Both Wolfsburg and Mönchengladbach had, to some extent, started their Europe seasons slowly; neither die Wölfe nor die Fohlen managed to pick up a win in their opening two games. Thanks to two flattering scorelines against tough opponents Thursday, their chances of progression to the round of 32 have been bolstered. Wolfsburg travelled to Eastern Europe to face FC Krasnodar, while Borussia Mönchengladbach enjoyed home comforts in Borussia-Park against Cypriot outfit Apollon Limassol, who currently sit in second in their national league.
With big games on Sunday for both sides – Wolfsburg face Mainz while Borussia take on FC Bayern – these excellent wins should provide a great platform for the weekend.
FK Krasnodar 2-4 VfL Wolfsburg
FK Krasnodar had never lost a home match in Europe before Thursday night. Never mind the fact this was only their fifth home game in European competition, having been formed in 2008. In spite of early pressure by the home side, this record looked endangered from the start, and as Kevin De Bruyne began to find a foothold into the game die Wölfe quickly became increasingly dangerous.
Andreas Granqvist was the first name on the scoresheet, but not at the right end. The Swedish international contrived to net an own goal under pressure from Croatian stalwart Ivica Olic. This set the tone for the rest of the night. Though die Wölfe went into half time leading just 1-0, the lead quickly increased as De Bruyne ghosted past the Krasnodar rearguard before slotting neatly past Andriy Dykan.
Andreas Granqvist began to make amends for his earlier error shortly after De Bruyne’s excellent individual effort, netting from the spot after Naldo was adjudged to have handled in the area.
This didn’t deter Wolfsburg, however. Their highlight of the night was yet to come. Luiz Gustavo, perhaps more known as a metronome in defensive midfield, produced a moment of individual brilliance which will surely feature among the best scored in the competition this year. Shimmying away from two defenders, Gustavo whipped a left-footed curler around Dykan and into the net. It was a simply stunning strike which almost assured die Wölfe of three points.
De Bruyne added his second of the evening before Wanderson netted a late consolation, but it was Wolfsburg’s and De Bruyne’s night. In a tight group, getting off the mark in terms of wins at this point will do Wolfsburg’s chances a world of good. Lille and Everton have proven more than a match so far for Hecking’s men.
Borussia Mönchengladbach 5-0 Apollon Limassol
Borussia remain unbeaten this season – an incredible 14 competitive matches stand between Mönchengladbach and their last loss, which came on the final day of last season. Thanks to an early goal from Ibrahima Traore, his first in Mönchengladbach colours, the run was hardly in jeopardy Thursday.
Die Fohlen hadn’t come anywhere close to clinical in their opening group games against Villarreal and Zürich, having seemingly wasted all their European goals in that magnificent 7-0 at home to FK Sarajevo in the qualifying round. Again on Thursday, they were made to wait to make the scoreline more comfortable, as Bruno Vale made fine saves on shots from Max Kruse, Branimir Hrgota, and Thorgan Hazard before the break.
Branimir Hrgota doubled the lead shortly into the second half after Vale made another good stop on a Traore shot. Sadly for Limassol, he could only parry the ball wide. With an outstretched boot, Hrgota managed just enough contract for the ball to trickle slowly past the goal line at the bottom corner of the goal.
Traore added his second and Mönchengladbach’s third by cutting in from the right to fire a fine left-footed drive into the corner. It was the Guinean’s first-ever professional brace – a fine return for a player who has endured a tough start at Borussia-Park, with the likes of Hahn, Johnson, and Herrmann all seemingly ahead in the pecking order in the wide positions.
Patrick Herrmann officially made it a rout late with a tidy fourth goal, before Thorgan Hazard curled a shot into Angelis Charalambous, who could only divert the ball past a despairing Vale – a man who hadn’t deserved to concede five based on his individual performance.
Overall, it was a positive week for both of the Bundesliga’s league representatives, both of whom, halfway through the group stage, are in positions that would qualify them for the latter stages. If they manage to play in the fashion with which they went about Thursday’s games, both are certainties to go far into the competition.