Papiss Cissé continued to show why Wolfsburg are intent on buying him to replace Edin Džeko, as his brace and fantastic performance helped Freiburg defeat Mönchengladbach. Gladbach remain rooted in relegation trouble, but had they taken some of the numerous chances that came their way in the first half, the result would have been so much different here.
Both sides went into the game affected by injuries to their backline – goalkeeper Simon Pouplin, Pavel Krmaš and Ömer Toprak were missing for the home side, along with attackers Tommy Bechmann and Kisho Yano. Nevertheless, Freiburg knew a win would lift them above Bayern Munich into fifth spot. Gladbach were also shorn of their first-choice custodian (Logan Bailly), along with Brazilian centre-backs Dante and Anderson. Even more significant for a side looking to prevent it being four defeats on the spin was the absence of the super-talented 21-year-old Marco Reus, and Raúl Bobadilla – fined and banned after a stupid red card against Hannover in round 15.
Borussia Mönchengladbach started at a great pace, taking the game to their hosts, and getting their full-backs up the pitch. But this urgency was soon exposed when Freiburg used a restart to draw three Gladbach pressers towards the box, before going long and allowing Cedric Makiadi to carry the ball at the away side’s defence (he was fouled, the subsequent free-kick squandered). Robin Dutt, as is his way, ensured that his side always started short from the ‘keeper, trying to draw their guests on, or enacting patience and looking for the best pass.
But Michael Frontzeck didn’t let up, and both his wingers and two attackers formed a staggered line of four ten-yards from the often static, pass-assessing defender, with each taking it in turns to press the Freiburg player in question. This urgency continued to serve them well in their attacking phases of play, especially down the flanks, where the home side were slow to push out and plug the gaps from their off-ball starting positions in a narrow 4-1-4-1. Not only were Freiburg struggling to deal with Gladbach’s urgency, but also, the sheer physicality shown by Frontzeck’s side was proving difficult to contain. The biggest bully in white was Mo Idrissou – booed throughout after leaving Freiburg in the summer after claiming he didn’t want to languish in the lower-reaches of the Bundesliga.
Dutt adjusted his system accordingly at restarts to contain the burly Cameroonian by pushing Schuster back as a third central-defender. Despite doubling and trebling up on the Gladbach dangerman where possible, Felix Bastians was having a horror-show against Karim Matmour. The Algerian was quicker, sharper and stronger on the flank, and put in a number of inch-perfect crosses for Idrissou – resulting in the game’s most notable chance in the 15th minute when Oliver Baumann saved a header low to his right. Moments earlier, Juan Arango sent over an equally impeccable cross for the striker, and just like the chance he’d get a few minutes later, Idrissou got the better of Oliver Barth far too easily (but not Baumann).
But football can be a cruel game, and this was epitomised in the 18th minute. Freiburg, second best throughout, worked a neat triangle on the right-hand side. Maximilian Nicu placed a cross towards the near post, and Papiss Cissé stepped across the static and clueless Roul Brouwers to head home his 12th goal of the season. 1-0 ahead, Freiburg were now oozing confidence – Cissé given the ball to hold up and play on for his advancing team-mates, others attempting through-passes and dribbles, and Mensur Mujdža showing that his side were more than a match physically for their guests when he burst past Daems on the right and won a corner.
Frontzeck kept his side in a 4-2-2-2 after they fell behind, and when they were out of possession, ensured that the man on the ball was always sprint-pressed. But Freiburg had now found and used their width, and were constantly looking to launch Nicu down the right following a quickfire series of first-time passes. Although Dutt retained his 4-1-4-1 (with one of Jan Rosenthal and Makiadi occasionally bobbing towards the lone striker to retain a bridge), Cissé is so talented that he didn’t seem to need his colleagues at times. Yet as comfortable as Freiburg and their Senegalese talisman were, disaster nearly struck in the 32nd minute when Heiko Butscher failed to register that Baumann was coming to get the ball, and hit a backpass that went beyond the ‘keeper and so nearly into the goal (Idrissou could only turn it on to the post – injuring himself in the process). Their defensive deficincies were again exposed moments later when Igor de Camargo rose above two defenders to get a header on goal.
With Mönchengladbach’s widemen still lurking dangerously and sending in a number of teasing crosses, Freiburg enacted headless chicken pressing in their own half. Gladbach can at times show their technically-gifted side, and string together an incisive set of defence-splicing passes – something they were now doing in this game. The home side threw in a couple of tactical fouls to halt their guests’ finest moves, but one brilliant Michael Bradley set-piece into the box caused havoc, and could so easily have been turned in. Gladbach were again punished for being toothless in front of goal in the 40th minute. Unsure of their defensive shape during a corner-kick (a concussed Brouwers had just been replaced by Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker), the superb Cissé held the second-ball up inside the box as confusion reigned regarding the Gladbach offside trap. His eventual shot was parried into the path of Barth by Cristofer Heimeroth, and the centre-back made no mistake with the finish for 2-0. His side saw the half out comfortably, aided by the Gladbach midfield’s newfound reluctance to press the man on the ball, and spurred on by the energetic pair of Cissé and Makiadi. They left the rainy Badenova-Stadion for a 15-minute break with a 2-0 lead.
Frontzeck was again forced to turn to his bench at the interval – bringing on Patrick Hermann for the injured Idrissou. Both sides had great opportunities within seconds of the restart, Bradley stinging Baumann’s fingertips right after Cissé turned a free-kick into the side-netting at the other end. Just like the start of the game, the visitors began the half by bulldozing their way through the home side. Freiburg were very narrow again, looking to pick off the advancing Gladbach on the break with short and sharp first-time passing interchanges. There was space for the home side to achieve this goal in the middle of the pitch with Michael Bradley more up n’ down than before, looking to compensate for Gladbach’s lack of a forward-line focal point. The American performed this job superbly, and regularly got into the shadow of the D in the blink of an eye. This allowed Gladbach to get the ball down in midfield, use the bobbing decoy of Hermann, and feed Bradley in the resultant space to launch a missile from range.
Yet for all Gladbach’s endeavour in attack, I can’t imagine anyone was too surprised when Cissé made it 3-0 on the hour-mark, turning in Julian Schuster’s cross at the back post amidst some shoddy marking and positioning from the Gladbach defence. In the immediate aftermath of the goal, Makiadi was sent clear and should have made it four, but Gladbach soon began to monopolize possession. However, they struggled in the face of some intense Freiburg pressing, and with their centre-backs kept far deeper than the rest of the team due to the omnipotent presence of a certain Senegalese striker, Gladbach were never able to impose their system and tactics on the hosts.
Dutt acted by bringing some fresh legs into the centre of pitch to ensure Bradley was corked by a new pair of lungs, Johannes Flum replacing Rosenthal. As the former Hannover man had been acting as a support-attacker with Makiadi behind Cissé, the change stabilized the midfield behind the floating, mobile pair of Africans up top – making for a lop-sided 4-1-3-1-1, if you will.
We were now in the 75th minute, and it was ‘ole’ time for Freiburg and their fans; back and fore, side-to-side one-touch keep-ball. Makiadi was given a well-earned rest near the end when Dutt replaced him with the 19-year-old Croatian Zvonko Pamić. On loan from Leverkusen, the late substitute looked to play through the centre, playing off Cissé. The game petered to a close, the three-point haul only being soured for the home side when Cissé picked up a yellow card that’ll rule him out of next week’s final game of the winter season against Bayer Leverkusen. That game will be Robin Dutt’s 51st in charge of Freiburg, but Mönchengladbach’s game against Hamburg on Friday could well be Frontzeck’s last for Die Fohlen.