USA's Fabian Johnson hits goalscoring stride with Borussia Mönchengladbach
Perhaps the finest month in Fabian Johnson’s career ended with a confident flourish. Johnson completed his first Bundesliga double with a darting run over the top, a quick change of direction to elude two Hoffenheim defenders and a slotted finish to rescue a 3-3 draw. The well-taken effort punctuated a three-goal week and underscored his scintillating run of form for both club and country in November.
United States midfielder Johnson is in the brightest goalscoring period of his career. His haul includes five goals in his past seven games for club and country, starting with the opener against Juventus in a 1-1 draw in their UEFA Champions League fixture on Nov. 3 and ending with that composed finish against his former club.
It is a stretch prompted by Mönchengladbach’s return to form under André Schubert and underpinned by the confidence and rhythm generated by a consistent run of matches, according to the versatile 27-year-old midfielder.
“I think it’s a lot of things that come together on the field like that,” Johnson told FOXSoccer.com in an exclusive interview from Germany this week.
The path to prosperity started with the overall improvement at Mönchengladbach after a surprisingly poor start to the season.
After finishing in third place and sealing a Champions League berth last season, the settled side lost its first five Bundesliga games. The barren run prompted Lucien Favre to resign despite his successes over the past few years and thrust under-23 manager Schubert into the role on an interim basis.
“To be honest, I have no idea [why we have improved so much after the poor start],” Johnson said. “I think we also had a great run at the end of last season. In the second half of the year, we won almost every game. The beginning of this season was tougher: We lost our first five games. We didn’t know why. Now it’s just the other way around. We’re on a good run. Everybody is confident. Maybe it’s just everyone working for each other. I think now we are doing well.”
Schubert elicited an immediate response from a group performing well below its standards. Johnson benefited from Schubert’s decision to dispatch with Favre’s more conservative approach and push higher up the field in Gladbach’s familiar 4-4-2 formation.
The philosophical shift freed the Gladbach players to pursue the game more earnestly and placed them in better positions to hurt the opposition. The resulting performances -- including the prominent roles played by summer signing Lars Stindl and veteran forward Raffael in the resurgence -- underscored the benefits of that approach for a team in need of a spark.
“His tactical ways are such that we’re trying to pressure every team high,” Johnson said. “It’s easier for us players to get to goal because we don’t have such long runs to do, not like if we were just defending in our own half. It allows us to score quicker.”
Johnson gradually increased his influence in the team as Mönchengladbach’s results improved. He stayed in his familiar spot on the left side of midfield, but he surged forward more frequently as a result of the alterations. The improved cadence in possession and the willingness of his teammates to move the ball quickly into dangerous areas laid the foundation for his sudden outburst in front of goal.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann played his part by opting to keep Johnson in his usual slot on the left side of midfield for the World Cup qualifiers against St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago. Johnson justified the decision by scoring from a free kick in the 6-1 victory over St. Vincent and toiling earnestly in the 0-0 draw in Trinidad as the Americans climbed to the top of Group C on goal difference.
After spending most of his national team career plugging gaps at fullback, Johnson welcomed the opportunity to turn out in midfield. He noted the increased comfort level of featuring in his normal club position and reinforced how it helped him to maintain the rhythm generated at Mönchengladbach.
“It is just easier for me because I’m playing in that position with my club team the whole time,” Johnson said. “I know where to run, how to run, how to defend, how to attack. It’s just easier because I know it.”
The comfort level paved the way for Johnson to sustain his recent run last week. He curled home in Mönchengladbach’s 4-2 win over Sevilla in midweek and scooped Bundesliga player of the week honors with the pair of goals against Hoffenheim on Saturday.
Johnson’s late equalizer extended Mönchengladbach’s unbeaten run to 11 matches in all competitions ahead of the date with runaway Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich (live, Saturday, 9:30 a.m. ET, FS1, FOX Sports GO).
It is yet another stern test for a club and a player in irresistible form at the moment. The burden now falls on both of them to maintain this current run and sustain it as a new month unfolds and the winter break approaches.