There was a widespread feeling among followers of the German game that the return to Bundesliga action after the winter break might well go hand-in-hand with the beginning of the end of the Borussia Mönchengladbach fairytale. The transformation from relegation play-off survivors to prospective title challengers within the space of a few months had, surely, been simply too abrupt. Three games in however, the Foals are still hanging hard to the coattails of the leading trio and showing no signs of heading in a downward direction any time soon.
They started 2012 in high style, dispatching mid-season league leaders Bayern Munich 3-1 at home to complete a season double over the record champions. A goal from Marco Reus and two more from Patrick Herrmann put a highly disciplined Gladbach side away and clear before Bastian Schweinsteiger netted a consolation effort for the visitors. “I’ve said it before – Mönchengladbach are a very well organised team who counter-attack very effectively,” Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes noted of the club where he himself spent eleven years as a player and more than eight directing operations from the touchline.
Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 both took full advantage of Bayern’s defeat, the defending champions thumping Hamburger SV 5-1 on the road while their Ruhr district rivals beat VfB Stuttgart 3-1. All of which left Bayern, Dortmund and Schalke level on points after Matchday 18, with Gladbach just one behind them. That picture remained unchanged at the end of the following weekend’s action as Bayern got back to winning ways, beating VfL Wolfsburg 2-0, while Dortmund (3-1 against 1899 Hoffenheim), Schalke (4-1 at 1. FC Köln after going a goal down) and Mönchengladbach (3-0 at Stuttgart) all continued in the same vein.
Matchday 20 was a different story however. BVB opened it with a 2-0 win at 1. FC Nuremberg and with the other three members of the leading quartet all subsequently only managing a draw – Bayern at Hamburg, Schalke at home to Mainz and Gladbach in Wolfsburg – Jürgen Klopp’s Yellow-Blacks found themselves back at the top of the Bundesliga tree.
Elsewhere, Michael Skibbe has thus far had an unrewarding introduction to life in charge of Hertha BSC Berlin. The club from the capital started out under their new coach with a 2-0 loss at 1. FC Nuremberg and things got no better in the two games that followed, with Hertha losing out first to HSV at home (2-1), then by a single goal at Hannover 96. That mini-slump has taken them to fourth from bottom, and into the midst of what promises to be a nerve-racking relegation dogfight.
SC Freiburg are still propping up the division, despite edging a vital 1-0 victory over fellow strugglers FC Augsburg and taking a further point from their next home game, against Werder Bremen. Augsburg in turn took a point off the team directly above them, Kaiserslautern, and earned another with a draw at Hoffenheim. FCK themselves meanwhile managed a share of the spoils against Bremen and all-in-all, with just seven points separating eighth-place Hoffenheim from Freiburg at the bottom, the majority of the clubs in the top flight still have good reason to watch their backs with apprehension.