The evening began with a show of respect from the visiting Borussia Mönchengladbach fans. It ended with anything but. As their players emerged onto the BayArena pitch to face Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday, Gladbach’s 4,000 travelling fans held aloft black pieces of plastic, creating a tifo in memory of well-known fan Waltraud “Walli” Hamraths, who recentlydied at the age of 83.
In the circumstances, Gladbach’s players shouldn’t have been surprised at what happened at the end. They were, again, hugely disappointing in a match in which they had the opportunity to haul themselves back into the incredibly open Champions League race against a direct rival. Remembering Walli, perhaps, stirred memories of the club’s 1970s glory days, in which he was famous for wildly celebrating.
It’s fine that the era of Jupp Heynckes, Allan Simonsen, Rainer Bonhof and company feels a long time ago – it was. Nobody is expecting a reprise, especially in the era of the Bayern Munich behemoth. More than what is being offered currently, however, would be nice. What should have been a keenly-fought battle for tangible reward was one-way traffic, with Heiko Herrlich’s side cruising until a late second-half wobble twice allowed Gladbach a sniff of an equaliser – one a glaring miss from the head of Filip Drmić and the other an attempted clearance from Wendell that Bernd Leno brilliantly tipped over.
If anybody was fooled by the late mini-flourish it should be reiterated that the visitors’ best chance was from the boot of a Leverkusen player. Substitute Julian Brandt’s stoppage-time strike to seal it was more just that your average late counter-attacking goal, giving a more realistic sheen to the scoreline.
The visiting fans had seen more than enough. Having chanted “wir wollen euch kämpfen sehen” – we want to see you fight – for a number of minutes, the players were booed and whistled by sections of the support as they approached the away fans, and the whistles continued as they went down the tunnel. “I fought and gave everything,” midfielder Christoph Kramer said afterwards. “But every fan is allowed to sing what they want.”
While the tribute at the opening of proceedings might have let a mind or two wander back to the sensational 70s, there was no avoiding reality. Leverkusen and Gladbach, like Schalke, came into this season in a similar boat, with no European football and time in the calendar to plan and to pace themselves as they attempted to regain it.
Schalke – who retained second place thanks to Daniel Caligiuri’s superb winner at Mainz on Friday night – and Leverkusen started further back, both bedding in new coaches after turbulent ends to last season. Herrlich, whose appointment was met by a thoroughly underwhelmed reaction, was faced with a rebuild too. So those Gladbach fans have every right to ask why they are lagging so badly behind Leverkusen in particular. There was, as Westdeutsche Zeitung’s Jochen Schmitz wrote, “almost a gap in class” between the two sides on Saturday.
Die Fohlen largely got away with it during the first half, as Leon Bailey was as scattershot as he was electrifying. After Bailey did get it right – with his cross to the back post nodded back by Kevin Volland and then in by the impressive Lucas Alario – it rarely seemed that Dieter Hecking’s team would come back.
It was all too familiar. Gladbach have lost six of their last seven away games, failing to score in five of them. Germany’s Lars Stindl, who battled gamely here as always, hasn’t scored for 14 games, but then again none of the team’s forwards has struck since Thorgan Hazard in the 20 January win over Augsburg. Raúl Bobadilla, yet to score in his second spell at the club after returning last summer, was dragged off just past the hour mark.
They’ve lost five and drawn one of the last seven, and only doomed Hamburg and plummeting Wolfsburg have taken fewer points so far in the Rückrunde. The worst aspect of this is that it might well get worse before it gets better. The remainder of the fixture list is fairly kind, give or take trips to Bayern and Schalke – and the latter, some Gladbach fans might suggest, is more of an opportunity than a potential ordeal. If we’re really looking on the bright side, Gladbach have a better recent record against Bayern than most.
Hecking looks like he’ll have a job on his hands putting a team out, though. The number of players on Gladbach’s (hopefully large) treatment table is well into double figures, with Reece Oxford tearing a hamstring at Leverkusen, to add to Vincenzo Grifo and Kramer picking up knee injuries that rule them out indefinitely. Even Jannik Vestergaard, the centre-back who hadn’t missed a minute of Bundesliga football since December 2016, has gone down. He broke a metatarsal fouling Kai Havertz and will miss the rest of the season.
With stalwarts like Raffael, Fabian Johnson and Oscar Wendt already missing, this felt like Gladbach’s season coming to an end. It’s hard not to wonder whether Max Eberl might have made better use of the last two transfer windows – even if Denis Zakaria has been a success in midfield – and though nothing could have prepared them for the current plague of injuries, the fact that Raffael, approaching his 33rd birthday, is so badly missed says a lot.
Some of those chastened Gladbach fans might sneakily look to Leverkusen’s example and wonder if a full house cleaning might be the way to go. If it is, Hecking might struggle to hold on for the refurbishment.
• One player definitely unhappy with his club’s transfer policy is Hamburg’s Kyriakos Papadopoulos, who complained that “other teams brought in players to score goals” after Saturday’s annual humbling at Bayern. Chairman Heribert Bruchhagen and sporting director Jens Todt already paid the price for those failures in midweek, losing their posts in a ready-for-the-second-tier reshuffle. Papadopoulos, unlikely to go down with them, might have picked a better moment to moan than after a 6-0 defeat in which he played terribly.
• Staying put, it seems, is Timo Werner, who jolted everyone out of the Sunday afternoon slumber prompted by Leipzig’s dreadful 0-0 draw at his former club Stuttgart by telling Sky: “I’m definitely still going to be playing here next year.” With interest from Spain and England, we may yet see whether a good World Cup with Germany will change that.
• Game of the weekend was Dortmund’s thrilling 3-2 win over Eintracht Frankfurt in a duel for Champions League places. A stoppage-time equaliser by Danny Blum appeared to have given Niko Kovac’s team the draw that their stirring second-half display deserved, only for substitute Michy Batshuayi to hit his second with the last kick of the game to win it. “It was shit,” Marco Reus said of another poor second-half showing from BVB which came three days after their Europa League loss to Salzburg. They remain unbeaten in the Bundesliga under Peter Stöger, but the coach continues to inspire mixed feelings.