Lucien Favre drives Gladbach forward to top the early table

by Jonathan Lines

It was a weekend of goals in Europe’s most renowned league for scoring, and Borussia Mönchengladbach grabbed the most plaudits for a thrilling 4-1 win over Wolfsburg, sending them top of the table with seven points from three matches. Bayern München and Werder Bremen both scored five to win, Schalke grabbed four, and champions Dortmund were back to winning ways.

It’s been a remarkable turnaround for Borussia Mönchengladbach. Six months ago, the Foals were adrift at the bottom of the Bundeslgia. Three months ago, they completed a great escape with a relegation-playoff win over VfL Bochum. This week, they completely outclassed VfL Wolfsburg to go top of the Bundesliga.

Coach Lucien Favre has been at the forefront of this shift. After he took over in Feburary, the club picked up 20 points in their final 14 games of last season. He has quickly built confidence at Borussia Park and focused on creative freedom. Gladbach were free-scorers by the end of last season as well as one of the league’s form teams, carrying their form and confidence into this season. To match his emphasis on attacking fluidity, the Swiss has impressed with his tactical flexibility, as evidenced by his game-changing tactical switch of Marco Reus and Juan Arango to opposite flanks on Friday. The improved defence has been important for them too, and 19-year-old goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen has been a revelation since given a run in the first-team by Favre.

On the pitch, Gladbach’s driving force is 22-year-old Marco Reus. The winger/attacking midfielder, who topped the club’s goal and assist charts last season, may be uncapped at senior international level but is unlikely to be for much longer. He operated mainly from the left on Friday, with Venezuelan captain Juan Arango on the right – a deadly combination on the night and one which could keep Gladbach at the right end of the table throughout the season.

Both Reus and Arango, as well as Juan Bobadilla, excelled in the match. They dominated possession for the hosts, keeping it high up the pitch for the home team and creating a host of chances. Despite their early goal, Wolfsburg were never in the game. Mario Mandzukic and Patrick Helmes barely touched the ball up front and the midfield struggled to impact on the game. The four goals they conceded was a fair reflection on both sides’ efforts. Gladbach were excellent, justifying their position at the top of the table. It is the high point thus far of an amazing change in fortune for the club, and what was most evident about Gladbach’s performance at the weekend was their supreme confidence. Carried by a wave of momentum and confidence following their miraculous escape last season, Gladbach’s new found swagger makes them a dangerous opponent for anyone right now, and they have coach Lucien Favre to thank for their remarkable turnaround in 2011.

Elsewhere in the Bundesliga, the league’s reputation for openness, goals and unpredictability was on show again. Schalke beat early pace-setters Mainz 4-2, recovering from a 2-0 deficit, as both sides attacked throughout. The Royal Blues have an imposing attacking line, which on current form, with nine goals in two matches, could see them challenge high up the table this season, while Mainz defended set-pieces poorly and were deservedly knocked off top spot. Second-half substitutions inspired the win for Schalke, with 17-year-old Julian Draxler (remember the name) impressing.

Bayern München outclassed Hamburger SV to win 5-0. Bayern were as excellent as the scoreline suggests, with Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery playing particularly well, with the former scoring a fine solo goal, characteristically cutting in from inside and beating two players before scoring a delightful chip. But Hamburg were as atrocious as the hosts were dazzling, leaving coach Michael Oenning, who has faced criticism through his tenure at the club, with plenty to think about on the training pitch. The club lies joint-bottom after three matches.

Werder Bremen also scored five to beat Freiburg 5-3 in a thrilling encounter, scoring twice late on to win the match. Bayer Leverkusen gave a much-improved performance, particularly at the back, to see off VfB Stuttgart 1-0. Stefan Kiessling scored the decisive goal, and André Schürrle and Sidney Sam gave the team great energy. After a shaky start to the season, this was easily Leverkusen’s best performance so far. But tension could be mounting behind the scenes at the club, with Michael Ballack, an unused substitute on Saturday, appearing increasingly unsettled.

In the weekend’s other matches, Borussia Dortmund beat Nürnberg 2-0, Mario Götze adding his third assist of the season to set up the win, Augsburg lost 2-0 at home to 1899 Hoffenheim, their first ever defeat in the Bundesliga, while fellow promoted club Hertha Berlin grabbed a respectable 1-1 draw at Hannover, who sit alongside Mönchengladbach on seven points. Köln and Kaiserslautern drew 1-1.

In transfer news, Schalke have announced that Raúl, who rejected a move to Blackburn Rovers this week, will see out the remainder of his contract at the club, which runs until next summer. Liverpool centre-back Sotirios Kyrgiakos looks set to join VfL Wolfsburg, who also signed Thomas Hitzlsperger this week. Finally, Köln attacker Lukas Podolski could be tempted by a bid from Galatasaray, especially given the shaky start he and new coach Stale Solbakken have made, with the Norwegian stamping his authority on the club from the start and stripping Podolski of the captaincy before the new season.

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