At the third time of asking, VfL Wolfsburg finally landed their first victory in the second half of the season. In the 56th Lower-Saxony derby clash away to Hannover 96, on Sunday evening, head-coach Martin Schmidt’s men earned a 1-0 (0-0) win in the state capital. After an evenly-balanced first-half, it took a strike from distance by Yunus Malli (72'), in front of a crowd of 34,000 in the HDI Arena, to make the difference in a game which proved widely bereft of openings. VfL remain in 13th place in the table, but open up the gap on the relegation places to six points. Next Saturday, February 3rd (kick-off 15:30 CET), the Green-Whites play host to VfB Stuttgart at the Volkswagen Arena.
The personnel situation in Wolfsburg had become notably strained following the home game against Eintracht Frankfurt. To add to the long-term absentees, the Wolves were also without Felix Uduokhai (knee strain) and Kaylen Hinds (hip-flexor injury). Nany Landry Dimata and Josuha Guilavogui were both unavailable through suspension, whilst Divock Origi was put out of the reckoning by a flu virus. The situation left the VfL coach having to make a half dozen alterations to his starting eleven. On the day, Victor Osimhen and Renato Steffen both made their starting eleven debuts in the Bundesliga.
Alert defensive display
In their 700th Bundesliga game, VfL proved a difficult opponent to deal with right from the outset. Hannover took the initiative early on, but struggled to complete their attacking moves against a determined and disciplined Wolves side. When Felix Klaus did manage to get a shot away from the edge of the box, Koen Casteels was untroubled in snatching the ball (20'). Two further headed efforts from Niclas Füllkrugs, following corner deliveries (25'34') also failed to cause too much danger. The most dangerous attempt on goal in the first period was to materialise at the other end of the park: A cross from Yunus Malli was met in the air by Osimhen, who forced a spectacular save from Philipp Tschauer, to keep the score-line at 0-0 (14').
Thunderbolt from Malli
The game was to remain more of a clash for fans of the more tactical elements after the re-start, on an extremely difficult surface. The Green-Whites saw little reason to alter their approach, as they focused initially on defending their own goal, whilst obviously looking to hit on the break whenever possible. The action was confined ever more to the centre of the park, whilst merely half-chances were produced at either end. Clear attempts on goal were duly reduced to a shot from a tight angle by Füllkrug, which Casteels safely dealt with (65'). Five minutes later, Harnik broke away, but was ultimately stopped by the VfL defence (70'). On the break, Schmidt’s men launched another counter-attack – and suddenly found themselves in front: Taking on a square pass from Marcel Tisserand, Malli let fly form 22 meters out and duped Tschauer to make it 1-0 (72')! As the match progressed, VfL, for whom Elvis Rexhbecaj came to his Bundesliga debut, drew back increasingly into defence and set their sights on doing what they had been doing best throughout. As H96 substitute Ihlas Bebou cracked a shot off the crossbar (85'), the three points for the Green-Whites looked to be hanging in the balance, but Schmidt’s men held on to secure their second away victory.
Hannover 96: Tschauner – Elez (66' Bebou), S. Sane, Anton – Sorg (85' Benschop), Ostrzolek – Schwegler (75' Karaman), Fossum – Klaus, Harnik – Füllkrug
VfL Wolfsburg: Casteels, Verhaegh, Knoche, Bruma, Tisserand – Gerhardt, Arnold – Steffen, Didavi (83' Rexhbecaj), Malli (90' Jung) – Osimhen
Goals: 0-1 Malli (72')
Yellow cards: Schwegler, Harnik / Tisserand, Gerhardt, Arnold
Referee: Dr. Felix Brych (Munich)