Borussia Mönchengladbach scored a controversial winner in injury time to keep one foot in the top division of German football. Referee Günter Perl’s fourth official had indicated that there were to be two minutes of time added on to the requisite 90, but the Bavarian man in the middle went beyond that, allowing the hosts to take a crucial advantage from the first game of a two-legged tie.
After 34 rounds spent in the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga respectively, Gladbach and Bochum will have had mixed feelings before entering this first leg of their two-legged relegation/promotion play-off. The hosts, for instance, managed to haul themselves up to 16th place after looking doomed for most of the season. However, although they’ll no doubt have come into this game happy to have given themselves a 180-minute chance against a team from a lower division to preserve their top-flight status, Gladbach started the campaign with high expectations, only for positive results to begin to materialise far too late when Lucien Favre came in as coach.
His opposite number for this tie, Friedhelm Funkel, has taken five teams into the Bundesliga during a relatively successful coaching career. However, there are many fans who feel this Bochum squad, relegated last season, had what it takes to have finished higher than third place. But letting bygones be bygones, the players put in an accomplished performance against Duisburg last weekend (and Funkel stuck with the same 11 players here), ensuring that this would be an evenly matched contest between two sides in good form.
Whereas Favre had no injury worries, Funkel had to make do without Kevin Vogt, Matias Concha and Patrick Fabian. Before the match, the latter had noted that “Gladbach will need to avoid making too many errors, because we have the players to punish them.” His opposite number, Favre, was far more modest: “Our chances are 50:50,” he cautiously told the press.
The home side made a ferocious start, nearly scoring inside 45 seconds when Tony Jantschke burst down to the byline and dinked a cross to the back post. Alas, Juan Arango’s header was cleared as it sailed goalwards. But for several minutes after that chance, it was all Bochum. Driven on by Faton Toski, who constantly ran with the ball, played neat one-twos or looked to slip through killer passes, the away side showed that they were capable and quick on the break, passing the ball along the ground from one side to the other, always having a full-back available on the overlap to lay the ball on to. One of these attacks also nearly resulted in a early goal; Toski’s corner being headed against the bar by Algerian centre-back Antar Yahia.
Gladbach had their own set-piece weapon too with Roman Neustädter’s long throw. Nevertheless, they generally looked to play calm, possession-based football inside the opening ten minutes, Favre obviously eager to kill Bochum’s early momentum. As the ball was knocked about between midfield and defence, Funkel’s side stood off their hosts in a 4-1-4-1, holding tight, frustration-inducing walls. But Gladbach aren’t a Bundesliga team for nothing, and soon found a way through. Mike Hanke, who had already been dropping deep to great effect, played in Mo Idrissou through the left-hand side of the box, and the Cameroon international’s left-footed strike drew a low parry from Andreas Luthe.
When Bochum had the ball at the back, Gladbach pressed far higher and quicker than Bochum. With the away side preferring to get their playmakers involved in the centre, this pressing forced Funkel’s side to go long more often than they’d like, resulting in a frequent turnover of possession. Whether facing open-play hoofs or goal kicks, Gladbach’s defensive positioning was consistently impressive and effective. Favre kept the back four high, ringed, and narrow, with the two defensive midfielders stood a few yards ahead, equally narrow. This ensured there was cover in the event of Mirkan Aydın taking the ball down, but he only ever had two colleagues in his vicinity, so not only were his side second-best to the long balls, they also had nowhere to go with the scraps they did succeed in winning.
Bochum had allowed themselves to be pushed onto the back-foot by insisting on sitting off during Gladbach’s tactic of teasingly passing the ball around at the back. With the home side confident in flying their full-backs forward, and blessed with hungry and clever movers up front and on the wings, Bochum were forced to sit deep. On the odd occasion where Toski got the ball down and quickly sprayed a pass out for Paul Freier, Ümit Korkmaz or Aydın to break with, they had too much ground to make up in order for a chance to materialise.
