VfL Wolfsburg secured a deserved victory on the sixth and final UEFA Europa League matchday, defeating AS Saint-Etienne 1-0 and cementing second place in Group I.
After a goalless first half, a fine strike from Paolo Otavio in the 52nd minute proved sufficient for the Wolves to emerge triumphant and take all three points at the Volkswagen Arena.
With his team having already secured qualification for the next round, VfL head coach Oliver Glasner shuffled his pack significantly, fielding an entirely new line-up to the one that started the 1-0 loss in Freiburg. Daniel Ginczek made his much-anticipated return – and his European debut – after a long injury lay-off, while Otavio made his first start of the campaign. Xaver Schlager also came back into the starting line-up, as did Pavao Pervan (with Koen Casteels missing out with a thigh problem), Kevin Mbabu, Robin Knoche, Marcel Tisserand, Elvis Rexhbecaj, Yannick Gerhardt, Renato Steffen and Josip Brekalo. Wout Weghorst, Maximilian Arnold, William, Jeffrey Bruma, Admir Mehmedi and Felix Klaus were all rested.
The Green-and-Whites dominated the early exchanges; Ginczek struck the post with a diving header and both Mbabu and Brekalo were foiled by the quick reactions of visiting goalkeeper Jessy Moulin. With Schlager driving his side forward from midfield and Brekalo looking dangerous on the flank, they continued to create excellent opportunities, typified by Ginczek’s 43rd-minute header, which was initially saved by Moulin and then cleared off the line a split-second before Steffen could escort the ball into the net.
The second half followed a similar pattern, and it did not take VfL long to break the deadlock: in the 52nd minute, Brekalo burst forward and laid the ball off to his left for Otavio, who slammed the ball high into the back of the net. The visitors briefly rallied, but the home defence, confidently marshalled by Knoche, snuffed out any half-chances the French side managed to fashion. Subsequently, Schlager, who was excellent for the hour he was on the pitch, as well as Rexhbecaj and substitute Lukas Nmecha, all produced solid efforts on goal, but to no avail. With five minutes to go, Saint-Etienne came to life somewhat, but Pervan, who had had very little to do up to that point, was equal to Arnaud Nordin’s powerful long-range shot, and there would be no further goals to add to the scoreboard.
Glasner will likely be pleased with his team’s overall performance – and the way in which they restricted their opponents to very few goalscoring opportunities – in a match that the Wolves could have won much more comfortably on another day. He and his players will now turn their attention to the draw for the Round of 32 on 17 December.
VfL Wolfsburg: Pervan – Mbabu, Knoche (c), Tisserand, Otavio (Roussillon 79’) – Schlager (Malli 64’), Rexhbecaj, Gerhardt, Steffen, Brekalo – Ginczek (Nmecha 64’)
ASS Saint-Etienne: Moulin – Palencia, Moukoudi, Aholou (Honorat 46’), Kolodziejczak – Youssouf, M'Vila, Dioussé (Silva 77’), Hamouma (c) (Benkhedim 54’) – Beric, Nordin
Goal: 1-0 Otavio (52’)
Yellow cards: Mbabu, Steffen / Beric, Kolodziejczak
Referee: Paul Tierney (England)