MatchDay 21 began with a clash between VfL Wolfsburg and SC Freiburg at the Volkswagen Arena Friday evening. Although some thought the game could be a bit of a bore, it was anything but, especially early, as Wolfsburg grabbed all three points in a 3-2 win over the Black Forest side to climb to eighth place in the table.
Both teams have undergone a great deal of change since the Hinrunde ended. Wolfsburg Coach Felix Magath brought in eight new players and jettisoned others, while Freiburg changed coaches, with Christian Streich taking over from deposed Marcus Sorg. Freiburg also rid itself of players, most notably star striker Papiss Demba Cisse and captain Heiko Butscher as they re-armed in their attempt to survive the relegation battle. Streich fashioned a 1-1-1 record in his first three games as the head of a Bundesliga club, and in the Volkswagen City was matched against the veteran Bundesliga Coach Magath. Freiburg had become something of a bogey team for Wolfsburg, though, winning five of their last seven contests, while Wolfsburg entered the match pitching shutouts in two of its last three matches.
Wolfsburg: Benaglio – Träsch, Russ, Felipe, Rodriguez – Dejagah (Ochs 73′), Josue (Hasebe 46′), Jiracek, Schäfer – Mandzukic, Sio (Polter 62′)
Freiburg: Baumann – Sorg, Diagne, Höhn, Lumb (Freis 78′) – Schmid (Rosenthal 62′), Flum, Makiadi, Caligiuri – Jendricek, Santini (Reisinger 65′)
First Half — Goals Galore
Wolfsburg began the fixture with winter break newcomers Lopes, Rodriguez, Jiráček and Sio in their starting lineup, in addition to veteran Mario Mandzukic, who was benched in last week’s match, while Streich had newcomer Fallou Diagne back in defense following his red-card suspension served last matchday.
Wolfsburg took an early lead only five minutes into the match, as Croatian midfielder Petr Jiráček opened his Bundesliga account, knocking in a free ball following a corner kick. But whatever peace of mind settled onto the Wolfsburg crowd was quickly extinguished as the Breigau-Brazilians found an equalizer from Johannes Flum six minutes later following a shot by Daniel Caligiuri. The tied score only lasted briefly, with Wolfsburg adding another goal when Giovanni Sio backheeled a cross that a charging, sliding Marcel Schäfer was able to knock in goal from close range. Three goals in fifteen minutes — whew, this match was becoming more than promised although hardly a textbook display of defensive efficiency.
Streich has imparted a uptempo, fighting spirit in his club after some desultory efforts in their last two Hinrunde matches that resulted in consecutive 4-0 and 4-1 losses to FC Koln and Borussia Dortmund that led eventually to Coach Marcus Sorg’s dismissal and a substantial turnover of players. His energy seems to spark Freiburg,and the club again bounced off the canvas to equalize in the 38th minute as Caligiuri himself scoring after a cross went through the mass of humanity fronting the goal and Caligiuri took a tough angle shot that inbounded off the far post. Both teams had chances to add to the score but goal-line clearances held the score at 2-2 going into the second half.
Second Half Fortune for Wolfsburg
The four first half goals caught many viewers by surprise, although considering that Freiburg had allowed the most goals in the Bundesliga campaign and Wolfsburg the third most, it shouldn’t have. The only goal of the second half came just past the hour mark, as Jiráček had some luck in grabbing the game-winner as his well-taken shot took a deflection and passed shell-shocked Freiburg goalkeeper Oliver Baumann.
Ivan Santini, Michael Lumb and Caligiuri had solid chances for Freiburg to come back again, but were slightly off the mark, and a late opportunity by Cedric Makiadi was blocked. Freiburg have scored eight times this season in the final fifteen minutes of match play, but couldn’t pull the trigger today to get at least a point. Wolfsburg did enough to survive and finish the game with the 3-2 win, but Magath looked decidely unhappy following the match in which his defenders often looked out of sorts and last-place Freiburg always looked capable of scoring another time. Wolfsburg did have the edge in possession, total shots, shots on goal and corner kicks, but still were somewhat fortunate to come away with all three points.
Perhaps Wolfsburg were due a bad defensive effort after shutting out FC Koln and Borussia Monchengladbach while holding high-scoring Bayern Munich without a netting for the first hour of their match two weeks ago at the Allianz. Certainly with the record number of players that have run in and out of their lineup this season, Magath would seem slightly unrealistic to expect formidable defending with so little lack of familiarity among the squad. On the plus side, Marcel Schäfer continually was able to find space and crosses moving up the flank from the backline, covering 11.89 km. distance, second only to Jiráček among Wolfsburg players. In addition to scoring, Schäfer led both sides with six crosses, taking his season’s total to 105, while fellow defender Christian Trasch drew four fouls without giving any away, though he missed on 13 of his 43 passing attempts.
Magath has brought in some exciting and talented players this winter into the mix at Wolfsburg. Giovanni Sio earned an assist with his splendid backheel leading to Trasch’ goal, and led the team with five shots, three of which were on frame. The brace provided by Jiráček will boost hopes for Wolfsburg to find more goals from its midfield, and although Lopes and Rodriguez in the back have been inconsistent, they have shown some durability and have each only drawn one yellow card in 360 minutes of play.
While Streich has returned a positive spirit to his Black Forest side, the squad Friday almost looked too frenetic, perhaps pushing too fast when sensing the chance for much-needed points against a team they’ve enjoyed success against, or maybe copying too much Streich’s energy from the sidelines. Streich has to improve the club’s defending, particularily on the road. Freiburg have now only gained four road points in ten matches, with a -18 goal differential. At their renamed MAGE SOLAR Stadion home Freiburg have a pedestrian 1.45 GAA, but on the road that number more than doubles to 3.10 goals allowed per match. Freiburg needs to transfer some of that green energy to their road efforts.
Besides scoring his side’s first goal, Johannes Flum covered the most ground of any Freiburg player Friday. He was also third on the club in touches during the match and trails only Baumann in minutes played this season. His fellow 24 year-old midfielder, Caligiuri, tied with Cedric Makiadi for the team lead in challenges. One senses that Freiburg are on the right track, but trying to work in so many new players while under the intense pressure of a relegation battle will be a formidable task for Streich to perform successfully. Next week’s match has Bayern Munich coming to town, not a great opportunity for the club to get a result. and with their loss to open the Bundesliga weekend, fellow relegation battlers Kaiserslautern and Augsburg have an opportunity to open up some distance between themselves and the Breisgau-Brazilians.