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Borussia Mönchengladbach seek offensive spark

Coach Lucien Favre has a German international and a personal favorite to add to Gladbach's ranks this season. He also has two big-money signings desperate to justify their price tags in their second Bundesliga seasons.

Despite finishing eighth in the league, Borussia Mönchengladbach spent more time than any other club in their own defensive third of the pitch last season. Goalie Marc-Andre ter Stegen faced more shots than any other keeper in the Bundesliga. In short, attack was not Gladbach's best form of defense.

Takashi Inui of Eintracht Frankfurt challenges Borussia Moenchengladbach goalkeeper Marc Ter-Stegen (L) during their German first division Bundesliga soccer match in Frankfurt, March 1, 2013. (Photo via REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach)

Marc-Andre ter Stegen, hands don't come much safer

A shock first-round exit in the German Cup, where Gladbach played 120 goalless minutes before losing to third-division Darmstadt on penalties, was hardly a statement of attacking intent from “the Foals” either.

"It will be difficult to get this defeat out of our heads and to build the team back up again," coach Lucien Favre admitted after Sunday's defeat. To make matters worse, Gladbach have the honor of starting the new season on Friday against treble-winners Bayern Munich - a Bundesliga baptism of fire.

Bayern's bane

Bayern Munich might also have preferred a different opponent on the opening day of the season. Over the past two campaigns, only Borussia Dortmund boast a better record than Gladbach against Bayern. On the first weekend of the 2011/12 season, Gladbach beat Bayern 1-0 - setting the tone for Louis van Gaal's difficult last months in charge and Dortmund's successful title defense.

Against Bayern's superstars, Gladbach's main strengths come to the fore. Lucien Favre's side is usually well organized in defense and keeper ter Stegen seems to save his very best performances for the big matches.

ARCHIV - Der ehemalige 28.09.2009: Lucien Favre, coach at Hertha Berlin, gestures - with Brazilian attacker Raffael watching on. (Photo via Soeren Stache/dpa)

Together again, Lucien Favre and Raffael

What's liable to be a backs-to-the-wall battle against Bayern is not likely to offer much insight into Gladbach's season - the unanswered questions lie in the attacking third of the pitch, a place where they're unlikely to play much football on Friday.

Favre's favorite, Raffael

Gladbach's two main summer signings could prove special; one is arguably the bargain of the off-season break while the other reunites Favre with Brazilian attacker Raffael - for the third time.

"Borussia fought hard to get me," Raffael told German football magazine Kicker ahead of the new season. "And I want to repay the coach in turn. At the end of the day, he was the one who fetched me up out of the second division. I will never forget that."

After winning a pair of titles together in Switzerland, Favre brought the creative forward to Hertha Berlin. Together, they finished fourth in the Bundesliga in 2009 - having figured in the title hunt until a disastrous end to the campaign.

Gladbach might even play an all-new strike pairing at times this season, with Max Kruse another new attacking option for Favre. Kruse arrives from Europa League qualifiers Freiburg on a minimum fee release clause, meaning Gladbach have picked up a freshly-minted German international goal-scorer for just 2.5 million euros ($3.3 million).

Max Kruse celebrates a goal against Gladbach on 30.03.2013 at the Mage Solar Stadion in Freiburg, when he scored against his future employers last season. (Photo via Patrick Seeger/dpa)

The Bundesliga bargain of the summer?

Kruse's goal and assist tally in the 2012/13 season was almost identical to Mario Götze's, his summer price tag was considerably smaller.

Slow starters seek to shine

Heading into their sophomore seasons, Granit Xhaka and Luuk de Jong might make the difference between mid-table mediocrity and a fight for European qualification this season. Neither of these young internationals were able to secure a first-team spot - let alone justify their price tags - in their first Bundesliga campaigns.

"I am expecting them to continue developing," Favre said of his two transfer duds. "Both are young players who had to get used to the Bundesliga first of all."

If the Swiss playmaker and Dutch poacher could raise their games this season, they could complete the Gladbach jigsaw puzzle.

On paper, Xhaka is the perfect partner for defensive midfielder Havard Nordveit - a more creative player who could dictate the game from the center rather like Roman Neustädter (now with Schalke) used to.

FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY - MARCH 01: Luuk de Jong of Moenchengladbach celebrates his team's first goal during the Bundesliga match between Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Moenchengladbach at Commerzbank-Arena on March 1, 2013 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Twelve million euros, six Bundesliga goals - so far

De Jong, meanwhile, is the only out-and-out striker on Gladbach's books. He can hope for better service this season with the acquisition of Raffael and Kruse, and he can also take some solace from his countryman Klaas-Jan Huntelaar at Schalke. Huntelaar had a sparse debut season in the Bundesliga, notching just eight goals, before going on to win the league's top-scorer award in his second German campaign.

Gladbach's back four is unchanged this season, while Patrick Herrmann and Juan Arango provide an excellent mix of ability on the flanks. Twenty-two-year-old speedster Herrmann offers dynamism out on the right; veteran Arango and his cultured left boot can change the course of a game in open play or from set pieces.

Coach Favre considers Gladbach's target this season to be a top-half finish in the table, but his favorite forward Raffael thinks the club could aim a little higher. With no European campaign to worry about, and now a shock exit from the German Cup, the team can at least concentrate all its efforts on the Bundesliga.

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