FT:- 4-1(Reus 15, 67, Daems Pen. 32, Bobadilla 44; Hasebe 12)
Ref:- Markus Schmidt
Borussia Monchengladbach:- Ter Stegen, Dante, Nordtveit, Daems (c), Jantschke, Neustadter, Marx, Arango, Reus (Herrmann 88), Bobadilla (Leckie 81), Hanke (King 85). Subs Not Used: Zimmermann, Heimeroth, Wendt, Rupp
Bookings:- Hanke (38, Foul)
VFL Wolfsburg:- Benaglio, Russ, Kjaer, Schafer, Hasebe, Josue (c) (Knoche 83), Trasch, Hitzlsperger, Salihamidzic (Schulze 22), Mandzukic (Lakic 58), Helmes. Subs Not Used: Madlung, Polak, Dejagah, Hitz
Bookings:- Schulze (31, Foul/Penalty), Russ (42, Foul)
Last season both of these sides were going into the last day with a chance of inhabiting the final relegation place. Wolfsburg’s slow season under Steve McClaren had worsened when the returning Magath came in for the Englishman in January and they ended up flirting with relegation. Monchengladbach had been in the dropzone for most of the season, but the appointment of Lucien Favre had seen their defensive frailties become strengths, ultimately pulling them out of the mire with a tremendous late run of results and a victory in the relegation playoff. A major factor in Borussia’s impressive rise to safety was the exceptional form of 19-year-old goalkeeper Ter Stegen (surely on the radars of a few big Premiership clubs now) who did not concede more than a goal in any of the matches he featured in under Favre.
Monchengladbach have started this season where they left off. An opening day victory against Bayern Munich was a massive shock, which they followed up with an admirable draw at Stuttgart, to leave them on 4 points after two games, one place above Wolfsburg. Wolfsburg were fielding two new signings in Hasan Salihamidzic and Thomas Hitzlsperger, allowing Magath to play a 4-4-2 diamond formation, narrowing his midfield and allowing Trasch to play as a shielding midfielder in front of the defence. Gladbach were effectively fielding the same side that had finished last season so strongly, with the youthful recruits of Australian youngster Matthew Leckie and Man Utd teen Joshua King both looking to make their first Bundesliga appearances off the bench.
Early on the game looked set to be a battle between two rigid midfields. Wolfsburg’s deep-lying diamond formation was clogging up the centre of the park. Whereas Gladbach’s wingers Reus and Arango were playing far too cautiously, as if almost tucking in behind the low-scoring strikeforce of Hanke and Bobadilla. Just as Gladbach appeared to be finding a bit of width Wolfsburg broke up the park and a cross from the left side by Helmes was knocked into the path of flying fullback Hasebe by Trasch. Hasebe took the knockdown on the volley and slammed the shot home with the confidence of a striker. Hasebe had switched from rightback to rightwing as Salihamidzic seemed to be lacking an inch of pace.
Barely had Wolfsburg had time to take stock of things when disaster struck. Strong Danish centreback Kjaer, formerly of Palermo, inexplicably stumbled whilst receiving a simple pass about 25 yards out. The fast and powerful Bobadilla reacted quickest breaking into the box and drawing out keeper Benaglio, before slipping the ball to the side of the stranded shotstopper and leaving Reus the simplest of tap-ins. Gladbach were notably pepped up by this immediate response, but Wolfsburg stayed firm and limited their opponents to some neat sideways passing across the middle of the park.
The departure of a clearly injured Salihamidzic after just 22 minutes, saw the arrival of young rookie rightback Michael Schulze. With the Borussia-Park pitch seeming particularly slick, hence Kjaer’s mishap, the defenders were having to be extra careful with their challenges. Wolfsburg were placed under great pressure by a Gladbach side that were finding increasing joy down the right flank where both Bobadilla and Reus were stretching Kjaer out of position and working the young substitute. A few warning shots from Hanke and Reus telegraphed a determination from Gladbach to take the lead, but they had to wait until just past the half hour mark before grabbing their second goal from the penalty spot.
