Wolfsburg and Borussia Mönchengladbach went into this game with highly contrasting aspirations. Felix Magath’s squad are hoping for a top half finish while Lucien Favre’s Gladbach are looking to keep the pressure on Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich and Schalke at the top of the table with an eye on the Champions League. After 90 minutes though, both sides had to split the points in a game that was marked by defending and a nervy Gladbach performance more than anything. Fanatic contributor Aditya Balaram recaps how this match unfolded.
Magath made a few changes to his squad after Wolfsburg’s 2-0 loss to Bayern Munich last weekend. Josué returned to the center of midfield while both Ibrahim Sissokho and Sebastian Polter started ahead of Makoto Hasebe and Mario Mandzukic. Gladbach were without the services of center back Martin Stranzl, who was out with illness. He was replaced by the reliable Roel Brouwers.
Wolfsburg Lineup : Bengalio – Träsch, Russ, Lopes, Rodriguez – Sissokho, Josué, Jiracek, Schäfer – Dejagah, Polter
Gladbach Lineup : ter Stegen – Jantscke, Brouwers, Dante, Daems – Nordtveit, Neustädter – Herrmann, Arango – Reus, Hanke
SNOOZE FEST OF A FIRST HALF
Both teams started very cautiously, with Gladbach being slightly more adventurous. An early Sissokho shot was Wolfsburg’s only chance in the first fifteen minutes. Gladbach on the other hand maintained a good proportion of possession and were passing the ball around comfortably. With Wolfsburg playing a very high defensive line, the likes of Reus, Herrmann and Hanke were caught offside on a number of occasions.
The chance of the game fell to Polter in the 25th minute. A good bit of passing down Wolfsburg’s left led to Dejagah cutting the ball across to Polter from the by line. The 20-year-old scuffed the shot and the ball trickled straight to ter Stegen. Ten minutes later, Gladbach made good use of one of their attacks as a marauding run by Jantschke eventually led to the ball falling at Nordtveit’s feet. The Norwegian played a delightful pass to Hanke who passed the ball into the back of the net, only to be adjudged offside by the linesman. This was how the night would continue for The Foals.
The half time whistle was a relief to both players and fans alike, as it brought to an end, one of the most boring halves of football this season. Gladbach had a majority of the possession but were unable to test Wolfsburg keeper, Diego Bengalio. At the other end of the field, ter Stegen was also fairly relaxed as Polter and Dejagah were fairly anonymous throughout the first half.
DEFENSIVE RESILIENCE AND POOR FINISHING CAN MAKE FOR AN EXHILARATING SECOND HALF
Magath introduced the club’s leading goal scorer, Mario Madzukic in the second half, with the hope of bringing his squad’s attack to life. And it surely did the trick. Mandzukicvreplaced Sissokho which meant that Dejagah would move onto the right side of midfield,vwhile Mandzukic played as a left sided striker. Schäfer and Mandzukic formed a lethalvcombination down the left flank and terrorized Jantschke for most of the second half.
Early in the second half, new signing Felipe Lopes came close as he headed the ball just above the crossbar. A couple of minutes later, Josué struck a screamer from outside the box, only to be denied by the outstretched hand of the incredible ter Stegen. Wolfsburg’s new found confidence spurred them on, as substitute Giovanni Sio slotted home a Schäfer cross. The linesman returned to spoil the party as Polter was adjudged to have been offside and the goal ruled out.
Gladbach found their way back as they created a few chances on the counter. Herrmann was through on goal, but a weak first touch and a crucial challenge by Felipe ensured that the goal drought continued. A couple of minutes later, the best chance of the game fell to wonder-kid Marco Reus, who unbelievably managed to miss the target when he had just Benaglio to beat. This squandered chance summed up the youngster’s disastrous night. The Dortmund move might just be getting to his head.
Wolfsburg continued to pile pressure on the Gladbach defence, but the resolute combination of Brouwers, Dante and Daems ensured that ter Stegen was not tested very much. They dealt extremely well with a number of dangerous crosses from Schäfer and Mandzukic for the last 20 minutes. Finally, Magath’s wily substitutions were undone by Favre’s unbelievably strong defensive unit. Marco Reus had his worst game in Gladbach colours, Juan Arango continued to struggle to replicate his form from the Hinrunde, while Wolfsburg seem to have found a solid new center back pairing in Russ and Lopes.
This performance showed that Wolfsburg can defend as they maintained their third clean sheet in four games. European qualification may be a possibility for Magath and his boys, but the likes of Polter and Dejagah will need to buck up and start providing a lot more for the team. Freiburg, Schalke and Hoffenheim are up next for Die Wölfe and Magath will be keen on pulling off another big result against big-boys Schalke.
Gladbach’s dream run of four consecutive runs finally came to an end. Although these were two huge points dropped in the title race, Champions League qualification should be Favre’s main goal. With a weak bench, Favre will indeed find it hard to maintain good results throughout the season. The performances of Dante and Daems will be huge positives going into next week’s mammoth clash against Schalke.
Follow Aditya on twitter @adi_balaram
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