jong joined from Twente, where his 25 goals put him second in the Eredivisie in 2011/2012. His first Bundesliga season wasn't spectacular, although he was the team's top scorer, alongside Herrmann, with six goals. Now that De Jong is familiar with the league, the next campaign could be the one in which he explodes.
Last summer, Monchengladbach also picked up former Basel midfielder Granit Xhaka, Atletico Madrid's central defender Alvaro Dominguez, and forwards Peniel Mlapa and Branimir Hrgota. Hrgota, in particular, had an interesting end to the season. He scored his first Bundesliga goal against Mainz in the penultimate round, then went on to score another two as Gladbach won 4-2. The match was Hrgota's first league start and with that hat-trick he secured a place in history for himself - only six players before him have managed to score three goals in their debut.
Changes to come in the summer
It doesn't seem like Gladbach will make many changes, at least not in terms of quantity of players moving out and in. It is certain that Mike Heinke is off to Freiburg, while Max Kruse, who scored his first goal for Germany in the match against the USA, is headed the opposite direction. It is hoped that Kruse's arrival will have a significant impact at Gladbach. The midfielder had 11 goals and 8 assists in the league last season, and his intelligence and eye for the through ball should bring plenty of joy to the side's forwards.
The signing of Kruse should help lessen the blow of not getting Leon Goretzka, the young gem of Bochum in 2.Bundesliga. It seems the midfielder is likely to sign with Schalke.
Borussia Monchengladbach is, like most German teams, a well-run club with a great youth academy, a lot of young players already in the first team, and a very good coach. Generally, there is every reason for supporters to be optimistic about the future. Gladbach may not challenge for trophies any time soon, but it watching their young players develop will be exciting -- even if it's expected that some, like Patrick Herrmann or Marc Andre ter Stegen, will leave sooner rather than later.