Yet for all Gladbach’s domination, all they had to show for their control was four corner kicks by the time the 20-minute mark had been and gone. From the fourth, Bochum suddenly launched the sharpest attack of the game. The experienced Freier carried the ball forward at a decent pace, with right back Björn Kopplin burning down the wing alongside him. With the home side players who’d been left in their own half during the corner expecting the pass to go out to the 22-year-old German, Freier duped everyone but himself and centre back Marcel Maltritz, who galloped gratefully onto Freier’s through-ball curled towards the left-hand side of the box. The eventual effort from the 32-year-old defender went sailing over the bar, however, and wasted a glorious opportunity.
After that close shave, Gladbach immediately set about reasserting their dominance, continuing to monopolize possession, and attacking their guests with numbers. They won another bundle of corners, Dante going closest from one with a header. The Brazilian centre-back had Aydın in his pocket during the first third of this game, winning everything the pair battled for in the air. His colleagues ensured his clearing headers didn’t go to waste either, putting pressure on Swedish sitting midfielder Andreas Johansonn whenever he was lucky enough to mop up a loose ball; thereafter forcing him to pass sideways, and then bullying the receiver into making yet another aimless hoof.
Favre’s side were now creating a number of chances to complement their hold on possession, and if not the best, the prettiest arrived in the 33rd minute, a Bundesliga move bamboozling the 2. Bundesliga defence. A neat interchange between Marco Reus and Hanke released the in-form striker through the right-hand side of the box, with the Bochum defence static and too close to the already running Hanke. This ensured that his clever movement which saw him take Reus’s pass in space then entitled him to a one on one chance: Luthe saved the former Hannover man’s effort, but the ball rebounded to the other side of the goal, where Neustädter, ghosting through the left-hand side of the box, looked certain to boot the ball in, only for Johansson to make a crucial sliding tackle to keep the score at 0-0.
Reus and Hanke often interchanged during the first 45 minutes, taking it in turns to chase after an overlapping full-back or stay forward with Idrissou. While this was another example of something Gladbach were doing well, the less said about their crosses the better. Despite the fact they were creating chances, they could have had even more if the quality of delivery had been better to their strikers -who had a combined height of 3.75 metres – during the first half.
As we entered the final five minutes of the half, Bochum sought to slow things down, so knocked the ball about among their two centre backs. Gladbach now only pressed as high as about ten yards into the opposition’s half. Nevertheless, they practically man-marked the bobbing full-backs and midfielders, consigning the ball to a life of sideways passes between the away side’s centre-backs. When Toski did finally find an opportunity to dart back and collect the ball, his attempt to play a short and sharp triangle with colleagues was cut out in an instant by the home side, alert to the danger and with their energy tanks conserved in preparation to press such potentially incisive moves. When the hosts retained possession, they were back to finding it difficult to break down their visitors – a poor Arango cross and an embarassingly ambitious 45-yard blocked effort from Håvard Nordtveit the only two instances of note before the half time whistle.
It was no surprise to see North Korean superstar Jong Tae-Se replace the ineffectual Aydın for the second half. He immediately made an impact, although not one the Bochum fans, players or coach would have wanted – shoulder-barging Martin Stranzl off the ball, handing a free kick to the home side and ruining a good spell of snappy possession in the final third from Bochum with Toski poised to slip a through-ball between the legs of the sliding Jantschke to Korkmaz. This passage of play acted as a metaphor for Bochum’s approach to the second half, as they played and attacked with more aggression, standing up the school bullies in the year above. Freier, in particular, had a spring in his step, and a creative, space-generating one at that.
Bochum stood the banks of their 4-1-4-1 further apart, putting the foremost four on the halfway line during short Gladbach restarts, and getting Jong Tae-Se to sprint after the defender on the ball. This hustle and bustle forced Gladbach to cross into or towards the box earlier than they would have liked on a few occasions initially, and Yahia and Maltritz immediately looked willing to take more risks when defending these, using greater muscle in the challenge. Unfortunately for the home side, the one time in the opening five minutes of the new half where they managed to counter-attack their guests with numbers, the man carrying the ball and forced to play the releasing pass was the defensive midfielder, Nordtveit. Despite being a former Arsenal man, his pass was too heavy, and halted the break.
