After topping Group J fairly easily, Fiorentina set themselves up in the right side of the bracket in the next round of the Europa League. Their possible opponents were Athletic Bilbao, Legia Warsaw, Anderlecht, Astra Giurgiu, Manchester United, Villarreal, Ludogorets, Celta Vigo, Olympiacos, Gent, Rostov, Krasnodar, AZ Alkmaar, Hapoel Be’er Sheva, and Borussia Monchengladbach, and the Viola drew the German team.
So who the heck is Borussia Monchengladbach?
Or rather, who is Borussia VfL 1900 Monchengladbach e.V., to give them their full title? Well, they’re a well-decorated German side based in the city of Monchengladbach (population 260,000), which lies just west of Luxembourg. Their trophy case is quite impressive, as they’ve won the Bundesliga 5 times (all in the 1970s), as well as 3 German Cups (most recently in 1995), and 2 UEFA Cups (both in the 1970s). They’re known as die Fohlen (the Foals) and are the 5th-best supported club in Germany in terms of numbers, with 75,000 registered members.
They’ve fallen on harder times in this millennium, though, with a relegation in 2007. However, they’ve come roaring back recently, despite last year’s surprise resignation of long-time boss Lucien Favre. Andre Schubert guided them to a 4th-placed finish last year and the resultant Champions League spot. They were quickly bounced, however, as they were drawn into a group with heavyweights Barcelona and Manchester City (and Celtic, but c’mon), and they’ve slumped to 12th in the Bundesliga this year.
Cool. How do they play?
Schubert is a serial formation switcher, but has mostly preferred 3 at the back this year. Adding to the unpredictability is the fact that he’s got a bit of an injury crisis on his hands, which could force him into some desperate measures. They’ve got the 12th-best goalscoring record in the league and the the 10th-best defensive mark.
Okay. What’s their team like?
The strength of the side is mostly through the spine, starting with Switzerland goalkeeper (and former purported Viola target) Yann Sommer, who’s certifiably excellent. Centerbacks Jannick Vestergaard, Tony Jantschke, Niko Elvedi, and Andreas Christensen (a Chelsea loanee) are all very good players. They’re not quite as good in central midfield or on the wings, although Americans should keep an eye out for the pacey Fabian Johnson, but have a bunch of technically adept, clever attackers in Thorgan Hazard, Raffael, and Lars Stindl who love to drop wide and deep before dribbling at a defense.
As they get healthy, they should get a lot better, but it’s hard to know how seriously they’ll take the competition as they struggle for a return to the European places in a deep and competitive Bundesliga, especially in February. They do have the squad depth to compete on two fronts, though, or will once they’re healthy, and they certainly have the quality to cause all sorts of problems for a Fiorentina team that can best be described as uneven.
So what’s going to happen in this fixture?
Chill. Fiorentina and Borussia Monchengladbach don’t play until February, so there’s a lot of time (and a transfer window) that could bring all sorts of changes. That said, this is certainly one of the toughest draws the Viola could have possibly had in terms of quality. However, we know that Fiorentina have to advance because that’s the only way they can face Tottenham Hotspur in a now-annual Europa League tradition.