ESPN’s senior Bundesliga commentator Derek Rae writes about an uncertain January for Borussia Mönchengladbach. For years a model club on the team-building front, are ‘the Foals’ straying from what they’re good at?
It was reasonable to wonder if Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Jan. 7 victory over Bayern Munich could represent a much-needed win. Wellenbrecher (wave breaker), to use the German word 2021. A relentless wave of defeats and poor performances had engulfed Gladbach, after a heavy 4-1 loss to Rheinderby rivals FC Cologne, beaten 6-0 at home by SC Freiburg. One point from five games at the end of the calendar year left the Niederrhein-area men too close to the relegation zone for comfort.
The applause was in order after the decisive victory at the Allianz Arena, but remember, Gladbach always seem to reserve their best for the rekordmeister. Indeed, they sacked Bayern from the DFB-Pokal in October after a 5-0 hammering. Such triumphs over the best are never a guarantee of future returns for the Fohlenelf.
As I eagerly awaited the squad sheets before commenting for the DFL World Stream on Gladbach’s intriguing home game against a talented but out-of-form Bayer Leverkusen last Saturday, one thing jumped out at me. Why wasn’t Matthias Ginter in the starting XI? For a moment, as always in the current climate, I wondered if Omicron was the cause, but then I saw Ginter’s name on the list of substitutes. A quick fact check on my official stats database confirmed that Ginter had never been a substitute for Gladbach in the league. What was happening?
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That new Union Berlin signing Marvin Friedrich on his full debut came as no surprise. He had faced Leverkusen in a 2-2 draw with his former club the previous week and is a hardened contender in the Bundesliga and, I believe, an enrichment for the Gladbach side.
But leaving out ”Matze” Ginter seemed like a drastic step. Granted, we know his contract is up and he’s leaving no later than this summer, but football’s decision makers live in the here and now and it seemed strange to freeze such a seasoned and capable performer.
The match itself was lively and ended in a 2-1 victory for Leverkusen, which should have been more emphatic. Gladbach’s Yann Sommer has become the first goalkeeper since 2014 to save two penalties in the same Bundesliga match. Our expected goals showed that Leverkusen should have had more than six.
The press conference was going to be even more interesting than usual. The excellent and always on the ball Sport1 chief journalist Patrick Berger posed a question directly to Gladbach coach Adi Hutter, asking exactly what Ginter had done wrong and how he wanted to frame the discussion going forward in in case the Germany international stays with the club after the January transfer window closes.
Hutter acknowledged that Ginter had played well against Bayern, but then referred to pre-Christmas defensive mishaps (17 goals against in four games) and said: “We have made the decision to invest in the future and so we played Marvin Friedrich instead of Matthias Ginter.”
Friedrich didn’t have the best start of his career in Mönchengladbach, kicking one of two, although perhaps unfortunately. Galling for Hutter was not just the conceding of two penalties by his side, but the fact that both Leverkusen goals came from set plays. As the coach said, “It can’t happen. On both occasions we didn’t defend well.”
Meanwhile, a defender with 67 caps for Germany watched from the sidelines for 90 minutes.
Ginter and Denis Zakaria have been widely discussed this season with their contracts expiring in the summer. For a long time, sports boss Max Eberl expressed hope that the couple could be persuaded to stay in the Niederrhein. Recently, however, he had to admit that neither would extend their deals.
Eberl is, for me, perhaps the best Bundesliga sporting director of his generation. He and his colleagues have made Gladbach competitive at the top of the table when financial realities don’t necessarily speak for such a scenario. Eberl is convinced that “we always need whimsical and creative solutions to compete with those who are economically better off”.
To be fair, Eberl and director of scouting Steffen Korell seem to have hit the mark by signing American defender and rising star Joe Scally from New York City FC, Luca Netz from Hertha Berlin and Kouadio Kone from Toulouse. The three youngsters, although not the finished product, look like they already belong in the Bundesliga.
But with the more established Ginter and Zakaria, the game of poker has seemingly been lost. Unless something happens in the next few days, the two will leave without a transfer fee.
Injuries have been hampering Zakaria for some time, making transfer conditions more difficult. Gladbach would accept offers for Ginter if they secured a reasonable transfer fee, but Eberl said on Tuesday there was nothing at the moment that could be described as realistic.
Eberl, who recently broached the often taboo subject of more outside investment as something the club may need to consider, now faces pressure to do what he has clearly excelled at over the years, namely remove a few more rabbits. hat.
Gladbach’s main problem is that too many players this season have performed below expectations. Certainly not the irrepressible Sommer, but just about everyone.
Stefan Lainer has missed almost the entire campaign so far with a broken ankle, and main catalyst Jonas Hofmann is returning from minor knee surgery. Florian Neuhaus is finally upping his game after moving from a seated position to a higher role. Alassane Plea and Marcus Thuram have been huge disappointments, with the latter yet to register a goal or an assist. Christoph Kramer was out looking for much of the countryside and is now in bad weather.
Hutter said in the build-up to Wednesday’s meeting with Pokal in Hanover that Ginter’s omission on Saturday did not mean it was permanent and insisted it was not a situation between him and the new came Friedrich. “We haven’t ruled out the idea that they could play together.” And indeed they did at the Niedersachsenstadion, both playing the full 90 minutes in a lopsided 3-0 defeat.
Gladbach, for much of the last decade, has been much more than the sum of their individual parts. This season, self-inflicted injuries threaten to trip Fohlenelf.