The calm before the Bayern storm | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 19.03.2015
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The calm before the Bayern storm

What's it like to prepare tactically to play against the league leaders? DW's Jonathan Harding went along to a Gladbach training session to see how they got ready to play Germany's biggest team.

After Borussia Monchengladbach's Thursday morning training session, I asked Fabian Johnson whether or not Gladbach were doing anything differently to prepare for Bayern.

"No, I think we are just trying to prepare like we do for every game," the US national team player said. "We are just excited to play Bayern."

Even taking into account the well-trained nature of Johnson's response, it's fair to say that excitement about playing Bayern is a rare thing these days. Who genuinely wants to play the battering Bavarian beast? Yes it's an exciting occasion but an hour in, three goals down and more tired than you've ever been, is it just as fun?

Despite Favre insisting the cameras present on Thursday were not to film any of the tactical training, perhaps Johnson wasn't lying when he said Gladbach weren't doing anything differently ahead of the Bayern game (Favre did work with Hrgota for 10 minutes after the session though). Watching Gladbach train swift transitional play under pressure is their forte; it's just that against Bayern even fortes are tested to breaking point (most buckle).

Favre's choice words

Precision, impulse and patience were the head coach's go-to orders throughout the exercise. With 10 planted dummies, Favre's players lined up in their respective positions and focused on quickly bringing the ball out of defence under pressure. With Favre constantly barking away, Yann Sommer played a one-two with one of his centre backs before the goalkeeper then played a first time aerial pass to his wingbacks. The exercise then progressed up to midfield and then attack, each time Favre keen to emphasise the lack of time his side would have on the ball in the face of "Schweinsteiger and co."

A full-pitch game followed the space and pressure exercise, bringing all the aspects of the session together. This time, Favre insisted that his side didn't sit too deep when they had possession – being hemmed in against Bayern can turn nasty, just ask Shakhtar, Hamburg or Werder Bremen (to name but a few).

League position and form mean little against Bayern, and while Gladbach have only drawn one of their previous five meetings against Germany's top team (losing the other four), the games have often been tight.

Bundesliga Gladbach vs Hannover

Hazard is set for a break-out season next year

Nevertheless, Johnson insisted that expectations at the club hadn't changed and that they were "just trying to win the next game." Gladbach have been doing far more than that since Favre rescued them from the clutches of relegation in the 2010/11 season. They are maturing into a top-eight team and are threatening to return to a top-four finish this season.

The last time that happened was in 2011/12, when Marco Reus was wearing the club's colours and Gladbach transitioned like Dortmund in their 2013 Champions League campaign. The permanent signing of Thorgan Hazard until 2020 is by no means a Reus replacement, but it is a sign the club are going some way to sustaining a regular top-six status.

"Thorgan is young and it's good for the team to have a lot of young players who have high quality. I think you can see it in every training session that there's really high quality," Johnson told me after the training session.

The American isn't wrong about either.

Hazard delivering on promise

Hazard has been on loan since June and has long since settled in amongst a raft of exciting wingers that include Patrick Herrmann, Andre Hahn and Ibrahima Traore. The 2013 Belgian Footballer of the Year is the youngest of the lot and sometimes it shows. He looks to have shaken off over-exuberant dribbling, but the love of the game is still raw. At one point in the training session, Hazard placed the ball down on the penalty spot before converting into an empty goal. It was as if he was back on the playground again and yearning to feel the ecstasy of kicking a ball into the back of a net.

For Hazard, football is a tradition. His two brothers also play professionally, and so did both his mother and father. "At home it's relaxed, it's calm," said the 21-year-old to DW, after curling in a pair of shots from the edge of the area in a competition with his teammates.

"I like the league and the club. I feel good and I play more. The Bundesliga is one of the best leagues in the world so it's good. If I can play more and more, it's very good for me – I'm young," he said, calmly and quietly.

Gladbach and Hazard are a perfect fit for one another, the Belgian even said so himself. With five goals and eight assists so far this season, his development is already racing along. And he's only started in 14 games.

But let us do as Gladbach do and take it one game at a time. Favre has already stated that his side are heading to Munich in search of victory. That is certainly more than most Bundesliga coaches say before a game against the recording-champions, but Gladbach, like every other team, will have to be perfect on Sunday night.

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