The 2012-13 season marks the first edition of the UEFA Champions League, with the current qualifying format, in which the Bundesliga shall be represented by four teams. Thanks to the regularity of the Serie A clubs’ failures in the Champions League, Germany moved into third place in UEFA’s coefficient rankings and this has given Borussia Mönchengladbach, fourth in the 2011-12 Bundesliga, a spot in Europe’s most coveted club competition.
A year ago, Gladbach were fighting to save themselves from relegation and it was a narrow playoff victory over VfL Bochum that helped The Foals keep their spot in the Bundesliga. The arrival of Lucien Favre marked a distinct change in their style of play, and this was one of the key factors in their relegation victory.
Move a year forward, into July 2012, and we see Gladbach facing a place in the qualifying round of the Champions League. Their evolution over the past year has been fantastic, leaving the football fraternity completely flabbergasted. Their unique style of play, consisting of fast paced breaks, lightning short passes and a rapid interchange of positions has been central to their rise in Germany. Were it not for their lack of bench strength, Gladbach could well have been fighting for the Bundesliga crown last season.
A History Of Fourth Placed Teams In The Champions League
Europe’s top competition has never been very kind to the weaker teams from the continent, leaving its mark even on some of the better teams over the years. With a reformation of the tournament’s format a few years ago, the fourth placed teams from the top three associations were drawn into the playoff round. For clubs from England and Spain, this wasn’t too much of a hassle, but the Italian clubs have struggled at this stage ever since the change in the format.
Since Germany will be represented by a fourth team for the first time ever, here is a look at how the former third ranked association’s clubs fared in the tournament.
In the 2009-10 season, Fiorentina represented Italy as the fourth team and were drawn against Sporting CP in the playoff round. A narrow victory on away goals saw the Viola qualify for the group stage, where they failed to disappoint. Drawn into a group with Lyon and Liverpool, the men from Florence took Europe by storm, by topping the group and booking a spot in the knockout round. Their showing in the round of 16 was more than commendable as their elimination came about courtesy some woeful refereeing. This season also marked the decline of Italian club football.
Sampdoria were to represent Italy in the 2010-11 season, and it was a battle for the fourth Champions League spot that was on the cards, as Werder Bremen were to be their opponents in the playoff round. The two sides pushed each other to the limit, but it was the Germans who prevailed in extra time to clinch the tie by a one goal margin.
Following Sampdoria’s debacle in the Champions League, Udinese’s qualification for the tournament was surrounded by some hostility. Could one of Italy’s non-pedigree teams prove their worth in this daunting tournament? Unluckily for the Zebrette, they were drawn against Arsenal and were swept aside with ease. This season marked the end of Italy’s quartet representation, paving the way for an extra German team to enter cauldron of competition.
Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Gains And Losses
For less reputed teams to succeed in the Champions League, the key is to hold onto the core of their team. Sadly for Gladbach, they haven’t been able to do so. Their engine during this remarkable season was undoubtedly Marco Reus. The 23-year-old starlet was in scintillating form this year, scoring 18 goals and providing 9 assists. To lose someone this instrumental will be detrimental to their future, but smart usage of the money gained from his sale to Borussia Dortmund could greatly assist Favre’s side.
Unlike Reus, Roman Neustädter and Dante are not surrounded by an aura of being irreplaceable. Yet, their transfers out of the club will greatly hinder Favre’s plans for the coming season. An added loss is the fact that Gladbach did not receive any money for Neustädter, as he moved to Schalke on a free transfer.
During this summer transfer window, Borussia Mönchengladbach have attempted to replace this trio and have done a respectable job so far. In attack, Peniel Mlapa has been brought in. Although he cannot be considered a replacement for Reus, an extra pair of legs is always an advantage for a club in the position that Gladbach are in. Another factor behind Mlapa’s singing will have been his age. At just 21, he will be given a fair amount of time and faith to shine at the club.
Their next signing is undoubtedly an improvement on Neustädter. Granit Xhaka has been overshadowed by Xherdan Shaqiri over the past year, but the central midfielder is clearly a great signing for Lucien Favre. Although not as defensively sound as Neustädter, Xhaka will provide a whole new attacking dimension to Gladbach. Their rapid one touch counter attacks may now be coupled with some creativity from deeper in midfield, baffling opponents even more.
Another great piece of news for the club and its fans is that coach Lucien Favre has signed an extension, keeping him at the club till 2015. Amidst a lot of speculation regarding his future at the club, he has returned the faith shown in him by the club. Just as important as retaining a player, retaining someone of Favre’s caliber could help the club go a long way.
The 2012-13 Champions League
Borussia Mönchengladbach’s current aim will be to book a place in the group stage, but there will be a formidable group of clubs looking to stop the Germans. The good news for Gladbach is that they will avoid Malaga and possibly Udinese in the playoff round. This leaves them with either Lille, Braga, Spartak Moscow or one of the teams from the third qualifying round. The absence of any of Europe’s well known teams will give Gladbach a major morale boost, but their showings against Bayern Munich last season are proof that they will not fear any team.
More often than not, one player can take the game away and finish off a two leg tie in just ninety minutes. With Reus having left the club, it will be up to players like Juan Arango and Patrick Herrmann to rise to the occasion and propel the Foals into the group stage of the competition. Arango’s experience and Herrmann’s potential will be most crucial to their campaign this season, and moments of brilliance from these two gems could see Gladbach soar high in Europe