Shaky Gladbach drop second-straight with loss at Mainz
There's certainly no crisis at Borussia MÃ¶nchengladbach just yet, but the capricious collapse in the side's form over winter has given Andre Schubert his next major assignment in the hot seat.
Since the 3-1 win over Bayern Munich, the team's 10th league game without defeat, the drop in performance is stark. A goal from Christian Clemens in the first half was enough for Mainz to defeat Schubert's side 1-0 and leaves Gladbach once again relying on other results to stay in fourth-place, a position that would guarantee a return to the UEFA Champions League next season.
Conceding 25 goals in their last nine games, though, is a reason for concern. Granted, the loss of Granit Xhaka through suspension is a monumental blow, one compounded by the absence of his partner Mo Dahoud this week. But stretching back to last year, with ambitions in Europe and the German Cup coming to an end, the streak of poor performances has been difficult to shake off.
Schubert appeared to be somewhat conservative in his tactics for the arrival of Borussia Dortmund to kickoff the year. Similarly, Gladbach didn't look to have the nous to naturally change shape or focus in the game. Jonas Hofmann and Martin Hinteregger, the club's two main January additions, started for the first time, while Fabian Johnson was named in the side having recovered from a bout of flu.
Mainz, five points further back before the start of play, made just the one change as Yoshinori Muto returned to the fold. Jhon Cordoba, on loan from Spanish side Granada, had taken his place last week at Ingolstadt, but the Japanese striker, who has scored seven goals this season, won the starting shirt.
Despite Muto's best efforts, Mainz hadn't scored in their previous three league matches, a total of 304 minutes before the opener at the Coface Arena. Spanish attacker Jairo Samperio, formerly on the books of Sevilla, offers a perceptive, technically-able option to Martin Schmidt.
Samperio, when at his best, is arguably just as good as Yunus Malli, the Turkish attacking-midfielder at the core of the team. On 20 minutes, the Spaniard threatened before turning provider for the home side. Maximising the space vacated by Oscar Wendt on the left-hand side, Samperio sliced open the Gladbach defense, laying off to Clemens who finished superbly his third of the season.
Given the Foals haven't kept a clean sheet since early November, attacking impetus carries more responsibility. Gladbach's response was lively; Raffael combined with Hofmann on 34 minutes and forced an excellent save from Loris Karius, the home side's promising young keeper. Six minutes later, Traore's expertly-taken set-piece was cushioned wide from Lars Stindl when it seemed impossible not to hit the target.
As traditional at this time of year, Mainz celebrated its upcoming Carnival weekend with a special shirt which was conspicuously colorful. The normal red remained, but was complimented by the newly-pimped sleeves that were yellow and blue, two of the predominant Carnival colours in the region. Even with a brash shirt, star man Malli wasn't as easy to spot.
He was largely a peripheral figure in the first half -- and that's how he would have preferred it. Malli was on the verge of a move to Borussia Dortmund last week after both sides had agreed a transfer fee of the club's top scorer. But on Monday, Mainz decided that a sale wasn't in their interests for the moment. Selling in January, when a replacement would be unrealistic, wouldn't make sense.
Malli, who made his Bundesliga debut in 2011, showed a glimpse of what he can bring to the table, drifting intelligently into space to receive the ball and then forced Sommer into a brilliant save before the end of the half. Even if he wasn't on the scoresheet, Malli's contribution was important as the hosts seemed totally in control of proceedings.
Thorgan Hazard was introduced to replace Ibrahima Traore on the hour mark, but there was no obvious change in attacking strategy. On 65 minutes, Hofmann's dribble and shot was tame, while heroic defending from Gaetan Bussmann on the line prevented Stindl and Raffael from finishing a gilt-edged opportunity with 19 minutes to play.
Self-assured and dogged, Mainz held on and perhaps should have safeguarded the points when Clemens missed one-versus-one on 79 minutes and Cordoba's shot was deflected over. Although the Carnival club have played an extra game ahead of Saturday and Sunday matches, the table will make the celebrations taste even sweeter: Mainz is sitting in a European spot, two points off the Champions League.