While Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich has taken on the moniker of “Der Klassiker” in the English-speaking press, the Bundesliga rivalry closest to my heart is Bayern München vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach. We start this story on March 10, 2007.
The final relegation
My first memories of the Bundesliga involve Gladbach fighting relegation; each win was extraordinarily sweet, particularly, a 3-1 victory over Hertha Berlin, in that season. In this game, Nando Rafael, one of the silver linings of an otherwise terrible campaign, scored twice and Michael Delura added a third. There was a certain Marcell Jansen, who would move on to Bavaria later on, in that Gladbach side. On the opposition were two brothers that day, Jerome and Kevin-Prince Boateng. Gladbach would go on to pick up only one more win after that, losing both of their final two games. In fact, the last point they picked up in that campaign came on Match Day 32, in a 1-1 draw against Bayern München; a Roy Makaay opener was canceled out by Peer Kluge.
Halfway through the season, Gladbach tried to change managers to turn things around; club legend Jupp Heynckes, in his final stint as Gladbach manager, was fired and replaced with Jos Luhukay. Things did not turn around unfortunately.
However, even in their worst campaign in well over a decade, Gladbach picked up points against Bayern. Nevertheless, for a team so proud of their tradition, finishing eighteenth in a league with 18 sides must have been devastating. Fortunately, the Foals returned in the 2008-09 season, after winning the 2.Bundesliga.
The almost relegation
At the end of the 2010-11 season, after surviving relatively comfortably since their promotion in 2008, Gladbach found themselves bottom of the table at Christmas again. With relegation looming again, out of desperation, the Foals fired manager Michael Frontzeck in the new year and hired Lucien Favre. However, their luck did not change; the club stayed rooted to the bottom until Match Day 30.
On Match-day 31, they beat the title winners from that season, Borussia Dortmund, by a single goal from Mohamadou Idrissou. On Match Day 32, they beat Hannover 96 by a single goal courtesy of Marco Reus. On Match Day 33, they beat Freiburg, 2-0, thanks to Mike Hanke and Reus. On the final match-day of that season, they led by a single goal via Juan Arango against Hamburg; a late equalizer by Anis Ben Hatira could have spelled relegation for them; however, because Dortmund beat seventeenth placed Frankfurt, they were safe.
And that is the last relegation fight that Gladbach would be involved in. They would go on to secure sixteenth place and play VfL Bochum in the relegation play-off, winning it and staying in the league. This was a far cry from the Foals of the 70s, but, perhaps, those three wins and a draw under Favre started a movement toward greatness for this team.
Let’s peddle back to the 70s!
Both clubs arrived together to the Bundesliga in 1965, with a core built on young players such as Franz Beckenbauer, Sepp Maier, Jupp Heynckes and Günter Netzer. Both built up a rivalry very quickly. Between 1968 and 1977, Bayern and Gladbach split the Bundesliga title between them, with Gladbach winning five. In 1971, Gladbach became the first team to retain the Bundesliga title.
Despite being rivals on the pitch, the two combined to great effect for West Germany sides which went on to triumph in Euro 1972 and World Cup 1974. In the 18-man squad selected for the 72 Euros, only five players did not wear either Gladbach or Bayern colors. Gladbach fell away in the 80’s; however, they continued to produce brilliant players who would go on to be glorious in Bavarian colors including Lothar Matthäus and Stefan Effenberg. Effenberg curiously had two phases both with Gladbach and Bayern.
In Jupp Heynckes’ final game in the 2012-13 season as Bayern manager, inevitably, Bayern met Gladbach. Inevitably, Bayern went down 3-1 early on. Inevitably, Bayern ran out 3-4 winners. Heynckes was in tears in his press conference, because, he thought, that would be his last game in management. How wrong he was – if Bayern’s hadn’t found Hansi Flick, perhaps Jupp would be back on the sidelines again, managing his team.
Last year, Bayern succumbed to two league defeats, their only league defeats under Flick until Hoffenheim came about this season. One of them was a 2-1 loss to none other than Gladbach, through a double via Ramy Bensebaini. Since the start of the 2011/2012 campaign, Bayern has lost seven times to Gladbach. When Foals comes to town or when Bayern must visit them, a win is anything but guaranteed. This time, even without the talents of the suspended Marcus Thuram, if the Foals play the swashbuckling counterattacking football, they are capable of playing and the style that earned them their nickname in the 70s, this game promises to be much more even than expected.
Why does this rivalry mean so much to me?
When Gladbach brushed aside Shakhtar in the Champions League and qualified on the last match-day, I will admit, I was nearly in tears. I saw Gladbach fight relegation and finish bottom, the pain etched on the faces of the players in 2007. I saw Marco Reus come up at Gladbach; I became a fan of Patrick Hermann, seeing what he could do regularly when Gladbach counterattacked. I became a fan of Granit Xhaka and Christoph Kramer because of the stability they brought to Gladbach’s midfield.
And I learned to respect Lucien Favre too; when Dortmund sacked him, and perhaps rightfully so, I was not one of those who referred to him not having a winning mentality. He laid the groundwork for Marco Rose to continued to revive Gladbach, a team that might once again reach the heights it once reached decades ago. Very few clubs revive themselves after numerous relegation battles in the way in which Gladbach has, at least from my experience. And, we know, no matter what, whether they are fighting relegation or fighting for top spot, when they play Bayern München, it is much more than just about the points.
As always, let us know your thoughts about this rivalry in the comments and, thank you for reading!