Consolation for Wolfsburg and a kick in the Lederhosen for Bayern

On a night of high emotion and sadness at VfL Wolfsburg’s Volkswagen Arena, no one, and certainly not Pep Guardiola’s well beaten visitors, could have begrudged the hosts their victory.

Earlier this month, Junior Malanda, the club’s Belgium Under-21 international, was killed in a car crash while en route to join his team mates for their winter training camp in South Africa.

Friday night’s clash with champions and runaway league leaders Bayern Munich was the first competitive fixture for the Wolves since the tragic loss of their colleague – and marked the return of the Bundesliga after its winter break.

 

There’s not a lot footballers can do in the face of such tragedy,but at the very least, Wolfsburg’s stirring victory and the manner in which was achieved did at least provide the kind of tribute to a fallen team mate that players and fans would believe fitting.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s not much – but it was something.

But football, like life, goes on, no matter how inappropriate that can feel. And for Wolfsburg, this season’s “Bayern Hunters,” this cathartic win was massive in pure football terms. Realistically, cutting Bayern’s lead from eleven points to eight is unlikely to alter the destination of the title.

Given the evidence of the season so far, indeed of the last few seasons, a Bayern collapse is not seriously on the cards. Suggestions that Wolfsburg’s win has breathed new life into the title race is a little overblown.

Nevertheless, for Dieter Hecking and his men, the win should bolster belief that they can exceed their own expectations and secure a Champions League spot come May rather than the Europa League position they had targeted at the beginning of this campaign.

That said, Wolfsburg had been having an extraordinary season by their own standards and so probably wouldn’t have needed a win over Bayern to feel good about themselves.

 

The Wolves, a wholly owned subsidiary of Volkswagen, have accumulated a record points total for the club at this stage of a season – even more than they earned in their only ever title winning season of 2008-09. Hecking must take immense credit for their rise.

This is his second full season in charge, having taken over the club in December 2012. The Wolves finished 11th that season, before jumping to 5th last term.

Now they sit a comfortable second, seven points clear of third placed Borrussia Monchengladbach. A positive trend in anyone’s book!

Friday’s night’s stunning 4-1 win over Bayern showcased all that has been good about the Lower Saxony club under Hecking. Relentless had work, insightful exploitation of opponent weaknesses and rapier like counter attack ripped Guardiola’s side to ribbons.

Defending deep and attacking the space behind the high defensive line of a Guardiola team is the recognised approach to defeating them. All very good in theory, of course, but it is in the execution where so many fail.

Staying in the game while Bayern dominate is a mammoth task of application, energy and concentration. And making good use of possession when you do get it is beyond most.

 

Before Friday, Bayern had dropped only six points in the league (from a possible 51) and conceded only four league goals. The fact they conceded as many in the Volkswagen Arena as they had in the previous 17 games is a measure of how well the Kevin De Bruyne-inspired Wolfsburg executed their game plan and exploited what weaknesses Bayern have.

From the perspective of the champions, Guardiola will doubtless have been displeased at how easily his side was dismantled, but he may well be happy with the timing of this kick in the lederhosen.

The manner in which Wolfsburg attacked and exploited the space behind Bayern’s defence (clearly missing Philipp Lahm and Rafinha) was reminiscent of the German champions’ brutal defeat at the hands of Real Madrid in last season’s Champions League semi final. And it should act as a timely reminder that the biggest prizes are rarely handed to you on a plate and that nothing is won yet.

Bayern may well boast a squad the envy of the Bundesliga and beyond, but without workrate, without concentration and without discipline even the best can be fatally undermined.

The Author

Paul Little

Freelance football columnist. European Football with the Irish Daily Star. Hold the Back Page podcast regular. Family and Renaissance Man. Dublin born, Wicklow resident.

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