Any football fan worth his salt will usually look for one game when the fixtures are published at the beginning of the season. One fixture which, despite how good or bad your season is going, has the potential to define it. One fixture which can make or break a week and divide whole families in some cases. That fixture is the local derby. Bayern Munich are our arch rivals but they aren’t our local rivals. We have already been sucker punched by Schalke so far this season in one of our local encounters. But Borussia Moenchengladbach have been taught a lesson already at Signal Iduna Park. Tomorrow they have their chance at redemption.
Having come off the back of an impressive 3-2 win in the Europa League on Thursday night against an under-rated and tricky Atalanta side, Peter Stoeger will be hoping his side can carry that into this game. Any momentum you can take into a derby is good momentum, even if you are coming off the back of your first win in twenty games, and Stoeger will be well aware of that given how inconsistent the form of his new chargers has been since the turn of the year.
You would think having only played 72 hours earlier that the boss would consider making a few changes to the team which put themselves in a good position to progress in Europe on Thursday night. Yet Stoeger doesn’t believe rotation is necessary for this game. Having racked up three successive victories, scoring eight goals in the process, the Austrian “ideally” wants “to leave the team largely as it is, perhaps giving one or two players the chance to get some minutes under their belt. It’s clear they’re tired. But I’ve heard nothing negative”.
While Shinji Kagawa is likely to continue to miss out through an ankle injury, one man who could be back in the mix is Marcel Schmelzer. Schmele has been missing from the first team squad since picking up a nasty injury against Mainz back in September. While he is close to a return Stoeger believes that whether that comes in this game or not will be a last minute decision. “We came to the agreement that we’ll make a late decision as to whether it makes sense after the final training session on Saturday,” Stoeger explained. “He doesn’t have any major problems but he doesn’t feel great yet.”
Down the autobahn lie our opponents, Borussia Moenchengladbach. A few seasons ago Gladbach were competing in the Champions League against Manchester City and Celtic. This season however European football qualification seems like a pipe dream. They have been hit and miss so far this season, and their record of nine wins, four draws and as many losses means they have only been capable of collecting thirty one points from twenty two Bundesliga games – only good enough for 10th position in the league at this point.
Experienced boss Dieter Hecking is at the helm of the good ship Gladbach these days and he seems to think he has a plan to get his side out of their current predicament. “Right now, we need to start making things easier for ourselves, by enjoying the moment and trusting each other. We have been lacking that a bit recently, so we really need to regain that. “It is clear that we are creating a lot of chances at the moment, but we just aren’t converting enough of them. That’s a problem. The other one is that last time out in Stuttgart, we played it out wide and backwards too often. Especially in the final third, we lacked decisiveness and assertiveness. These things appear when you want to avoid making mistakes, so you start playing safety football and stop thinking about pressing forwards.”
Like ourselves, Gladbach have a lot of injury concerns going into this game. Definitely ruled out are Oscar Wendt, Ibrahima Traore, Fabian Johnson, Tobias Strobl, Julio Villalba and Mamadou Doucoure. Star man this season Raffael is “alternating between the massage table and the playing field” according to Hecking, which he admits isn’t the best situation as “he is struggling to find a rhythm”. One man who could available for Sunday’s clash is Laszlo Benes, who is back in training and “looking lively”.
There is no such thing as a meaningless derby. Even pre-season and cup derbies are treated with the utmost respect and seriousness. Gladbach might be languishing in the Bundesliga at the minute but that does not mean this game is a gimme. As mentioned at the top of this piece, we ourselves have struggled to find a run of good form since the recommencing of league action at the beginning of January. Our position in third is precarious to say the least and is likely to change as a result of other fixtures around Germany today. Form goes out the window in these games and the pressure is on. How are your nerves?