A contentious injury time penalty from Lars Stindl earned Borussia Mönchengladbach a 1-1 draw in Rome that keeps their Europa League campaign alive. But a disjointed display begs questions of the Bundesliga leaders.
Roma 1-1 Borussia Mönchengladbach, Stadio Olimpico
(Zaniolo 32' - Stindl (pen.) 90+4')
It started pretty well. As the heavens opened in the eternal city, Borussia Mönchengladbach zipped the ball around the slick Stadio Olimpico turf with ease, troubling their Italian opponents and looking every inch the Bundesliga leaders they are.
But after Nicolo Zaniolo rose unchallenged to head inury-hit Roma into a 32nd minute lead, the Foals got bogged down as the rain continued to pour, losing their way before being saved — in the game and possibly the competition — by a bizarre penalty call from Scottish referee Willie Collum.
Though he and his team got away with one, Gladbach coach Marco Rose will hope the tale of Thursday night doesn't become the tale of this season.
"When an equalizer comes so late, you take it," said a clearly relieved and completely sodden Rose to broadcaster DAZN after the match, before going on to describe the draw as "not entirely undeserved."
Given that his his club's own English Twitter account called it a "late and lucky point" he may be pushing it a little there.
Heavy pitch, slow tempo
While Rose has found some tweaks to improve this Gladbach side, their domestic lead speaks as much to the flaws of Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich as it does to their form. Averaging two points a game is great going but another disjointed attacking display, after the weekend blank in the loss to Dortmund, offers some cause for concern.
The relentless rain made it increasingly difficult for Rose's men to play at their usual tempo but they nevertheless looked blunt in the absence of Alassane Plea on Thursday. Breel Embolo was his usual mix of bustle and frustration and Marcus Thuram a largely peripheral figure until he ballooned Gladbach's best open play chance of the game over the bar in the final minute of normal time.
Roma weren't much better and were incensed at the full time whistle after Collum pointed to the spot for handball against Roma's English defender Chris Smalling, despite the ball striking the man on loan from Manchester United in the face. It's best not to even ask where the VAR was in all this. Lars Stindl did the business from the spot, to mean there's plenty riding on Roma's trip to Borussia Park in two weeks.
What price success?
Despite their escape on Thursday, Gladbach still have plenty to do to escape a group that looked fairly straightforward. While he may have been generous in his post-match answer on Thursday night, a further question that Rose may not feel able to answer entirely honestly is whether qualification is really so desirable.
Despite the failings of the big two, Gladbach's chances of winning the title appear slim but they have the squad to secure one of Germany's other two Champions League spots, with the other contenders inconsistent.
As with Hoffenheim and Julian Nagelsmann in recent seasons, the free time to drill players into shapes and movements on and off the ball may be more valuable to Rose than a couple of knockout games early in 2020.
But before Roma appear on the horizon again, the Foals have some major hurdles to overcome. After hosting fellow Europa League outfit Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday, they travel to Dortmund in the German Cup and then Leverkusen in the league. They may have got away with losing their momentum over 90 minutes in Rome, but losing it in a season is much more serious.