As the season nears its final embers of a fiery campaign, two teams with widely different expectations at the start of the year meet in a crucial Sunday afternoon match which could have huge repercussions for next season's Champions League. Borussia Mönchengladbach have underperformed whereas Hertha BSC continue to dream big in an unbelievable season.
Gladbach's early dominance surprisingly one-off
When the two teams met earlier in the season at a sunkissed Olympiastadion, few would have predicted that the team on the receiving end of a comprehensive defeat would be the one flying high above the victors come the reverse fixture. Gladbach's 4-1 win that day, by far Hertha's heaviest of the season, sent Die Fohlen above their stricken foe and many expected at that point Hertha's promising season would soon die out.
However, since that late Autumn's day, Hertha have only lost three games in a run which has seen the capital side reach unblemished heights of third and on the cusp of a first Champion's League run since the turn of the century. Pai Dardai's side have proven to be not only hard workers, Vladimir Darida and Per Ciljan Skelbred at the heart of things, but also with enough flair and wit to break down a flurry of stubborn opponents.
Gladbach, meanwhile, have stuttered and find themselves clinging on to their chances of a European place next season despite two consecutive years amongst the elite. Having gone out of the Champions League to a group containing Manchester City, Juventus and Sevilla, their Bundesliga form has suffered as a result with only five wins since December but they themselves remain only three points off of the pace.
Can Gladbach's dominance finally be snapped?
In spite of the opposing success of their two seasons, Gladbach go into Sunday's game still as firm favourites given their utter dominance over Hertha in recent seasons. Not only did they mercilessly punish Die Blau Weissen earlier in the season, but having won seven out of their last ten matches to the tune of only one defeat, Gladbach's disillusioned fans could be forgiven for seeking solace in Sunday's match. Hertha haven't won at Borussia-Park since 2008, when Dardai himself watched from the bench as Gojko Kacar scored the only goal.
Coincidentally, the 2008/2009 season also happened to be the last time Hertha finished above Gladbach in the Bundesliga table.
Team news as both react to the international break
In his press conference, Pal Dardai spoke of the welcome return of his players and the 'great' training sessions they had had and most notably that they were heading to Gladbach to 'win.'
However, he may have to deal with several injury niggles in his plan to finally usurp Gladbach, with both Soloman Kalou and John Anthony Brooks struggling in training on their return. Thomas Kraft also had to sit out, however with the number one jersey firmly belonging to Rune Jarstein, this is likely to be less of a concern.
Gladbach's Andre Schubert, meanwhile, will have to continue to content with the loss of his first choice left back, as the Swedish international Oscar Wendt remains on the sidelines. However, his switch to a 3-5-2 in his abscence has had mixed results, with the team falling to a 2-1 defeat in last weekend's crucial fixture against FC Schalke 04.