Reus had tormented Schulze on the left side of the penalty area and as he drifted behind the youngster he was brought down. Team Captain Daems came up to take the resulting spot-kick and dispatched low and to the right of a tantalisingly close Benaglio. By now Gladbach’s Venezualan leftwinger Juan Arango was causing persistent problems with his excellent passing and movement. Throughout the rest of the match his cross-field passing to Reus was a vital part of Gladbach’s attacking arsenal.
Midfielder Neustadter, who had already cut his eyebrow open after 7 minutes, was the unfortunate recipient of a shin full of stud after an accidental collision with Wolfsburg’s Josue. However despite these injuries Neustadter gave a commanding performance in the centre of the park, allowing his attack-minded teammates to thrust forward at every opportunity.
Mike Hanke suffered an unfair booking for an excellently timed tackle that prevented Hasebe from breaking clear of the high Gladbach backline. The injustice Hanke felt at this decision threatened to spill over into indiscipline. The referee’s insistence on the correctness of the ruling was further evidence of just how impossible it is to tackle a player from any other position than head-on. Despite Hanke’s obvious anger, he managed to control his temper and help his side grab a third goal just before the interval.
Bobadilla, Hanke and Arango all combined on the right side of the area, allowing Arango to break into the box and slam a shot at the near post, which Benaglio could only push round. From the resulting corner by Reus an unlucky Wolfsburg defender flicked the ball toward the back post, where Bobadilla crouched down to head the ball low into the unguarded net. At three goals to the good Gladbach were well on course for their eighth win in twelve matches, stretching their unbeaten run to ten games in the process.
Straight after the interval Kjaer give away a stupid freekick by shoulder charging Reus off the ball on the left side of the penalty area. Arango sent the freekick inches over the crossbar. Arango was hugely influential in the second half and his crossfield balls continued to pose unanswerable questions to the reeling Wolfsburg rearguard. Reus, Bobadilla and Hanke all forced great saves from Benaglio, whilst Arango himself saw a volleyed shot deflect off of the hapless Wolfsburg Captain Josue and ricochet off the near post.
Bobadilla’s impressive strength and excellent close control saw him carve open a number of ridiculous chances, only to squander them with a poor final ball, or an overly tame shot. If Favre can get Bobadilla finding the net more frequently then Gladbach will have quite an exciting player on their hands, making it all the more bizarre that the Argentine spent a large part of last season on loan at Greek side Aris.
The differences between Wolfsburg and Gladbach were markedly clearer as the second half wore on. Where Gladbach were neat and tidy in possession, rarely giving the ball away in dangerous positions, Wolfsburg were frequently ceding possession before they’d got out of their own half and struggled to thread more than three passes together. Where Gladbach worked the ball into space by keeping the midfield and forward line fluid and mobile, Wolfsburg trundled up and down the centre of the park, with barely any width until about ten minutes from the end of the match. Crucially Gladbach looked like a team that was fighting for each other and committed to the cause, whereas Wolfsburg looked like strangers to one another.
Gladbach saved the best moment of the match till last. As the game moved into the final third and both sides lowered their tempo a little, Neustadter picked up a lazy clearance ran into the Wolfsburg half and spread a lovely pass out to the right of the penalty area, completely dissecting the creaking Wolfsburg centre-back pairing of Kjaer and Russ. Arango moved onto the pass and lifted a lovely ball toward the back post where Reus swooped in to volley the ball emphatically into the back of the net. The speed at which they moved the ball from defence into attack was breathtaking and the fourth goal knocked the wind right out of Wolfsburg.
So dominant was the Gladbach performance that with ten minutes left they were able to bring on three young reserves, including Leckie and King, and still remain in control of the match. The last action of the game saw Leckie display some excellent close-control to worm his way into a dangerous position on the left side of the penalty area, just failing to get a shot off. Whereas Gladbach can look to build on an excellent start to the new campaign, that sees them go momentarily top of the Bundesliga, Magath’s Wolfsburg will surely have to do something to speed up the side’s transitional phase. Without the club-disciplined Diego it is hard to see where Wolfsburg can find some creativity, whilst there defence simply couldn’t handle the pace of Hanke, Reus and Bobadilla. This is already looking like another potentially arduous season of relegation struggle for Magath and the Wolves.