Bundesliga upstarts Borussia Mönchengladbach looked set to suffer a sobering admonishment at the hands of a dominant Bayern Munich. But Marco Rose’s team rediscovered their qualities to produce a stirring comeback.
Twice on Saturday afternoon, Borussia Park held its collective breath. With just under half an hour played against Bayern Munich, Joshua Kimmich's shot wriggled underneath Yann Sommer's body.
The Swiss goalkeeper has been so dependable for Borussia Mönchengladbach this season, and had saved impressively from Thomas Müller just moments earlier, but now the ball was trickling towards the goal line … onto the goal line … over the goal line?
Not quite. Sommer dragged it back with his fingertip in the nick of time and the stadium breathed a sigh of relief.
An hour later, the home fans held their breath again. But this time, in the second minute of injury time, it was in anticipation rather than dread. After Javi Martinez had seen red for bringing down Marcus Thuram in the box, Ramy Bensebaini placed the ball on the spot.
Having already drawn Gladbach level, the young Algerian full-back stepped back, waited, picked his spot, and fired home past Manuel Neuer. The Borussia Park erupted:
"Que sera, sera! Borussia ist wieder da!" they sang — Borussia are back again. In the week that legendary Foals coach Hennes Weisweiler would have turned 100, Borussia Mönchengladbach remain top of the Bundesliga for the eighth week in a row and extend their lead over defending champions Bayern to seven points.
As it happened: Gladbach beat Bayern with late winner to stay top
A New Hope
No wonder fans of the sleeping Rhineland giants are dreaming of a return to those halcyon days of the 1970s when "Die Elf vom Niederrhein" won five league titles, two cups and two UEFA Cups. Not that there was any reason for dreaming at half-time.
After winning their last six home games in all competitions, the visit of Bayern was being billed as a new installment of German football's original "Klassiker." But thus far, the contest had been depressingly reminiscent of Bayern's modern Bundesliga "Klassikers" against Borussia Dortmund: wave upon wave of red attacks against an upstart opponent which had abandoned all the qualities that made them challengers in the first place.
In the case of Marco Rose's Gladbach, that meant aggressive but controlled pressing in midfield and a wealth of offensive firepower – all backed up by Sommer, one of the league's finest goalkeepers. All three went missing in the first half.
The Empire Strikes Back
When Thiago Alcantara received a short pass from Kimmich midway inside his own half, he looked shocked that he was allowed to turn and feed the ball on to Corentin Tolisso. The Frenchman in turn calmly found Robert Lewandowski and the Pole was inexplicably allowed to control, set himself and shoot — just wide. The move was emblematic of the gaps in Gladbach's midfield.
Much has also been made of the Foals’ strength in depth, especially up front, but eyebrows were raised ahead of kick-off when the team sheet had last weekend’s goalscorers Breel Embolo and Patrick Herrmann on the bench while club captain Lars Stindl made his first start since April. Over 40 minutes had passed before Alassane Plea recorded the hosts’ first shot on goal.
Asked if he had got his selections wrong, Rose was insistent: “No, we have faith in the squad we have, and we trust all the lads to do a job. Unfortunately, we just didn’t get any grip at all in the first half with a diamond in midfield.”
And then, just when Gladbach thought they’d got away with it by keeping it goalless until the break, Sommer fumbled Ivan Perisic’s half-volley just after the restart to give Bayern a deserved lead.
Return of the Foals
"One shot, one goal, it’s Bayern!" sang the jubilant contingent in the corner, waving their red and white flags and scarves. Well, about ten shots and one goal but who’s counting? Gladbach fans, that’s who, and they were singing themselves ten minutes later when, out of nowhere, Bensebaini headed them level from a corner.
"One shot, one goal, Borussia!" roared the Nordkurve this time. And that was more accurate. Suddenly, with Embolo and Herrmann on for Plea and Laszlo Benes, Gladbach looked like Gladbach again and both sides pressed for a winner in an absorbing finale.
"Sometimes conceding a goal can actually do us good," claimed Rose. "We’d had our halftime chat and it was as if the goal then made us go: ‘Right, now it’s time! Come on, lads!’ And then we clenched our teeth and fought our way back."
And fight back they did, a team transformed from a dismal first half. "We didn’t try and see the game out; we played for the win," said Rose, praising the attitude of his players. "We tried and tried for 90 minutes and eventually found the qualities that have characterized us this season."
Goalscoring hero Bensebaini will rightly grab the headlines but it was a collective effort, underlined by the extended show of unity at full-time as the players and coaching staff soaked up the adoration from the terraces, swaying arm in arm in front of the Nordkurve, which had earlier paid tribute to Bundesliga-winning coach Weisweiler.
"Only under Hennes Weisweiler did Borussia really get going," the pre-match banner had read.
Only in the second half did they really get going today, but Borussia are back again.