Lucien Favre's Borussia Mönchengladbach are still in the title hunt. They have won 3-0 in Stuttgart, after a trademark, watertight defensive display. They saved the fireworks for the game's dying embers.
Borussia Mönchengladbach traveled to Stuttgart for the Sunday evening fixture in the Bundesliga, eventually securing an impressive 3-0 win. Two late goals from the Foals created what was perhaps a misleading score-line, but on the other hand, Stuttgart scarcely seemed to have any answers for one of the best-drilled defensive sides in European football.
Industrious German striker Mike Hanke opened the scoring for Gladbach half an hour into the match - heading home an inswinging free kick from Marco Reus. Stuttgart keeper Sven Ulreich, who had had a quiet game until that point, was powerless to stop the ball. Ulreich redeemed himself moments later with a stunning instinctive save against left-winger Juan Arango.
Stuttgart were probably at their best in the closing stages of the first half, once forcing Marc-Andre ter Stegen to stretch a seemingly impossible distance to maintain Borussia Mönchengladbach's clean sheet.
A relatively quiet second half quickly turned into a vintage display of head coach Lucien Favre's trademark football. Gladbach were watertight and hard-working at the back, stifling Stuttgart even after they introduced a third forward in Japanese striker Shinji Okazaki. Debutante Vedad Ibisevic, who has just joined from Hoffenheim and has a superb past record against Gladbach, barely got a sniff at ter Stegen's goal throughout.
The surprise title challengers were not quite as incisive as usual when breaking forward for much of the game, but found their confidence as their opponents tired late on.
With about 10 minutes left to play, Patrick Hermann played a slide-rule diagonal pass to Marco Reus - who raced away down the left side and cooly slotted home his 12th league goal of the season. The second goal knocked the stuffing out of Stuttgart, and moments later Reus, Hermann and finally substitute striker Igor de Camargo combined to make it 3-0. The approach looked like a training ground exercise, not least because of the hosts' static defending.
Gladbach remain fourth in the table, one point adrift of the leading trio of Bayern Munich, Bourssia Dortmund and Schalke - all of whom were also victorious on Saturday. Perhaps more tellingly, the rank outsiders are eight points clear of fifth-placed Werder Bremen; the top four Bundesliga sides will qualify for the Champions League next season.
Blink and you'll miss it
Mainz played host to bottom-of-the-table Freiburg earlier on Sunday, seeking their first win in seven matches, since their shock 3-2 victory over Bayern Munich last November.
Mainz ultimately won 3-1, jumping several positions but only a few points clear of the drop zone.
Freiburg were seeking their first ever away win against Mainz, but their hopes melted away in the opening moments of the match. Shortly after Freiburg had threatened from an early corner, Eugen Polanski quickly released Mainz striker Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting who was too quick for defender Fallou Diagne and finished with aplomb.
Seconds later, in the fourth minute of the game, Fallou Diagne brought down Hungarian international Adam Szalai in the box. He was the last man and referee Markus Schmidt had no choice but to give Diagne his marching orders. Polanski stepped up for Mainz and buried the penalty in the bottom-right corner.
Missing a central defender, new coach Christian Streich had no choice but to remove Slovakian striker Erik Jendrisek, bringing defender Beg Ferati on to plug the gap.
Yet the hosts kept pressing forward, buoyed by their lightning start and a jubilant crowd who had been treated to just three home Bundesliga wins in nine attempts this season prior to Sunday's game. Choupo-Moting added a third from Mainz after scarcely a quarter of an hour, after being released down the inside-right channel by Marco Caligiuri. Choupo-Moting raced away - Freiburg sub Ferati could not match him for pace - and dispatched the ball cleanly into the bottom left corner. The Cameroon international, who also has German citizenship, had not scored since Mainz's draw in Wolfsburg on December 4.
Damage limitation successful
After its breakneck beginning, the match settled down, with Mainz largely dictating the play against their understaffed opponents. Mainz's Adam Szalai, playing only his second game after almost a year out of action with serious knee ligament damage, had an impressive day at the office despite failing to score his first goal of the season. Considering the woes they endured in the opening phase of the match, Freiburg responded admirably, defending doggedly rather than lying down and accepting certain defeat.
Their efforts were rewarded on 66 minutes, when defender Pavel Krmas got the outside of his boot to a Freiburg corner and directed the ball into the bottom corner; it's difficult to say whether the extravagant finish was a tad fortunate or a moment of pure inspiration from the unlikeliest of sources.
Despite a strong showing in the closing phases, the three-goal deficit was too much for the guests, and the match finished 3-1. Mainz move up to 12th place in the Bundesliga table as a result, though they still sit just five points clear of rock-bottom Freiburg, who have secured just 16 points from their first nineteen league matches. Freiburg's meager 5-point haul from nine away matches in the Bundesliga makes them the second-worst team on the road after Felix Magath's Wolfsburg.
Author: Mark Hallam
Editor: Nicole Goebel