Nordtveit and his centre midfielder sparring partner, Neustädter, were now being used in a more offensive manner by Favre in a bid to get his side back into the game. They drove their team on, running with the ball into the corridors available ahead of them and driving Bochum back. Nevertheless, Bochum had a few tricks up their sleeve too, particularly from Freier, who was superb at holding the ball up on the chalk, drawing a number of players across, before releasing a sideways pass to a colleague through the tiniest of chinks. Unfortunately, the next passing option for Christoph Dabrowski and co. was Korkmaz, but the Austrian youngster’s constant attempts to run infield with the ball were persistently thwarted. Why Korkmaz carried on trying to do this was unclear, as Gladbach needed to be run at down the channel in order to prise their tight defensive unit apart, giving Jong Tae-Se space to attack the ball, and Dabrowski room to ghost into.
But as the game opened up more and more after the hour mark had come and gone, Korkmaz suddenly showed how dangerous he can be in two separate attacks. The first saw him peel into space down the wing and deliver a deadly cross, while the second saw him fed just off the D, where he whizzed an effort just over the bar. Part of the reason why the game had now become so open was due to the Austrian’s colleagues in defence. Whenever Gladbach won possession, the back four retreated into their own box – admittedly forcing Gladbach into some duff crosses and wayward long-range strikes, but also ensuring that Jong Tae-Se became more isolated for large spells of the game with the midfield looking to get nearer to the defence in a bid to suffocate that all-important corridor along the edge of the box.
After the North Korean striker blazed a free-kick over the bar, Igor de Camargo replaced Mo Idrissou, who was unable to improve his record of one goal in the last 12 games: Belgian striker de Camargo, not long back from an injury, entered the field with a more respectable record of four strikes from his last six games. But it was Hanke who so nearly broke the deadlock in the 67th minute, Arango burning down to the byline and squaring the ball across the box for the run of the one time German international between the ball-watching centre-backs, only for Maltritz to just about put enough pressure on the ball and help deflect Hanke’s effort over.
Hanke was now playing in an inside-left position, as Favre adopted a 4-3-2-1 formation with de Camargo leading the line, Reus at inside-right, and Arango in a left-sided centre of midfield position which occasionally allowed him to push back onto the wing when Hanke prowled across the front line. Unsurprisingly, the player looking most likely to break the deadlock was Reus, who’d managed to draw two fouls on the edge of the box in ten minutes of play leading up to the 72nd minute, running diagonally from the chalk at pace with frightening technique. The Bochum left-back, Matthias Ostrzolek, had to pick up a yellow card in his bid to stop Reus, meaning that the German international now had even more reason to dribble with the ball at the gradually narrowing visiting rearguard.
As Bochum narrowed up in midfield too, Gladbach, who seemed to look less tired as the 80-minute mark came and went, now had the chance to exploit their guests on the flanks. However, Arango’s touch continued to desert him (meaning his delivery remained poor), and Reus was replaced by Karim Matmour in the closing stages. Bochum were doing no attacking of their own, mainly seeking to get Freier on the ball so he could help his team wind the clock down and give the defence the chance to have a breather (they were being worked hard by the physical de Camargo). Funkel had now sorted his side’s system out, although it involved not pressing the ball until one of Gladbach’s centre-backs, now standing on halfway when their side had possession, brought it into the other half. The Bochum defence now looked to stand higher, eliminating any corridors between the 4-1-4-1 banks, and forcing the home side into more desperate passes and the attackers into more hopeless runs.
Nevertheless, as they had done for most of the match, Gladbach continued to have golden opportunities, and continued to waste them. Despite doing enough to win the game comfortably and showing their superiority to Bochum on a number of occasions, Gladbach wasted too many chances – South American duo Arango and Dante both going close again in the last five minutes, but the best chance perhaps falling to Hanke, who produced a stunning stop from Luthe. Nevertheless, it was de Camargo who pounced 15 seconds after the allotted two minutes of injury time had passed – scoring the winner about one minute after Jong Tae-Se had missed a sitter at the other end from a Freier free-kick. After Neustädter’s long throw wasn’t cleared on three occasions by Bochum, the Belgian striker sliced a well-placed right-volley into the net for 1-0 after seeing an initial attempt superbly beaten away by Luthe. Gladbach now go into next Wednesday’s second leg with a one-goal advantage and in pole position to retain their place in the Bundesliga.