Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and other times it’s nice to have a combination of both. Facing VfB Stuttgart at their home Volkswagen Arena Saturday, VfL Wolfsburg combined luck, some big saves from Diego Benaglio and enough good play to cash in a 3-1 victory over the visitors, extending their unbeaten streak to nine games (including a Pokal win over FC Ingolstadt) and securing at least a fifth place berth in the table heading into winter break. Wolfsburg now have a 6-1-1 record in eight home league matches this season and a 9-2-5 mark overall.
Saturday’s matchup between the two company teams did not flow with champagne football; instead, play was often choppy, with three of the games’ four scores coming resulting from set pieces. But the win gives Wolfsburg a 6-1-1 record in eight Bundesliga matches at home this season, while Coach Thomas Schneider and his Stuttgart crew have only three points to show for their last four Bundesliga outings after playing so well following Scheider’s appointment as Bruno Labbadia’s replacement following MatchDay 3.
Wolfsburg headman Dieter Hecking named the same starting XI that took the pitch last week in Freiburg, with the exception of Diego returning to start, with former Dortmund man Ivan Perisic going to the bench. Meanwhile, Schneider made two changes to the lineup that defeated Hannover 4-2, as Georg Niedermeier and Christian Gentner were named while Daniel Scwaab and youngster Rani Khedira sat.
The match began with Stuttgart keeper Sven Ulreich called upon to make a standout save in the sixth minute on a shot from the center of the box by Maximilian Arnold, with Patrick Ochs providing from the right. Wolfsburg attempts from Diego and Arnold under pressure in the next minutes again sailed over the crossbar, while Ulreich again made the save on Daniel Caligiuri in the 17th minute. Wolfsburg weren’t brilliant, but clearly the better side in the early going, until controversy ensued at the half hour.
Stuttgart’s 17 year-old phenom, Timo Werner, looked to score against the run of play on a left-footed shot that deflected off of Diego Benaglio and passed the goalline before being cleared by a sliding Robin Knoche. The game officials, however, did not acknowledge the score, as Wolfsburg received a nod from Lady Luck. The match stayed scoreless for eight more minutes, when a free kick by Wolfsburg leftback Ricardo Rodriguez incredibly went untouched through the box and into Ulreich’s goal. Although Stuttgart rather tame effort improved, they still left the pitch at halftime trailing the Volkswagen side
Wolfsburg doubled their lead minutes into the second half. A foul called on Gentner as he formed part of the wall to defend a Wolfsburg free kick resulted in another setpiece for the home side. Taken by Diego, his shot deflected to the left off the wall and stranded Ulreich moving to his right. Wolfsburg 2-0 Stuttgart.
Four minutes later, though, Stuttgart were on the board. Werner scored what should have been his brace, as another setpiece, this time a free kick from the right, moved from Vedad Ibisevic to Werner, whose low drive beat Benaglio to shave the score to 2-1 with more than a half hour remaining. As the minutes passed in a game where flow was missing, Benaglio made two quality saves, on Werner in the 73rd minute and Gentner in the 77th, and Ibisevic missed twice on headed shots before Wolfsburg struck the game’s final goal to ice their three points. Substitute Perisic, on for Diego, skinned Stuttgart rightback Gotoku Sakai and left-footed past Ulreich on his second try to secure a 3-1 win for Hecking’s squad. The hosts had 12 shots to 8 for the visitors, while the two teams split possession and Stuttgart edged Wolfsburg in corner kicks earned, 4-2.
In many eyes, Werner’s shot at the half hour was clearly a goal before being cleared out by the hustling Knoche. Why doesn’t UEFA and the DFL allow goal-line technology to rectify a wrong call (actually a no call) made by officials that can change the outcome of a match? Please don’t tell me that iffy goal decisions, aided by replay, would add too many delays to the game. Saturday’s VfL-VfB match included a minimum of 52 easily documented stoppages of play for fouls, corner kicks, offside calls and goals. Saturday’s Hoffenheim-BvB match had 50 such stoppages over 90 minutes, while even the earlier scoreless match between Mainz and Gladbach, with only 14 fouls whistled, still had 23 stoppages of play. Replay technology is being utilized at this moment in the FIFA Club World Cup and will be used this summer in Brazil, as it is in the NBA, the NFL and baseball. Getting goal calls correct outweighs an additional, occasional delay or two.
Wolfsburg: Benaglio, Ochs, Naldo, Knoche, Rodriguez, Medojevic, Caligiuri, Diego (Periisic 72′), Gustavo, Arnold (Ja-Cheol 81′), Olic (Dost 79′)
Stuttgart: Ulreich, Sakai, Niedermeier, Rudiger, Rausch, Harnik, Leitner, Traore (Sararer 70′) (Maxim 90′) Gentner, Ibisevic (Abdellaoue 80′), Werner