Borussia Mönchengladbach 2017/18 Bundesliga preview

Borussia Mönchengladbach are an established Bundesliga club that enjoyed its most prosperous period in the 1970s, but success has been few and far between since 1980. Sporting director Max Eberl is one of the best in the business, Gladbach achieving six consecutive top half finishes but missing out on Europe last season. The Foals begin their 50th Bundesliga campaign with realistic expectations of challenging for a top six position.

History:

Borussia VfL 1900 Mönchengladbach e.V. were founded in 1900 and joined the Bundesliga in 1965. Enjoying tremendous success in the 1970s with a fast and aggressive team led by prolific striker Jupp Heynckes, Die Fohlen (The Foals) went head-to-head with Bayern Munich for domestic supremacy. Gladbach have played at the 54,000 capacity Borussia-Park since 2004.

Winning the league and cup double in 1969/70, by 1979 Gladbach had won five Bundesliga titles, two DFB-Pokals and two UEFA Cups, unfortunately losing the 1977 European Cup final against Liverpool. Heynckes managed the club from 1979-87 shortly after hanging up his boots, but financial problems signalled an end to the glory days which have yet to return.

Gladbach’s last trophy was a DFB-Pokal victory in 1995, but in 1999 the Foals were relegated to 2. Bundesliga where they spent two seasons. Returning to the Bundesliga in 2001, a succession of bottom half finishes followed before another relegation in 2007. Bouncing straight back up, their fortunes would improve in January 2011 with the arrival of manager Lucien Favre.

After guiding the Foals to safety, Favre’s Gladbach improved to finish fourth in 2011/12 on the back of Marco Reus’ sensational season. The following three seasons were successful with eighth, sixth and third positions in the Bundesliga, but an inexplicably horrendous start to the 2015/16 season with five consecutive defeats saw the Swiss manager resign in September.

André Schubert took over and rescued the campaign, leading the team off the bottom of the table to fourth place and qualification to the Champions League for a second successive season. Widely expected to build on that success, Schubert’s reign would turn out to be short lived.

Last season:

Granit Xhaka’s €45m move to Arsenal weakened the team but Christoph Kramer’s arrival and Mahmoud Dahoud’s development was expected to fill some of the void. After a promising start the club went through a difficult period in the Bundesliga, tasting victory just once in eleven games and dropping to 14th position. Schubert was sacked on December 21.

Former Wolfsburg manager Dieter Hecking took over and guided the Foals to ninth position in the Bundesliga, the DFB-Pokal semi-finals and the Europa League round of 16. Lars Stindl top-scored with 18 goals in all competitions, Raffael adding 13 and Thorgan Hazard 11, but their Bundesliga total of 45 goals scored was their lowest tally since 2012/13.

The two main off-season acquisitions Jannik Vestergaard and Kramer performed adequately but there appeared to be an X-factor missing from their play. Xhaka’s loss proved to be significant alongside the persistent injuries to 32-year-old Brazilian attacker Raffael which reduced his minutes and effectiveness.

Manager:

Dieter Hecking is a former midfielder who began his managerial career in 2000 at SC Verl in the German fourth division. The 52-year-old has been managing in the top flight since 2006 when he took over at Hannover before spells in charge of Nürnberg and Wolfsburg where he enjoyed considerable success.

Hecking was named 2015 German Football Manager of the Year after guiding the Wolves to second place in the 2014/15 Bundesliga with victories in the DFB-Pokal and DFL-Supercup. Despite the significant financial resources available at Wolfsburg including the substantial windfall from Kevin de Bruyne’s sale to Manchester City, Hecking was unable to build on that success.

One view is that Hecking’s achievements at Wolfsburg were largely due to the outstanding form of de Bruyne. In any case, Wolfsburg and Hecking deteriorated and he was sacked in October 2016 with the Wolves 14th in the Bundesliga after seven games. His hiatus was short lived however, taking over Mönchengladbach two months later. With no continental distractions this season, anything short of a return to Europe with will be considered a failure.

