Our Man In Cologne: (03/03/16)

Picture: Christian Verheyen  via Getty Images
Picture: Christian Verheyen via Getty Images

No wonder Thorgan Hazard was smiling away in the tunnel at the Borussia Park. Earlier in the evening, he’d scored the opening goal in a 4-0 win for Borussia Mönchengladbach against Stuttgart, but the real reason for his cheeky grin was the bet he has with his brothers.

His older sibling is, of course, Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard, the reigning English Player of the Year who hasn’t scored a Premier League goal all season. And his poor form could cost him come the end of the season.

“We have a competition every year also with my other brother who plays in Hungary [Kyllian],” grinned Thorgan.

It’s a simple one too – the player with the fewest goals and assists at the end of the season buys dinner for the other two brothers.

“I need to score and give assists because I don’t want to pay,” says Hazard. “For the moment it’s a big competition between us.”

Despite a lean season, it is still Eden who leads with a total of 10, all assists. Then comes 20-year-old Kyllian. He’s amassed eight in the Hungarian top flight with Ujpest. But Thorgan’s first Bundesliga goal of the season on Wednesday night pushes him up to seven.

There’s even a fourth Hazard brother, Ethan, but he hasn’t mustered a single goal or assist. Dinner on him then? Well not quite. He’s only 12. German magazine Der Spiegel did point out last year though that he’s already training at Tubize’s academy – a second division Belgian club where all of his older brothers played in their younger days.

The phrase “football runs in the family” is apt for the Hazards. Father Hazard, Thierry, played in the Belgian third division in the 90s whilst Mrs Hazard, Carine, also played professionally, even doing so at one point when she was pregnant with Eden.

Thorgan however deserves recognition for being a good player in his own right. He was bought by Chelsea in 2012 but ended up starring out on loan for them, firstly in Belgium and then last season with Gladbach. In the summer, he signed a permanent deal in Germany but getting a spot in the first team currently is “a big, big fight” such is the competition for places. Chelsea do have an option to buy him back, but that’s not something that concerns him at this time.

“I am focused on Borussia Mönchengladbach,” he said. “I try to help the team for the target for the end of the season but I don’t think about Chelsea. I want to play here for the moment.”

Just before he says that in the Borussia Park tunnel, a bald man in a green hoodie mischievously creeps up behind him before pulling the hood of Hazard’s jacket over his head. That’s his coach André Schubert.

Hazard says he’s given him a lot of confidence yet Schubert had barely given him a chance before February. The midfielder was only included in his starting line up in two of a possible 21 games. And it’s his failure to do the legwork and protect his fullback that’s hurt his chances.

“He needs to get back more from time to time,” said Schubert, before softening the criticism. “All in all he’s a pleasant, modest young man.”

He’s playing more now too. Wednesday was Hazard’s fifth consecutive start and his tap in added to two assists in the previous four games. He could have had another goal, had it not been for away goalkeeper Przemysław Tytoń who tipped his first half effort onto the bar.

Yet the continuing challenge for Hazard to keep his place was shown when he was substituted. Patrick Herrmann, the Borussia fan favourite who replaced him, scored just 32 seconds after coming on but when asked, André Schubert was quick to praise Hazard in the press conference, saying that he had worked hard and earned his chance.

If you’d ever wondered how the Germans say “icing on the cake”, Schubert was on hand with that too. He revealed that before the game he and his coaching staff were saying it would be “the dot above the i” if Hazard scored.

For the Gladbach fans, the dot above the i came with the other results in the Englische Woche AKA the English week. That’s a term you hear in Germany every time there’s midweek football. Jochen Schmitz of the Westdeutsche Zeitung is one of the most experienced members of the Gladbach press pack. He told me it’s because the English were the first to play then, so as a result the term Englische Woche stuck in Germany.

Gladbach’s game was one of seven taking place in the Bundesliga on Wednesday night. Fans inside the Borussia Park didn’t need to look at their phones to keep up with what was happening either.

Instead, each time there was a goal, they were alerted with the shrill neighing of a horse over the PA system (because Gladbach are nicknamed the Foals) before the score line and goal scorer appeared on the two big screens inside the Borussia Park.

The reactions varied. Bayer Leverkusen lost 4-1 and each time they conceded, there was a loud cheer as they’re Gladbach’s competitors for a Champions League place. Schalke also fall into that category but they won 3-2. So as you can imagine, each of their goals was met with a bit of a groan.

But what flashed up at 9.47pm brought the biggest reaction by far. The much reviled league leaders Bayern Munich were losing 2-1 to Mainz with minutes to play. That Mainz are now also in direct competition for a top four spot was forgotten. When Bayern Munich are losing, all is forgotten as a loud cheer mixed with equal doses of joy and shock.

Bayern did indeed lose for the first time at home this season as Martin Schmidt (coach of Mainz, member at a yodelling club and a former extreme skier) masterminded a famous win. What’s more, second place Borussia Dortmund won at Darmstadt to cut the gap between the top two to five points.

On Saturday, it’s Borussia Dortmund against Bayern Munich. The gap by the end of Saturday night could be down to two points meaning the Bundesliga could be looking at what in the past few years had been considered an ancient relic – a title race.

You can follow Archie Rhind-Tutt on Twitter (@ArchieRT1)

Our Man In Cologne: (03/03/16)
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