The Wolves ended the 2017/18 Bundesliga campaign in 16th position after beating 1. FC Köln 4-1 on Saturday. Needing a victory to be sure of avoiding automatic relegation to the second tier, the Wolves secured a comfortable win thanks to goals from Josuha Guilavogui (1’), Divock Origi (54’), Robin Knoche (71’) and Josip Brekalo (90+1’), with Jonas Hector on target for the visitors (32’). The Green-Whites will now face Holstein Kiel, who are guaranteed third place in Bundesliga 2, in a two-legged play-off for a spot in next season’s top flight. The first leg takes place at the Volkswagen Arena on Thursday 17 May (kick-off 20:30 CEST) before the second leg on Monday 21 May at the Holstein-Stadion (kick-off 20:30 CEST).
Three changes for the Wolves
VfL head coach Bruno Labbadia made three changes to the side that lost 4-1 to RB Leipzig last weekend. Top scorer Daniel Didavi, who was unavailable due to an Achilles tendon injury, was replaced in the starting line-up by Yunus Malli, with Paul Verhaegh and John Anthony Brooks coming in for Wilfred Bruma and Felix Uduokhai in defence. Köln boss Stefan Ruthenbeck also made three changes, replacing Dominic Maroh, Simon Zoller and Christian Clemens with Milos Jojic, Jorge Mere and Claudio Pizarro.
VfL go in front after 44 seconds
The Wolves could hardly have wished for a better start at the Volkswagen Arena, taking the lead in the very first minute of the contest. Brekalo’s low cross from the left found William, who flicked the ball on for Guilavogui to fire an unstoppable shot into the bottom right-hand corner with just 44 seconds on the clock. The visitors responded well to the early setback, though, Jojic blazing over the crossbar from point-blank range just four minutes later. The first half was overshadowed by a nasty aerial collision involving VfL skipper Verhaegh and former Wolves player Jannes Horn, who both needed treatment for head injuries. Yannik Gerhardt entered the fray for Verhaegh, with Leonardo Bittencourt replacing Horn.
Billy Goats restore parity
VfL continued to dominate proceedings and nearly doubled their advantage when Brekalo rounded Köln goalkeeper Timo Horn in the 19th minute, but his goal-bound effort was cleared off the line by Marcel Risse. That missed proved costly as Hector levelled matters just past the half-hour mark, outfoxing Knoche and William on the edge of the area before dinking the ball over the onrushing Koen Casteels and into the net. Both teams spurned chances to take the lead before half-time, but there was no separating the two teams at the interval.
Clinical Wolves coast to victory
The Billy Goats started the second half strongly but it was VfL who got their noses in front once more nine minutes after the restart. Brekalo’s clever pass found Malli, who squared the ball for Origi to slot home his sixth goal of the campaign. Buoyed by Origi’s effort, the hosts started to seize the upper hand and grabbed a deserved third through Knoche, who headed in Brekalo’s cross off the inside of the post. It was Brekalo’s third assist of the game, and it wasn’t long before the Croatian teenager got the goal his performance merited: cutting in from the left wing, the 19-year-old bent a sumptuous effort into the bottom far corner to seal a comfortable victory for Labbadia’s troops.
VfL Wolfsburg: Casteels – Verhaegh (Gerhardt 15'), Brooks, Knoche, William – Guilavogui, Arnold – Brekalo, Steffen (Blaszczykowski 71'), Malli (Rexhbecaj 84') - Origi
1. FC Köln: Horn - Mere, Heintz, Horn (Bittencourt 15') - Risse, Höger, Koziello, Jojic (Clemens 63'), Hector - Pizarro (Osako 72'), Terodde
Goals: Guilavogui (1’), Hector (32’), Origi (54’), Knoche (71’), Brekalo (90+1)
Yellow Cards: Arnold / Koziello, Hector, Mere
Referee: Markus Schmidt (Stuttgart)