The Zero-Fivers had not won on any of their last eight visits to the Volkswagen Arena, and that undesirable run never looked like ending on a rainy Sunday evening.
Head coach Oliver Glasner made three adjustments to the side that came from behind to defeat Malmö FF in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday. Two of those switches were enforced: Paolo Otavio – making his first Bundesliga start of the season – came in for the injured Jerome Roussillon and Steffen replaced the suspended Maximilian Arnold. Gerhardt, who played in Europe during the week but had not been included in a starting XI in the Bundesliga since the end of October, also retained his place in midfield. Further up the pitch, Daniel Ginczek slotted in alongside Wout Weghorst, with Admir Mehmedi dropping to the bench. In the continued absence of Josuha Guilavogui, Koen Casteels wore the captain’s armband.
Mainz started the match strongly, winning no fewer than six corners in the opening four minutes, but the Wolves defended those set pieces proficiently. The home side gradually found their feet, spreading the ball around and testing the visitors’ three-man backline, without necessarily creating any clear-cut chances until the 21st minute, when they took the lead through Brekalo’s third goal of the campaign. There appeared to be little danger when the talented Croatian picked up the ball 25 yards from goal, but his powerful left-foot effort flew past the diving Robin Zentner into the back of the net.
Mainz responded with a couple of attacking flurries, one of which saw Adam Szalai head over from a dangerous position, but it was the Green-and-Whites who would double their advantage just before the interval, Steffen nodding home from point-blank range after a combination of Zentner and Moussa Niakhate had failed to clear the ball effectively.
VfL came out of the dressing room in determined mood, and added to their lead just four minutes into the second half, Gerhardt tapping in Ginczek’s low cross from the byline. Subsequently, Steffen, Brekalo and Weghorst all spurned excellent chances, but the Swiss winger did not have to wait too long to secure his brace, and when he did, it was in jaw-dropping fashion, skilfully spinning past two defenders, beating a third and toe-poking the ball beyond Zentner.
Aside from a brief five-minute period during which Jean-Philippe Mateta struck the post for the visitors, the Wolves’ rearguard rarely looked troubled in the second period, and Glasner’s men saw out the remainder of the match without any great difficulty to secure a deserved and resounding victory.
VfL Wolfsburg: Casteels (c) – Mbabu, Knoche, Brooks, Otavio – Gerhardt, Schlager, Steffen (Victor 71’), Brekalo (Karamoko 82’) – Ginczek (Mehmedi 74’), Weghorst
1. FSV Mainz: Zentner – Pierre-Gabriel, Bruma, Niakhate – Baku, Barreiro (Boetius 46’), Latza, Brosinski (Onisiwo 62’), Öztunali (Mateta 66’), Quaison – Szalai
Goals: Brekalo (21’), Steffen (45’), Gerhardt (49’), Steffen (78’)
Yellow cards: – / Barreiro, Pierre-Gabriel
Referee: Benjamin Cortus (Röthenbach a. d. Pegnitz)