The Europa League’s German representatives enjoyed another flawless week as both Borussia Mönchengladbach and VfL Wolfsburg marched closer to the brink of qualification; bar any massive mishaps against Zürich and Villarreal, die Fohlen are almost home and dry, with a very real chance of topping their group. Wolfsburg have had a slightly more difficult campaign, but are nonetheless in a position to get to the Round of 32 after a brilliant performance against FK Krasnodar.
Apollon Limassol 0-2 Borussia Mönchengladbach
A fortnight ago, die Fohlen managed to get on the scoresheet relatively early against their Cypriot adversaries, and weren’t really made to work for a rampant 5-0 victory at home. How different this game was. Apollon looked dangerous for vast swathes of Thursday evening’s earlier kick off, especially as the game reached half time – perhaps the busy recent schedule endured by die Fohlen had thrown them off their peak, maybe it was the travelling, or even focussing on Sunday’s game with Borussia Dortmund, but what is certain is that, bar a few Thorgan Hazard snapshots early in the game and a header by Branimir Hrgota which forced goalkeeper Vale into evasive action, Limassol looked the better team in a fairly drab first half.
Whether it was what Lucien Favre said in his team talk, something in the half time oranges or just quality shining through eventually, die Fohlen emerged from the break looking a lot better than how they’d played for the previous 45 minutes; a short spell of pressure at the beginning of the half immediately paid off as Chelsea loanee Thorgan Hazard whipped a brilliant ball into Apollon’s box, and Raffael met the cross with his head, nodding past Bruno Vale to put the away side into the lead. It’s hard to argue it was deserved at this point, but it almost ended the game as a spectacle – if it was one, at any rate – as Apollon almost consigned themselves to defeat and Borussia didn’t have to work too hard yet again – this all on the hour mark.
Thorgan Hazard stung the bar with a sweetly hit long-range drive which went narrowly over, but the margin stayed at one until deep into injury time; with thirty seconds left on five minutes of injury time, Patrick Herrmann raced into the box and received the ball from fellow substitute Andre Hahn, tapping in past Vale to secure the win after a nervy few minutes of defending. It was Herrmann’s fifth of the season – and second in Europe this campaign – while Borussia marched on to their eighteen unbeaten game in succession from the start of the season – a new club record, usurping a record set by Hennes Weisweiler’s men in 1970 of 17. Heady times for the Foals!
VfL Wolfsburg 5-1 FK Krasnodar
A second win of the group stages for Wolfsburg – the first obviously coming away to Krasnodar – was no real surprise on Thursday evening, but the nature of the win was incredible. A goalless first half flowed into a goalfest of a second 45, with no less than six goals falling in quick succession.
Aaron Hunt opened the scoring for the hosts with a quickfire brace following being subbed on at half time; the first a neat header at the near post following a Christian Träsch cross, the second a cheeky tap past the goalkeeper after a great ball down the middle from – you guessed it – Christian Träsch. Wanderson halved the deficit not long after, his touch and finish bamboozling former Swiss number one Diego Benaglio, but it was to prove Wolfsburg’s night.
No more than a minute later, industrious midfielder Josuha Guilavogui tapped home from a low cross to restore die Wölfe’s two goal advantage before Nicklas Bendtner netted twice – once from the spot, once cutting inside from the right on his left foot and curling the ball into the corner (a worthy impression of Arjen Robben) which inspired some of the best Tweets of the night – namely, Bendtner’s witty rebuttal of a Gary Lineker post on the subject of the Dane’s brace, his first goals in Wolfsburg’s green.
Overall, then, a five star performance, which meant that Wolfsburg have now negotiated two banana skins against Krasnodar in recent weeks, setting them up in a great position in the coming weeks – they only really need a win from one of their next two games, against Lille and Everton, to make it into the Round of 32.