Andre Schubert's Borussia Monchengladbach and Roger Schmidt's Bayer Leverkusen, who finished third and fourth in the league, will take on each other in the first round of fixtures of the Bundesliga on Saturday at Borussia Park.
The last time both clubs met at Borussia Park, Gladbach came out on top in a clash that saw Andre Hahn score twice and hand Die Fohlen a 2-1 win. In early December last year, Leverkusen had hammered Gladbach 5-0 at the BayArena when Javier Hernandez's impressive hat-trick and Stefan Kiessling's brace had helped Roger Schmidt's side to an impressive win
Gladbach look to start season on a high
The club, which had sacked Lucien Favre after a horrendous set of results early on in the season, Andre Schubert took control of affairs and guided the club to respectable position by remaining unbeaten in ten games right after taking over the reins.
The unbeaten run included a 3-1 win over Bayern Munich, in which goals from Oscar Wendt, Lars Stindl and Fabian Johnson had condemned the Bavarians to their first defeat of the season. The run was halted by none other by Leverkusen themselves, as a the shocking 5-0 loss became that point of the season when the soaring Foals were brought to the ground by Leverkusen and inconsistent results followed.
The end to the season was the direct opposite to the commencement of it as Gladbach ended the campaign, finishing fourth in the table, five points behind Leverkusen and after remaining unbeaten in the last four games.
The side from North-Rhine Westphalia had an impressive pre-season as they remained unbeaten, winning five and drawing one. All six of their pre-season clashes took place in Germany and their campaign also consisted of a 15-0 away win against Vfl Rhede, followed by a 3-2 triumph over Waldhof.
Lack of games against Bundesliga opposition was certainly an issue and Gladbach were held to a 0-0 draw at home to Serie A giants Lazio.
In terms of business done this summer, Andre Schubert has been quite active on both selling and buying fronts. The midfield duo of Granit Xhaka and Havard Nordtveit, which was a key part of the side's successes last season, has been allowed to depart to the Premier League, with the latter not offered a contract extention following the expiration of his deal at the end of last season and the former fetching Gladbach a good €45 million.
Forward Branimir Hrgota, who was out of contract went off to Eintracht Frankfurt, while 34-year-old defender Roel Brouwers signed a contract with Eredivisie outfit Roda.
The incomings invoke some excitement among the Gladbach supporters as Christoph Kramer, the midfielder who had spent a spell on loan at Gladbach in 2014, has been snapped up on a permanent basis for a €15 million from Leverkusen, while towering Denmark centre-half Jannik Vestergaard has also been acquired for a €12.5 million fee, after impressing at Werder Bremen last season. 18-year-old Slovakian midfielder Laszlo Benes has also been snapped up for a €2 million fee from Slovak club MSK Zilina.
The 3-5-2 formation that Schubert used against Young Boys during the Champions League qualifying game, helped the side yield a 6-1 win, saw young Mahmoud Dahoud play in the deep midfield role, alongside Tobias Strobl, who was later replaced by Vestergaard to don a central midfield role for arguably the first time in his career.
Can Schmidt help Leverkusen get closer to the title?
Roger Schmidt is known to be a manager who makes shrewd signings and that too out of nowhere. And last season, it was the capture of Javier Hernandez from Manchester United that paid off as the season wore on and the Mexican found the back of the net 27 times in all competitions for Die Werkself.
The massive 18 point gap between Leverkusen and Dortmund last season, was suggestive of the gulf between the two giants of the division and the cloesly following bunch. It was the presence of small bunches of losses amidst prominent presences of wins that led to the inconsistency in Leverkusen's form last season.
Two wins early on in the season were followed by three disappointing defeats. And this cycle almost seemed to repeat itself throughout the season as Leverkusen won some games consecutively, but lost two or three of them after that.
The men from Koln enjoyed a pre- season almost as good as Gladbach, but games against established opposition prove that Leverkusen can hold their own against the better sides, which is probably something which is lacking for Gladbach. Wins over Fiorentina and Real Sociedad and a draw at home to Porto suggest that Leverkusen are capable of doing well against the more renowned European outfits.
Much like last season, Schmidt has succeeded in making some clever signings already, out of which Kevin Volland's acquisition from Hoffenheim stands out above the rest. The German, who reportedly a target for Liverpool and Spurs too, is a more well rounded forward than the aging Kiessling and will certainly come in handy, with Chicharito out injured. The signings of Aleksandar Dragovic from Dynamo Kiev and that of Julian Baumgartliner from Mainz could prove out to be just as shrewd as Schmidt regularly used Omer Toprak in the midfield for cover.
Apart from the little Mexican, Hakan Calhanoglu, Karim Bellarabi and young Julian Brandt shone throughout the campaign, with Brandt proving to be a vital outlet in wide areas late in the season. And the 20-year-old will play a key role in the upcoming season too.
The 4-4-2 formation, which was utilized against Hauenstein saw Charles Aranguiz and Kevin Kampl feature in the midfield, with Karim Bellarabi and Chicharito finding the back of the net.
What they're saying
"We are aware of our quality, but we are also aware of the quality other teams have, and that we are in a strong competition,” says Roger Schmidt.
"We need to constantly play at a high level and then we can get more points than last season."
Leverkusen new signing Kevin Volland is confident that his new club will close the gap on Borussia Dortmund. He said: “It'll be important to get the season off to a good start. If we don't manage that, I still think our team has a lot of quality once we get going. I think a lot is possible. We want to close the gap on BVB, which was quite large last season. We have to play consistently and start a winning streak as soon as possible.”
Predicted line ups
Borussia Monchengladbach( 3-5-2): Sommer; Elvedi, Vestergaard, Jantschke; Kramer, Dahoud; Hahn, Stindl, Johnson; Raffael, Hazard.
Bayer Leverkusen( 4-2-3-1): Leno; Wendell, Toprak, Tah, Jedvaj; Baumgartlinger, Kampl; Bellarabi, Mehmedi; Calhanoglu, Volland.