Borussia Mönchengladbach’s dramatic 3-2 win over Darmstadt was the club’s last six months in a microcosm. The last 90 minutes of 2015 for the ten-man Foals matched the ebb-and-flow of this season for the club. Goals from Lars Stindl, Havard Nordtveit and Oscar Wendt secured Andre Schubert’s 10th win from 12 games to get his side back on winning ways.
Since replacing Lucien Favre, Schubert has revived Gladbach who have gone from relegation-stricken to Champions League contenders in the space of three months. But the last three games had threatened to extinguish the good work at Borussia-Park and leave morale struggling ahead of the month-long winter shutdown. A late collapse at Manchester City was followed up by a 5-0 demolition in Leverkusen last week. The 4-3 defeat in midweek to Werder Bremen brought an end to Gladbach’s German Cup ambitions, a tournament that could have represented a great shot at silverware. Schubert’s team has conceded more (13) in their last three matches than in the 11 league games before Sunday’s year-ender.
Ending 2015 on three points, January is a welcome juncture for Schubert who has re-emphasized the same ideals as Favre in Gladbach’s defensive play, whilst adding an added cutting edge in attack. The former U23 coach has more than a month to assimilate his ideas on the training field and hope that sporting director Max Eberl can add two or three new options to his squad.
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Schubert’s single change from the Cup exit was to leave out Mahmoud Dahoud who was replaced by defender Nico Elvedi. Gladbach returned to their conventional 4-2-3-1 formation with Havard Nordtveit and Granit Xhaka operating in a double-pivot in front of the back-four. But without Dahoud, the 19-year-old Syrian ball-playing midfielder, the Foals were without incision from middle-to-front.
Opponents Darmstadt, one of the league’s newly-promoted teams, have the propensity to deliver what the Germans brand a ‘lucky punch.’ Three changes from the 1-0 loss at Bayern Munich on Tuesday saw Luca Caldirola, Fabian Holland and Jan Rosenthal return to the fold. On 28 minutes, Sandro Wagner competently delivered the ball from the right-flank and Heller met it first time to beat Yann Sommer in front of Gladbach’s home Nordkurve block.
Dirk Schuster, named Kicker’s ‘Man of the Year’ for 2015 this weekend, has watched his team become accustomed to frustrating the opposition this season. The defeat in Munich this week was unfortunate considering Darmstadt’s tactic to kill the flow of the game was undoubtedly successful despite the scoreline – the decisive goal arrived from Xabi Alonso’s 40-yard thunderbolt. Darmstadt’s form has taken a hit in recent months after the bright start to life in the Bundesliga; the Lilies have managed only one win from their last seven domestic games.
The red card for Xhaka on 38 minutes had the potential to derail Gladbach’s efforts to end the year on a plus. As the play moved upfield, Xhaka clashed with Peter Niemeyer who clipped him from behind on the break. Referee Benjamin Brand consulted with his assistant official Robert Schröder and the captain was shown a straight red card. The midfielder will miss Gladbach’s home meeting with Borussia Dortmund on January 23 when the season resumes after the winter break.
But the dismissal acted like a catalyst for the home side who seemed to play with a chip on their shoulder. Just five minutes later, Schubert’s men were all square courtesy of a splendid equalizer. The break of the high-tempo move fell to Stindl at the edge of the box and the former Hannover captain bent the ball terrifically into the corner of the net, his fifth league goal of the campaign.
The Foals made the perfect start to the second period, dominating the ball and doubling their advantage five minutes after the restart. Former Arsenal midfielder Nordtveit scored his third goal of the season, curling home a lovely free-kick which should have been blocked if Darmstadt had organized a more resolute defensive wall. U.S. international Fabian Johnson was industrious, playing the full 90 minutes, but had more of a versatile role than normal. Starting as a left-forward, Johnson was deployed centrally following the sending off, but then spent the last 20 minutes as a right-central midfielder to help out full-back Julian Korb.
But Darmstadt landed a painful sting on 68 minutes as Sandro Wagner collected his fourth of the season for the newly-promoted team. Heller was through on goal two minutes later, but thwarted by Sommer, while Rosenthal missed with a free header at the near post as the game entered the final 10 minutes. The final twist of the match, and of the Bundesliga in 2015, was the match-winner with three minutes left. Wendt combined with Stindl in attack, the midfielder landing the ball into the path of the Swedish left-back who scored from close range.
With three points, Gladbach finish the year on 29 points in fourth-place, the last Champions League spot, while Darmstadt sits 13th, but looks likely to be one of the main relegation candidates given recent revivals of Augsburg and Stuttgart.