Borussia Mönchengladbach go into the final game of a tremendous first half of the 2011/12 Bundesliga season knowing a win could see them spend the winter break in second spot. Their guests tomorrow afternoon, Mainz, are nearer to the wrong end of the table, and could end the weekend in or just above the relegation zone if they lose here and the teams below them pick up points. The sides’ respective positions are in marked contrasts to where they finished in the 2010/11 season, with Mönchengladbach staying up by the skin of their teeth after beating Bochum in the relegation play-off, and Mainz leading the league and spending most of the seasons in the Champions League spots before being edged out at the death and into a still-very-respectable Europa League berth.
It is coach Lucien Favre who must take most of the credit for Gladbach’s resurgence. Since he took over a side who looked destined for relegation at the midway point of the last campaign, the Swiss tactician has overseen a run where his side have only shipped 20 goals in 28 league games – and, according to the quite excellent Who Scored website, only reigning champions Dortmund have conceded fewer goals during this period. Similarly, Favre’s side are one of only two teams in the division who are yet to lose a home game this season, Hannover being the other.
However, they come into this game on the back of a highly disappointing 1-0 defeat to Augsburg last time out. Although Marco Reus’ ten goals and Juan Arango’s many assists have been key in Gladbach’s incredible run, when those two are either having an off day or are out injured, Gladbach struggle to create and take chances – as was the case in Augsburg, when the hosts’ ‘keeper Mohamed Amsif only really had three saves to make against a side who would have gone top had they won.
Despite Mainz having dropped 18 points from winning positions this term (again, credit to Who Scored for that fact), Thomas Tuchel’s side have lost fewer away games than any other team this term: “It is a sign of quality to be so stable away,” the Mainz coach said. Along with this belief in his defence, Tuchel knows that his side have an impressive record in recent matches played against tomorrow’s hosts – Mainz have won seven of their last nine league meetings with Gladbach, including the last three, the most recent of which was in April.
Further bigging up his side, who’ve drawn three games on the trot (the latest being a 1-1 draw with Cologne on Tuesday), the 38-year-old coach added: “It is very difficult to create opportunities to score against us from within the game. The way we defend is absolutely right.” Despite his scoring and match-winning exploits, Tuchel believes his side has what it takes to cork Reus: “We will have to prevent and stop the situation that make him comfortable,” the Mainz coach said. “Every club has such players, no matter if they are called [Lukas] Podolski, [Mario] Götze, [Arjen] Robben or Reus. We always defend against them together.” Reus has been battling to be fit for the tie, but whether or not he features doesn’t bother Tuchel: “I am counting on him playing,” he said. “But, if not, then we will have to prepare for [Raul] Bobadilla, [Igor] de Camargo and co.”
As for that defence, club captain Nikolče Noveski should be fit enough to take his place at the heart of it. Since the beginning of the week, the Macedonian has been back in training after a six-week break. However, Marcel Risse, Florian Heller, Ádám Szalai and Andreas Ivanschitz and Deniz Yilmaz are all out through injury. Bo Svensson and Eugen Polanski, though, should be in the starting XI – most likely a 4-3-1-2 – to face their former employers. As for Gladbach, who tend to play in a 4-4-2, former Mainz midfielder Roman Neustädter should also be selected to face his former club tomorrow afternoon. His coach, Favre, is blessed on the fitness front (minor Reus worries aside), with only Manchester United loanee Joshua King definitely set to miss out.
Unlike Reus at Gladbach, no one has stood head and shoulders above everyone else in the scoring stakes for Mainz this season, with Ivanschitz’s five strikes enough to keep him at the top of the scoring charts. Tuchel’s three main strikers, Anthony Ujah, Sami Allagui and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, have taken it in turns to lead the line either individually or as part of a duo so far this season (the 38-year-old coach changes his tactics just as often as he tinkers with his playing personnel), and this constant uncertainty and mutability is reflected in the fact that they only have two, three and four goals respectively. Lest we forget, Mainz’s erratic form can also be put down to the loss of three key goal-getting/creating players over the summer – André Schürrle (Bayer Leverkusen), Lewis Holtby and Christian Fuchs (both Schalke).
Nevertheless, Favre is fully aware of how difficult tomorrow’s game will be. Being told at the press conference of Mainz’s impressive form on the road, the 54-year-old commented: “That says a lot about the quality they have. They’re extremely well organised and able to switch between four different systems, often during games. We need to be prepared for anything.”
Borussia Mönchengladbach against Mainz kicks off at 4.30pm in the UK tomorrow afternoon. The referee will be Peter Gagelmann – the man who officiated Mainz’s 3-3 draw with Nuremberg a couple of months ago.