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Gladbach play more than a walk-on part in the Bundesliga title plot

Kit Holden
Lucien Favre 300x225 Gladbach play more than a walk on part in the Bundesliga title plot

Lucien Favre has a team punching above their weight

A four horse title race is usually synonymous with the glory years of the Premier League in the last decade. After Bayern’s second league defeat to Gladbach and comfortable wins for the two Ruhr clubs though, the title race has been blown wide open in the Bundesliga. Even Franz Beckenbauer has stated that “it is now a four way fight.”

In reality, it would not be the most audacious of seers who would predict that those four will, in time, split into two pairs, with Bayern and Dortmund fighting for the title, and Schalke and Gladbach contesting fourth place. The real excitement in this race will arguably come from its most surprising participant. The team who were a mere 180 minutes of football away from relegation last May, now hold the key to deciding who is crowned German champions in 2012.

After their team’s astonishing turnaround in 2011, there has been little to cheer about for Gladbach fans over the winter break. The imminent departure of Marco Reus and Phillip Neustaedter has sent shockwaves through a club that has been riding the crest of an elated wave since beating Bayern on the opening day of the season. Come the summer, it will be back to the history books for Gladbach, the critics say. Effenberg, Matthaeus, Netzer: the list of world class players that the club has let go is endless. Some are even questioning whether the shock of what Mike Hanke called “amazing goings on” over the transfer period, will psychologically cripple the team in the second half of the season.

On the basis of another ruthless performance against Bayern last Friday, such doom-mongering is ill judged. None of the tactical efficiency and ability to punch above their weight appears to have left the Foals over Christmas, and the attitudes of Reus and Neustaedter remain, for the moment at least, unquestionable.

It was perhaps only in jest, however, that the fans raised a banner addressed to Reus reading: “We won’t let you go without the Double”. Favre’s side, while still in the race for the two major domestic trophies, are, in the words of Franz Beckenbauer, “playing at their limit”. Whereas Bayern and Dortmund have both underachieved at different points in the season, Gladbach have rarely put a toe out of line, and still they find themselves fourth. Realistically, their title chances are slim, but that limit that the Kaiser refers to is still a formidable level of footballing prowess. And it is sufficient to do significant damage to all their other title contenders.

Under the guidance of a flying Lucien Favre, Gladbach have twice tactically outwitted FC Bayern in the league, knocked Schalke out of the Cup, and prevented a resurgent Dortmund from holding on to first place. Their capacity to wound Germany’s most on form teams is not to be underestimated, and while they themselves may expire prematurely, the championship may still be decided by how Dortmund, Bayern and even Schalke fare against the dark horses from the Rhineland.

The Foals as dark horses. There is, if nothing else, a handsome symmetry there. And if Gladbach can keep pushing themselves very much to the limit, they will remain a key character in the title saga. As one of only three top seven clubs left in the DFB Pokal, moreover, they are in with a real chance of silverware before their crown jewels leave for the supposedly sunnier shores of the Ruhr. Whether the money from the Reus transfer will be sufficient to buy in suitable replacements, and whether Lucien Favre will stay on once his golden boy leaves is, for the moment, irrelevant. 2012 is Gladbach’s year. They must enjoy it while they can.

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