It may have taken a well-timed Nico Elvedi note but Borussia Monchengladbach are still to taste Bundesliga defeat under Andre Schubert – a run now stretching nine games.
Elvedi, substituted on with six minutes remaining with Gladbach 3-2 down at Hoffenheim, passed two pieces of paper containing Schubert’s commands to midfielders Lars Stindl and Granit Xhaka.
The contents remain a mystery but the effect was apparent; seven minutes later, Fabian Johnson latched onto Raffael’s through ball and expertly finished to snatch a point at the death.
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Johnson, frustrated and underused during Lucien Favre’s reign, is one of many at Gladbach who have revitalised their personal fortunes – as well as the team’s - after the managerial switch.
Raffael’s notable influence up front has spearheaded the revival, summer signing Stindl has excelled behind the Brazilian while playmaker Mahmoud Dahoud’s meteoric rise from Gladbach’s second string was almost entirely influenced by Schubert.
Alvaro Dominguez’s return from injury shored up the defence, too – just ten goals conceded in Schubert’s reign, compared to 12 in just five games under Favre.
Even goal-shy striker Josip Drmic scored against Hoffenheim, possibly the strongest evidence yet that Schubert’s honeymoon, feel-good period as permanent manager is yet to cease.
But Johnson is the man of the moment; bang in form, full of confidence and the main man for Gladbach as they attempt to down beat the ‘unbeatable’ in Bayern Munich this weekend.
Gladbach's good luck charm?
Joining on a free at the beginning of 2014/15 the American international cut a frustrated figure in making just 15 starts last season, immediately following some impressive showings at right-back during the World Cup.
An impromptu spat with then-manager Favre, played out over a succession of media interviews, was damaging to Johnson’s cause as his versatility counted against him.
His best position was up for debate. Jurgen Klinsmann thought full-back; Johnson himself agreed but Favre was none the wiser: "He has always told me that his favourite position is on the left. That's a problem; he tells me this and [tells] others that his favourite position is at right-back,” the manager told Bild.
And so his rise to prominence as a left-winger during the last three months has taken most by surprise.
Schubert’s appointment, initially a stopgap measure before results dictated otherwise, provided a clean slate from which Johnson has benefited immeasurably.
By coincidence or not, Gladbach’s record in games Johnson has started is highly impressive; 18 wins, six draws and a single defeat to Borussia Dortmund, the second of Favre’s five defeats before walking away from Borussia-Park.
His latest chance may be down to luck as much as any groundwork on the training field, with Andre Hahn and Patrick Herrmann out through injury, but Johnson has made himself undroppable by turning in quality performances.
The double against Hoffenheim was one in a long list of eye-catching displays, including a stunning finish and assist in last week’s 4-2 demolition of Sevilla in the Champions League.
Gladbach's attackers pose threat to Bayern
If any side can threaten Bayern’s perpetual dominance so far in this Bundesliga campaign, an in-form and confident Gladbach side are among the top hopefuls.
Playing free-flowing, high-octane football under Schubert, they average over three goals per game under the new manager and home advantage at Borussia-Park arguably makes them the league leader’s toughest assignment to date.
But for that threat to materialise Johnson, like each of the others in Gladbach’s attacking quintet, needs to be both disciplined in defence but lightning on the counter-attack.
Even if the champions outclass them on home turf, Johnson has cemented his place at left-wing.
His challenge herein is to stay there.
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