The highlight contest of MatchDay 11 was Saturday’s clash between Champions League clubs VfL Wolfsburg and Bayer 04 Leverkusen. With Bayern Munich dropping their first points of the Bundesliga season Friday in their 0-0 draw at Eintracht Frankfurt, there became the rare opportunity for Bundesliga title contenders/pretenders to make some ground on the record title-holders in Saturday’s matches, adding more importance to the clash of the Wolves and Die Werkself. It was VfL Wolfsburg, though, rebounding from a midweek Pokal loss from Bayern to down Bayer Leverkusen, taking care of business in garnering all three points in a 2-1 victory, gaining the third spot in the Bundesliga table in the process and demonstrating that success after the departure of Kevin De Bruyne can continue.
Roger Schmidt’s Leverkusen side travelled to Wolfsburg on a confident high after scoring 14 goals in their last three competitive matches against AS Roma, VfB Stuttgart and third-division side Victoria Köln. Wolfsburg, too, have been playing better lately, with the exception of their Pokal match, if not as with as much spectacle as the visitors, as they’d beaten 1899 Hoffenheim, PSV Eindhoven and SV Darmstadt since being shut out by Borussia Mönchengladbach in early October. And although the match lacked the fireworks of some recent Wolfsburg-Leverkusen matchups, the contest did feature both controversy and some wonderful technique.
The match started out on the tentative side, perhaps a natural result of the stakes at hand. Wolfsburg’s Niklas Bendtner missed on a chance five minutes in, while Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez of Leverkusen made a nice move to gain separation and get off a decent shot that unfortunately went directly at keeper Diego Benaglio. The evenly played match received its first goal in the 34th minute. An artful backheel in midair from Wolfsburg fullback Vierinha on the right flank went between teammate André Schürrle and a retreating Kevin Kampl, and then went forward to Vierinha, who passed across the goalmouth to a waiting Bendtner, whose strike hit the back of the net. It wasn’t clear whether Schürrle or Kampl who had actually propelled the ball forward to Vierinha, although Schürrle players were adamant that it was Schürrle’s touch, which would have meant that the Portuguese fullback was offside when crossing to Bendtner, nullifying the goal. Even former Leverkusen great Rudi Völler was badgering the fourth official with vehement complaining about the goal, but Wolfsburg had the lead.
Not for long, though. Chicharito, who has been in fine goal-scoring form, made his mark on the match just six minutes later by equalizing with a strong, headed goal coming from a Christoph Kramer cross, yet another case of the popular Mexican attacker finding space and delivering the goods. Both clubs had another chance to take the lead before the half ended, but efforts by both Schürrle and his counterpart, Admir Mehmedi, were saved, and after 45 minutes the scoreboard read 1-1.
The first ten minutes following intermission saw additional controversy, this time with Wolfsburg being the aggrieved party. A challenge by Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno on Daniel Caligiuri, in which Leno placed both of his hands on the midfielder’s torso, looked deserving of a penalty kick, while shortly thereafter Jonathan Tah dusted Bendtner in the box, shouldering the Danish forward to the ground, but once again, no call came from the referee.
Wolfsburg looked to take the lead in the 69th minute. Following a skied shot from Kevin Kampl on the other end, Caligiuri sent in a low cross from the right to youngster Max Arnold, who did his part for beautiful soccer with his own stylish backheel directly to an open Schürrle. The former member of the Mainz ‘Boys Band’ was unable to finish, though, placing his curling shot above the Leverkusen crossbar.
In the next minutes, both Schmidt and Wolfsburg Coach Dieter Hecking looked to their quality on their benches to change the match, as Schmidt brought in Julian Brandt and Omer Toprak while Bas Dost and Julian Draxler entered for the Wolves. In this instance, Hecking won the battle and the war, as shortly after being introduced, Dost got onto the rebound of a shot from distance by Ricardo Rodriguez, and passed it back from the goalline to Draxler, who deposited it into the Leverkusen goal for what, with a little over ten minutes left, became the game winner. The match was quite even statistically, with Bayer Leverkusen having the slightest edge in shots taken, shots on goal, and possession, while Bendtner, Schürrle and Karim Bellarabi all tallied three shots.
While Hecking gets the nod for getting the most from his second half substitutions, neither coach will have much time to reflect on Saturday’s match as both are headed for crucial midweek Champions League matches as the return leg of the group stage matches begin. Wolfsburg heads to the Netherlands for their match with PSV while on Wednesday, Leverkusen will be in Italy facing Roma.
VfL Wolfsburg: Benaglio – Jung, Naldo, Klose, Rodriguez – Arnold (Draxler 73’), Luiz Gustavo – Vieirinha (Guilavogui 61’), Schürrle, Caligiuri – Bendtner (Dost 74’)
Bayer 04: Leno – Donati, Tah, Papadopoulos (Toprak 76’), Wendell – Kramer, Kampl – Bellarabi, Calhanoglu (Brandt 72’), Mehmedi – Chicharito (Kießling 81’)
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