At the start of November, 2018/19 Borussia Dortmund were invincible in every sense of the word, flying under new manager Lucien Favre, and spending the first three months of the season unbeaten. That unbeaten run stopped in the Champions League, after defeat at Atletico Madrid on Matchday Four, but Die Schwarzgelben still remained unbeaten in the league, leaving others in their wake.
That invincibility in the league has also gone, Dortmund losing at Fortuna Dusseldorf in the middle of the Englische Woche, meaning that their lead at the top of the Bundesliga is now at six points as they prepare for their final game before the winter break.
Whatever happens, Dortmund will be top by the end of this calendar year, deemed as winter champions, and still the best side in the land this term.
There looks to be a prime title race this season, with Favre’s side six points clear of Bayern Munich, but perhaps it’s time to consider the other team in the mix. That’s the side who are level on points with Bayern, yet ahead of them on goal difference, the side in second place, Favre’s former charges; Borussia Monchengladbach.
Gladbach have had a bright patch in recent years, since surviving relegation in 2011 – under Favre – Die Fohlen have managed to finish in the top four in three of the past seven seasons, and in the past four years, they haven’t finished lower than ninth. Yet there was the sense of underachievement at Borussia Park, particularly with the club having finished in the top four for two successive seasons, then following that up with two ninth-place finishes in a row.
Manager Dieter Hecking was under some form of pressure to deliver at the start of this season, the Gladbach side looked more talented than their recent finishes have indicated, and the sense of wanting much more wasn’t outrageous. But improvements have shown this season; they’re second on the log, with 33 points – just 14 less than they had in the whole of last season, and 12 less than the season before.
They’ve scored 35 times already this term, a rate of over two per game – the previous seasons it was over one per game – and only RB Leipzig have a better defensive record this term. 10 wins this term, in the previous two seasons they managed 13 each, and only three defeats, they just about look the real deal, or at least the next best thing.
They’ve been quietly going about their business this season, flying a bit under the radar as a result of Dortmund stealing the headlines for top, and Bayern for not being at the top. But tonight they finally step into the limelight, as they visit Dortmund in what’s a genuine top-of-the-table clash. A defeat here wouldn’t really be catastrophic, the title isn’t really the aim, but a win – or even a well-fought draw – could be something of a statement, that they look to be in this for the long haul, that they are no flash in the pan that should be expected to implode and crumble when push turns to shove. It’s going to be far from easy, of course, Dortmund have won every game on home soil this season as well, but Gladbach have already delivered a statement result in thumping Bayern earlier this season (although they do that almost every campaign), and have wonderful tools, particularly up front in Thorgan Hazard and Alassane Plea, to hurt their hosts.
Whatever happens tonight at the Westfalenstadion, Dortmund will go top into the winter break. But that’s beside the point, this is Gladbach’s chance to not just show further cracks in the leaders, but make a noise of their own, and make things interesting going into 2019. A title race looks on this season, and in this league where momentum is a big factor, this is Gladbach’s opportunity to show they’re well and truly on-board.