There is a sketch in the British comedy programme ‘The Fast Show’ where a ‘sports journalist’ reads out the football results in which the team ‘Borussia Munchen Munchen Munchen Munchen Munchen Glad to be Bach’ secure a goalless draw. Cue big laughs all round. The comedy rendering of Mönchengladbach’s name aside, for much of last season the idea of ‘Gladbach keeping a clean sheet was equally hilarious. No-one is laughing now with last season’s cannon fodder potential league leaders ahead of Friday’s game with Wolfsburg (LIVE on Eurosport2, 20:30CET).
The reason is the club’s Hollywood-ian renaissance under Lucien Favre. With his ruffled hair and kindly face, the Swiss looks more like your favourite uncle than a footballing saviour. However, the man who took over at Mönchengladbach on Valentine’s Day this year has understandably won the hearts of the Borussia Park afficionados by producing nothing short of a footballing miracle.
After a chronically-inept 16 points from 22 games under Michael Frontzeck, who was relieved of his functions with the team seven points adrift of safety and seemingly doomed, Favre effected an incredible reversal in fortune. The 20 points that came from the next 12 games, including maximum hauls from encounters with Hannover and Dortmund, gave them a chance in the relegation play-off – one which they unsurprisingly seized against Bochum. An opening-day win at Bayern Munich and a promising draw – albeit at home – to an in-form Stuttgart suggest such heroics will not be required this time round.
Favre has been fortunate in the sense that sporting director, Max Eberl, had done his job well, bringing in Mike Hanke, Harvard Nordtveit and Martin Stranzl during the January transfer window. The three added quality to the squad, but Favre – unlike Frontzeck – got them playing well.
After Nordtveit had played in three positions, Favre installed him definitively in midfield with Stranzl in central defence, tightening up a side that conceded nine goals in the remaining 12 games of the season – the best record in the Bundesliga – having shipped a comical 56 in the previous 22. Nordtveit – after failing to break through at Arsenal and a disappointing loan spell at Nuremberg- looks to be settling in nicely to his defensive midfield role, playing the destroyer to Roman Neustädter in a more creative role. Favre’s strong message to the returning Michael Bradley that there is no place for the American, who wanted to jump ship at all costs in January but who has returned to find the club still afloat, will only boost the Norwegian’s confidence still further.
Behind Nordtveit, with Stranzl injured at the start of the current campaign, Roel Brouwers returned alongside his old sparring partner Dante to hold Bayern at bay. However, the lion’s share of the credit for their first opening-day win in five years and only their second-ever triumph in Munich, as well as the point taken against Stuttgart, must go to goalkeeper Marc Andre ter Stegen – and Favre.
The teenager, who made seven key saves against Bayern, looks every inch the natural successor to Manuel Neuer, even with Ron-Robert Zieler and Ralf Fährmann on the scene. Yet, when he made his Bundesliga debut only eight games ago, Ter Stegen’s name was on the lips of no-one, bar Favre. To bring in a young goalkeeper when you have two experienced custodians – however inconsistent – at your disposal, shows courage. To hand a teenager his Bundesliga debut with your club five points from safety with six games left smacks of insanity, but Favre’s bravery paid off. You can argue he had nothing to lose, but remember this was a man who had been sacked by Hertha Berlin after a disastrous start to the 2009/10 season, and a second relegation in as many jobs – regardless of how much harm had already been done prior to him taking the job – would have done nothing to enhance his already tarnished reputation. Where Louis van Gaal tried – and largely failed – with Thomas Kraft, Favre succeeded with Ter Stegen.
Favre has also had the fortune to have Igor De Camargo fit at key moments. Though he missed the run-in, De Camargo showed against Bochum and Bayern – and in being conspicuous by his absence against Stuttgart- he will be a key player for ‘Gladbach this season alongside Hanke, who works much better with the Belgian than the lumbering Mohamadou Idrissou. The ex-Freiburg forward failed to shine despite being moved from the left wing into the middle by Favre last season, and the Cameroonian’s erratic first touch and even more unpredictable finishing are ‘qualities’ ‘Gladbach can well do without.
Favre has also managed to keep Marco Reus’ mind focussed on helping ‘Gladbach and not moving elsewhere, while Juan Arango’s early season form suggests the Swiss may have found the previously elusive remedy to keeping the Venezualan’s level of contribution high.
Of course, the season is still in its infancy, but while they may not find themselves watching European football a year from now, Mönchengladbach fans need not worry that their side will be among the Bundesliga bottom-feeders this time round. The glory days of the 1970s are still some way away from returning, but Favre has at least ensured that no-one is laughing at Mönchengladbach any more.
Eurosport 2 Bundesliga commentator
Our Week 3 LIVE coverage starts on Friday when Favre’s men take on Wolfsburg at 20:30CET. On Saturday, Dortmund face Nuremberg at 15:30CET before our Half-Time programme, featuring highlights of all Saturday’s games, keeps things on the boil for Cologne’s meeting with Kaiserslautern at 18:30CET. Sunday sees both sides on maximum points in action with Mainz taking on Schalke (15:30CET) while Hannover play Hertha Berlin (17:30CET).