After a difficult start to the Bundesliga campaign, VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach's tried and trusted formula of youth and experience has produced an upturn in fortunes.
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When VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach capped a sensational season with qualification for the UEFA Champions League play-offs last term, all the talk was of their exciting new generation. Rightly so. Breakthrough performer Marco Reus had hit 18 Bundesliga goals as the Foals finished a surprising fourth, and the likes of Patrick Herrmann and Roman Neustädter were also in their early 20s.
However, just as great a factor were the elder statesmen in the side, perhaps best represented by long-serving captain Filip Daems. A club stalwart since 2005, the former Belgian international is the most senior squad member aged 34, but still managed to play in all but three of the team's 34 league matches. He has been ever-present this campaign too.
With the summer departures of Reus for champions Borussia Dortmund and Neustädter for FC Schalke 04, not to mention key defender Dante's move to FC Bayern München, the experience of Daems and his fellow elders has been crucial. The side had to overcome a difficult start to the season – including a UEFA Champions League play-off defeat by FC Dynamo Kyiv – arguably as a result of the various personnel changes, and presently sit ninth in the German table.
"Of course you need talented young players in a team but you also need experience," Daems told UEFA.com after Gladbach's 2-0 UEFA Europa League home victory against Olympique de Marseille last Thursday. "We've got a few with the likes of Thorben Marx, Martin Stranzl and myself, and I think that gives us a good mix."
Borussia's first Group C win demonstrated the point, with the ever-reliable Daems's first-half penalty, his 12th in as many attempts for Gladbach, laying the foundations for 21-year-old Peniel Mlapa to go on and secure the scalp with an emphatic second-half finish. It was the youngster's first goal since signing from TSG 1899 Hoffenheim in the summer, and ultimately it lifted Lucien Favre's men level with second-placed OM in the section.
"We have a lot of gifted young players and it's really good for them to be able to play in the Europa League and get this experience," continued Daems. "We've got a large squad, so we have plenty of cover to compete in the three tournaments we're involved in."
Strength-in-depth will be particularly vital as Gladbach negotiate a packed schedule of seven games in just over three weeks. The Foals built on their success against Marseille by triumphing at fellow UEFA Europa League contestants Hannover 96 in the Bundesliga at the weekend, with 32-year-old Juan Arango capping a remarkable comeback with the deciding goal at 3-2. They will have played twice more before the Marseille return match in France on 8 November.
Daems remains apprehensive about looking too far ahead, yet does say that beating Les Phocéens has given the side belief that they can earn a top-two berth in a group led by Fenerbahçe SK and also containing AEL Limassol FC.
"I think we played well [against Marseille]," he said. "We got three points against a really good team with a lot of quality. They're one of the top sides in France but now we're back in contention. The win has helped our chances of progressing, but we can't afford to lose in Marseille."