Is Dieter Hecking the man to lead Borussia Mönchengladbach back to Europe?

Transfer review:

Out: Two rising 21-year-old stars have left Borussia-Park, central midfielder Mahmoud Dahoud snapped up by Borussia Dortmund for €12m and centre back Andreas Christensen returning to Chelsea after a successful 2 year loan spell.

Three players that were rather unproductive last season have also departed. Attacker André Hahn moves to Hamburg for €6m, two full backs sold for €3m a piece as Nico Schulz joins Hoffenheim and Julian Korb moves to Hannover.

In: Christensen was replaced by 23-year-old Matthias Ginter who makes the short journey from Borussia Dortmund for €17m. 18-year-old Reece Oxford also provides competition for the centre back role following a loan move from West Ham, the teenager handed starting roles by Hecking during a bright pre-season.

Vincenzo Grifo was signed for €6m, the 24-year-old German born Italian one of Freiburg’s most influential players during the last two seasons where he contributed 20 goals and 19 assists. The left winger is comfortable playing a central attacking role and will be keen to exhibit his expertise from set piece situations.

Denis Zakaria arrives from Young Boys for €12m with the 20-year-old towering central midfielder set for a starting role. Two teenagers may also see some playing time this season, highly rated 17-year-old French central midfielder Mickaël Cuisance signed from Nancy U19 for a paltry €250k and 18-year-old Paraguayan striker Julio Villalba returning after a 6 month loan spell at Cerro Porteño.

Raúl “The Tank”  Bobadilla has rejoined Gladbach from Augsburg for €2m and is set to be a crowd favourite. The 30-year-old Paraguayan striker spent two-and-a-half years with The Foals from 2009-12 and will provide Hecking with a robust option up front.

Key player:

Lars Stindl – Signed on a free transfer from Hannover in July 2015, Stindl has become Gladbach’s most indispensable player, captain and top scorer. Equally adept as a striker or attacking midfielder, Stindl’s versatility and consistency saw the then 27-year-old rewarded with a call up to the German national side for the first time.

Stindl scored three goals in Germany’s recent Confederations Cup triumph in Russia including the goal the secured a 1-0 victory against Chile in the final. With Gladbach eager to return to the European competitions and challenge for the DFB-Pokal, expect another big season from Stindl as he eyes a place in Löw’s squad for the World Cup in Russia next summer.

U21 player to watch:

Denis Zakaria – Dahoud’s departure and Tobias Strobl’s long term injury opens the door for 20-year-old central midfielder Denis Zakaria who arrives from Young Boys for €12m. Originally a striker, the versatile youngster moved to a defensive position before settling into the holding midfield role.

Playing 50 top-flight games for Young Boys as they secured two consecutive runners-up finishes in the Swiss Super League, Gladbach beat many of Europe’s top sides to Zakaria’s signature and tied him down until 2022. The powerful 6ft 3in Swiss international is set to move straight into the starting side and could prove to be a vital player for the Foals.

Expectations:

Last season was a challenging one for Gladbach as they competed on three fronts and felt the effects of injuries to key players. Granit Xhaka’s departure was significant and the Foals must now contend with the losses of Mahmoud Dahoud and Andreas Christensen. Zakaria and Ginter appear to be handy replacements however and extended time on the training pitch should be beneficial.

Without the demands of European competition the Foals can concentrate solely on domestic duties. The recruitment this summer has been promising with many of the young players acquired possessing a large scope for improvement. With stability in the boardroom and successful 43-year-old sporting director Max Eberl recommitting to the club until 2022, Gladbach are in a good position.

Two late goals were required to squeeze past fourth-tier Rot-Weiss Essen in the DFB-Pokal 1st Round, but another deep run in the competition wouldn’t surprise. Eberl wants to finish at least eighth this season, but that could be a conservative expectation as I believe Hecking possesses a squad with enough talent and versatility to realistically challenge for the top six.


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