When Borussia Mönchengladbach needed a big performance after two successive losses, its clutch of prodigious talents delivered a fine 5-1 win over Werder Bremen to move the Foals temporarily back into fourth.
Andreas Christensen is on loan from Chelsea until the end of the season and he scored his first two goals for Gladbach, while Raffael, Lars Stindl and Havard Nordtveit were all on the scoresheet in what looked like the perfect response from a side which was beginning to come under pressure.
The form of Schubert’s side team has dipped considerably since the 3-1 win over Bayern Munich, which marked their 10th league game without defeat. Three successive defeats on the spin and a narrow win over Darmstadt was a frustrating way to conclude 2015, although that nose-dive has been carried into the New Year with defeats to Borussia Dortmund and Mainz.
A catalogue of injuries to first-team defenders, along with a suspension to Granit Xhaka for three games and the lengthy recovery of Patrick Herrmann are all credible factors in the team’s decline. Schubert’s fitness headaches were somewhat eased by the return of Dahoud, the 19-year-old Syrian-born midfielder who was the crown jewel of the side in that unbeaten run last year.
Thorgan Hazard and Nico Elvedi were included in the starting eleven, whilst Werder Bremen handed a first league start to Hungarian midfielder Laszlo Kleinheisler. Perhaps Bremen was right to be aggrieved pre-match when Sambou Yatabare’s suspension, carried from his time in Belgium, was only confirmed a few hours before kick-off. For most of the week, Viktor Skripnik has been preparing with Yatabare in mind.
Neither side looked particularly keen to dominate possession at the start, but Christensen and Raffael fired some warning shots at Bremen in the first 10 minutes. Hazard and Dahoud played a leading role in the opener for Gladbach after 12 minutes. Dahoud widened the play superbly, bringing in Hazard who nailed the decisive pass for Stindl and the midfielder slotted home from close range.
Having come from behind in their first two games of the Rückrunde, Werder Bremen don’t seem to be mentally scarred from the prospect of a relegation battle. The response never quite transpired in the end, but for a spell midway through the first period, the River Islanders knocked on the door to Yann.
Clemens Fritz, the club captain who single-handedly turned the game at Schalke two weeks ago, tried his hand at grabbing this encounter by the scruff of the neck on 23 minutes. Despite his 35 years — Fritz will hang up his boots after this season — the versatile midfielder spun cleverly on the edge of the box, but dragged his low shot past Sommer’s left-hand post.
But Bremen’s first-half forays were something of a rarity. On 28 minutes, Hazard passed up a great chance to double the home side’s advantage, twisting away from his marker Guwara, but firing wide. Three minutes later, Christensen tapped in his first league goal for the Foals. The Dane was left with the simplest of tasks after great approach play from Raffael and then Dahoud, whose vision to pick out the central defender at the back-post was supreme.
If Dahoud had managed to score late in the half when he was presented a host of good openings, it would have capped off an almost perfect display from the technically-astute midfielder. His shot crashed against the face of an opponent before on 49 minutes, Christensen headed in from a corner kick on 49 minutes.
Among the rest, the narrative around Claudio Pizarro was particularly interesting. The Peruvian veteran has looked the part for several weeks — the result of his brand new diet which forbids crisps, juice, white bread and milk. In the 58th minute of his 400th Bundesliga appearance is a commitment, the former Bayern striker tucked home from 12 yards to level with Ulf Kirsten in fifth-place in the all-time scorers charts.
Schubert’s side were thrown against the ropes after the deficit was cut to just two goals. On 64 minutes, Sommer denied Levin Öztunali with a superb reaction save before Elvedi made a superb intervention to prevent Pizarro from scoring his second of the night.
Gladbach got out of jail with 22 minutes left to play when Jannik Vestergaard’s clumsy challenge on Stindl earned the hosts a penalty of their own. Raffael converted from close range before Nordtveit rammed in a long-range effort on 87 minutes to secure the three points for the Foals and lift Schubert’s side out of a troubling period in recent months.