Bundesliga returns: Borussia Dortmund, Hertha and Gladbach record big wins

Dortmund vs Schalke: Haaland scores first goal since Bundesliga's ...

This season’s Bundesliga campaign resumed play this afternoon, with Borussia Dortmund earning plaudits after a 4-0 thrashing vs. Schalke in the Revierderby. It means just one point separates them and leaders Bayern, who play tomorrow. Continue reading

VfL Wolfsburg 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen: Draxler snatches three points in controversial affair

VfL Wolfsburg 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen: Draxler snatches three points in controversial affair

Julian Draxler’s effort helped Dieter Hecking’s side leapfrog Schalke into third place – with a narrow, arguably undeserved victory over a luckless Leverkusen team.

Julian Draxler, fresh off the substitutes’ bench, scored with a close-range effort to help give Dieter Hecking‘s men maximum points from a match they probably should have lost in truth, at the Volkswagen Arena.

In a cagey affair packed with half-chances for both sides, it should have been Bayer Leverkusen in-front, but they struggled to convert their chances and fell behind shortly after the half-hour mark, courtesy of an extraordinary moment of controversy.

Wolves steal undeserved and controversial lead

Nicklas Bendtner slammed home from a few yards out, but his reaction after hitting the back of the net spoke volumes about the goal itself. Not only was it against the run of play, but Vieirinha, credited with the assist, was in an offside position when the ball was played into his path.

The officials waved play on despite replays showing André Schurrle passed the ball into his feet – as opposed to the Leverkusen defender – and after he drilled the ball low into the former Arsenal man’s path, he simply couldn’t miss.

Chicharito draws visitors level before interval

The visitors got their deserved goal soon afterwards, with Mexican forward Javier Hernandez peeling away from Naldo within a flash in the area before expertly heading his effort past Diego Benaglio to level proceedings from a teasing ball by Christoph Kramer. His sixth goal in four matches, Chicharito has certainly been in amongst the goals recently since his summer switch from Louis van Gaal‘s Manchester United.

The final few minutes of the first-half were action-packed and end-to-end, and Benaglio made a great stop to deny Admir Mehmedi‘s one-on-one opportunity with just seconds until the interval.

As the second 45 began, neither side made any alterations. Papadopoulous made an important block to deny VfL Wolfsburg from taking the lead once more, and you could tell what it meant to the young Greek defender – as he celebrated passionately to the supporters behind the goal.

Schurrle squandered a golden opportunity to put the game to bed, curling his effort narrowly over the crossbar, whilst the hosts had two penalty decisions correctly turned down by the referee Manuel Graefe, who had a tough test having to keep up with the action at times.

Draxler on hand to seal maximum points

With little over fifteen minutes to play, and the scores still somehow level, Hecking made a double alteration. Draxler and Dutch forward Bas Dost were introduced into the fray, in place of Maximilian Arnold and the ineffective Nicklas Bendtner – who, apart from his goal, was quite frustrating in-front of goal and should have done more, in truth.

Just minutes afterwards, Wolfsburg celebrated as Draxler made it two-one, and Leverkusen were staring defeat in the face again. Wendell, Karim Bellarabi and Kevin Kampl tried their luck – to no avail, as Benaglio was alert to their efforts and ensured he didn’t concede more.

The goal itself, is certainly going to be one that Bernd Leno will not want to see again. Ricardo Rodriguez took a pop from range, and although it bounced in-front of him, the goalkeeper parried it into a dangerous position yards away from his near post. Dost was on hand to flick the ball back goalwards, and Draxler was first to the ball, tapping home from close-range.

Should Wolfsburg had won? Probably not. Did they? Yes. Fine margins in football, triumph once more.


Both sides have respective Champions League fixtures in midweek – Wolfsburg travel to the Netherlands for a tough test against PSV Eindhoven; who they beat in matchday three of the group stages. Roma entertain Leverkusen on Wednesday meanwhile, with Roger Schmidt‘s side sitting second in their group, behind the competition’s holders Barcelona.

 

VfL Wolfsburg v Napoli: Dieter Hecking’s men the favourites in mouthwatering tie

VfL Wolfsburg vs Napoli: Dieter Hecking's men the favourites in mouthwatering tie

As the season’s UEFA Europa League quarter-finals are set to get underway, Dieter Hecking‘s VfL Wolfsburg side host Rafael Benitez‘s Napoli team in one of four interesting match-ups.

The hosts prepare for the first of five games in the space of a fortnight across three competitions for the Bundesliga outfit. Sandwiched between their two-legged tie against the Italians, they face Schalke hoping to increase their grip in second place. Then after that, they face a tough test in the shape of in-form Borussia Monchengladbach before a DFB-Pokal semi-final fixture against Arminia Bielefeld.

Hecking had this to say: “We’re concentrating on our future engagements, the crossroads of the season. The next five matches are the most beautiful and exciting of the season. We cannot stop, we have to look forward every game. At the end of the season we’ll see where we are. For a week now I have not had a cup of cappuccino form one of the two Italian cafes in my village. They are true Napoli fans. But if we win then I will get my coffee free for the rest of the year. If not, I will have to pay an extra Euro for every cup.” 

STAT: The last time Wolfsburg reached the quarter-finals of the Europa League was five years ago in 2010, where they were knocked out 3-1 by eventual runners-up Fulham, who lost to Atlético Madrid in the final. Since then, The Cottagers have been relegated from the Premier League and are struggling at the bottom end of the Championship whilst Atléti are flying high in the competitive rigours of regular Champions League football.

Benitez, who celebrates his 55th birthday on Thursday, said: “The plan is always the same – it doesn’t matter what has happened before, it is the next match that counts. We have to be at our best to get a good result and we know the difficult task that awaits. Wolfsburg have a physically strong team so we have to look at ourselves, show our quality on the pitch. Looking at the character, this is perhaps the best team I’ve ever had – they are excellent professionals. My team are ready for this and hopefully we’ll have the killer instinct which is missing sometimes. Many of Wolfsburg’s players could easily slot into our team. They have a lot of quality and that’s why we will show them as much respect as they deserve.

STAT: Napoli have won NONE of their last five away matches from the Stadio San Paolo, scoring one goal in the process. They currently sit seven points behind AS Roma in third meaning that winning this year’s competition represents their biggest opportunity of qualifying for the Champions League in the 2015-16 season.


Team news:

Both teams are set to be relatively unchanged for Thursday’s clash from their respective victories on the weekend. Aaron Hunt is sidelined for Wolfsburg with a ligament injury, whilst Benitez will miss Juan Zúniga (knee) and loanee striker Michu (ankle) for the fixture.

Predicted starting line-ups:

Wolfsburg – Benaglio, Vierinha, Naldo, Knoche, Rodríguez, Guilavogui, Gustavo, Schurrle, Perisic, de Bruyne and Dost.

Napoli – Andújar, Strinic, Albiol, Koulibaly, Maggio, Inler, Gargano, Callejón, Hamsik, Mertens and Higuain.

Prediction: Wolfsburg victory. The hosts should have too much quality for Benitez’s boys, because even despite Benitez’s shining CV, Napoli have been fairly inconsistent this season and scraped through a few wins already in the 2014-15 campaign. Ricardo Rodriguez, Kevin de Bruyne and Bas Dost all provide a real attacking threat, something that on paper seems much too hard to quell for the whole 90 minutes. With that being said, nothing is simple in football. Napoli beat Fiorentina on the weekend and the likes of Marek Hamsik, Dries Mertens and Jose Callejón – not even mentioning Gonzalo Higuain – suggest this will be an intriguing match for sure.