As club football goes on hiatus, the usual suspects are setting the early pace across Europe’s big leagues: Juventus in Italy, PSG in France, Ajax in Holland, Real Madrid & Barcelona in Spain and Liverpool in England. In Germany, however, an unexpected leader has emerged in Borussia Monchengladbach. After seven games Monchengladbach have 16 points, putting them a point ahead of the other surprise package in Wolfsburg. The initial favorites in Bayern Munich are one of five teams a point further adrift and Borussia Dortmund in eighth place on 12 points.
Die Fohlen started the season with an uninspired 0-0 home draw with Schalke and their second home game ended in a comprehensive 3-1 defeat to RB Leipzig via Timo Werner’s hat trick. Since then, it’s been a straight upward curve starting with a 1-0 win away to bitter rivals FC Koln thanks to Alassane Plea’s early goal. With confidence increasing Monchengladbach then dispatched Dusseldorf 2-1, Hoffenheim 3-1 and most impressively a 5-1 thrashing of Augsburg.
A Promising Start for Rose
Much of the credit for the bright start goes to new coach Marco Rose. The former Mainz defender arrived this summer having won back to back Austrian Bundesliga titles with Red Bull Salzburg. The summer transfer window saw the departure of winger Thorgan Hazard to Dortmund and young midfielder Mickael Cuisance to Bayern. The club was able to hold onto star defender Matthias Ginter, whilst Rose brought in his Salzburg right back Stefan Lainer. Rose also brought in two promising young strikers in Breel Embolo and Marcus Thuram.
It was Thuram’s late double that brought Monchengladbach back from the brink of defeat against Dusseldorf; the two new forwards have already added six goals between them so far this season. Ginter and experienced Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer have marshaled the defense but the star man has been Plea. The French forward has filled the creative hole left by Hazard’s departure, notching 4 goals and 5 assists.
The positive start to the new season has inevitably revived memories of Borussia’s glorious past. During the 1970’s Monchengladbach won 5 Bundesliga titles including three in a row from 1975-1977. They followed up their domestic success with a series of strong showings in Europe with 2 UEFA Cup triumphs and in all 5 European finals. They eventually made it to the 1977 European Cup Final, where they lost to Liverpool.
Borussia’s golden period was lead by legendary defender Berti Vogts, one of five Monchengladbach players in West Germany’s triumphant 1974 World Cup squad. Striker Jump Heynckes was another key figure for both club and country, but the greatest attacking threat was posed by Danish forward Allan Simonsen who scored a memorable goal in the ’77 European Cup final and won the Ballon d’Or the same year.
In 1979 Mönchengladbach gave a senior debut to a young Lothar Matthaus, but economic reality was catching up with the club as Simonsen departed for Barcelona in the same year and then in 1984 Matthaus left for Bayern as Borussia began a period of steady decline. The club reached rock bottom in 2007 with relegation to Bundelisga 2.
However Borussia spent just one season in the second tier and in their new home of Borussia-Park a period of steady improvement has unfolded with a return to European football in 2012. The club finished fifth last season, guaranteeing another season in the Europa League.
Big Tests Await
Whilst Monchengladbach have undoubtedly been impressive, their status as the pacesetters has been helped by a kind early season fixture list that has largely kept them away from the other contenders, whilst Rose has been keen to play down expectations.
Things will get tougher when the Bundesliga resumes on 19th October with a trip to the Westfalen to face Borussia Dortmund. Dortmund can dazzle but have struggled to hold onto leads. Meanwhile perennial favourites Bayern will visit Borussia-Park on 7th December, Serge Gnabry has been in exceptional form, but despite the arrival of Philip Coutinho they remain a team in transition.
What’s been enjoyable about this Bundesliga season thus far is how equal the top sides appear to be, Bayern did thrash the likes of Koln and Mainz but were beaten by Hoffenheim, in all dropping points three times from seven games. Meanwhile Schalke and Wolfsburg look much improved and RB Leipzig remain title dark horses. Perhaps the most surprising name amongst the early leaders are SC Freiburg with promising striker Luca Waldschmidt amongst the goals. In the long run Bayern’s financial strength will triumph, but for this season at least the Bundesliga is compelling viewing and Borussia Monchengladbach are in the thick of the fight.
Featured Image: Getty