For the first time since August 2011, Borussia Mönchengladbach are top of the Bundesliga. But new head coach Marco Rose knows that the Foals aren’t the finished article yet.
"Spitzenreiter! Spitzenreiter!” chanted the fans behind the goal at Borussia Park, bouncing up and down in unison to the German equivalent of "We are top of the league!”
Pole position in the Bundesliga had changed hands several times over the course of a topsy-turvy matchday seven in Germany, but by Sunday evening it was Borussia Mönchengladbach who came out on top following a 5-1 demolition of Augsburg.
The win, their fourth in a row in the league, means the Foals go into the international break one point clear of second-placed Wolfsburg and two points clear of the rest of the chasing pack. For new head coach Marco Rose, things are starting to click.
After a stuttering start, which began with an unspectacular goalless draw at home to Schalke, Gladbach are playing the sort of football which sporting director Max Eberl had in mind when he decided midway through last season to part ways with Dieter Hecking and land the in-demand former Red Bull Salzburg coach.
"We want to press high and put the opposition under pressure, and that's what we did today,” Eberl told German broadcaster DAZN after the Augsburg game, in which Gladbach had raced into a 4-0 lead inside 40 minutes.
Denis Zakaria opened the scoring after a powerful run by Marcus Thuram down the left, Alassane Plea set up Patrick Hermann twice in five minutes to make it 3-0, before Plea himself got on the score sheet after Gladbach's aggressive pressing culminated in a howler from Augsburg goalkeeper Tomas Koubek.
"They stormed the summit with fantastic attacking football,” wrote kicker magazine of the Foals' ferocious first half. "Decisive, ambitious and devastatingly efficient.”
No wonder the fans were in a good mood – but the joy wasn't confined to the Nordkurve. One thousand kilometers to the south, Austrian Bundesliga side Wolfsberger AC were also basking in the moment, tweeting: "Deutschebundesligaspitzenreiterbesieger!” or "German Bundesliga leader beaters.”
Just last month, the Austrians had celebrated a big win of their own at Borussia Park, hammering Gladbach 4-0 in their Europa League opener. At the home game before that, Timo Werner had scored a clinical hat-trick as RB Leipzig had dismantled the Foals in their own back yard. And in Istanbul last Thursday, Gladbach had goalkeeper Yann Sommer to thank for a point against Basaksehir. Clearly, there is work to be done.
"I don't see us a top team just yet, we don't yet know what we're capable of,” admitted Rose in a feature with DAZN after the Augsburg game. "We need more structure in our game before we can call ourselves a top team. We need a clear idea.”
One of those ideas is aggression against the ball. Gladbach have made more tackles than any Bundesliga team so far this season, and not all of them are good ones; only Düsseldorf and Mainz have more yellow cards. And there are other areas where Rose sees room for improvement.
"Can we run more? Can we sprint more? Can we turn defense into attack quicker?” he asked rhetorically. "We talk about these things self-critically and we're working on it.”
A 5-1 hammering of a thoroughly overwhelmed Ausgburg is one thing, but there are much tougher challenges to come after the international break. In the next month, Gladbach face two trips to Dortmund in the league and the cup, home and away ties against Roma in the Europa League, plus further Bundesliga games against Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayer Leverkusen and Werder Bremen.
"We've picked up a lot of points and deservedly so,” sporting director Eberl told local newspaper Rheinische Post. "But we have some real tests ahead of us which will show us where we really are.”
Borussia Mönchengladbach supporters can continue calling themselves "Spitzenreiter” for at least another two weeks. But getting to the top is one thing; staying there is another.