After my visit to Le Parc des Princes in Paris on Sunday, I made my way to Wolfsburg for the big match against Bayern Munich in the DFB Pokal. Around 6:00pm I left my hotel and walked to the stadium. The Volkswagen Arena is right over the river and near a highway. The design is a bit unusual but it is very nice and modern. The interior reminded me very much of Juventus' Stadium as it's not tremendously big but is nice and compact to create an amazing atmosphere. Wolfsburg goalkeeper Diego Benaglio was the first player out for warmups and was greeted by a nice big round of applause. Manuel Neuer followed him and greeted the traveling Bayern supporters. Towards the end of warmups, Arturo Vidal hit the crossbar from 45 yards out with his left foot and then laughed about it with Medhi Benatia. The last time these two clubs faced each other, Robert Lewandowski had one of the greatest performances in the history of the sport when he scored 5 goals in the span of just 9 minutes.
By kickoff, the whole stadium was rocking as everyone was singing and cheering. The match got off to a bit of a hectic start as the referee missed an offsides call from his linesman and Bayern almost capitalized but Benaglio made the save. Bayern controlled most of the possession in the early going and they eventually got their reward in the 15th minute. Douglas Costa picked up the ball 25 yards out, dribbled past Luiz Gustavo and ripped a bullet from 20 yards to find the back of the net. (Watch: https://twitter.com/ladsoffthepitch/status/659103877074169856) A fantastic strike from the Brazilian to give Bayern the 1-0 lead. The Bavarian side kept their foot on the pedal and it paid off just 5 minutes later. David Alaba's cross went through Josuha Guilavogui's legs and found Thomas Müller at the far post who slotted the ball back across the face of the goal and into the bottom corner. Wolfsburg were really struggling to find any possession or rhythm to the game. The home side's first attack came in the 25th minute with a cross that was headed away for a corner kick. Wolfsburg made an early sub in the 26th minute as Christian Träsch picked up an injury and was replaced by Maximilian Arnold. Bayern mostly attacked down the left flank in the first half as the connection between David Alaba and Kingsley Coman was very effective. Thiago and Xabi Alonso both played holding midfield roles and pulled the strings for Bayern. In the 34th minute Bayern would find a 3rd and just about put the game away. Alaba played a nice cross to the far post and Thomas Müller scored with a beautiful side-footed volley. Bayern were running rampant and had a stranglehold on the match. Ahead 3-0 and Pep Guardiola was still shouting instructions from the sideline to his team. Even though they were losing, the Wolfsburg fans never stopped signing and cheering for their team.
Wolfsburg started the 2nd half very well as Daniel Caligiuri put his shot just wide only one minute after the restart. It looked like Wolfsburg might've actually had a slim chance at an improbable comeback but they never got that early goal and they cooled down after their hot start to the 2nd half. Andre Schürrle came on for Julian Draxler in the 62nd minute while Arturo Vidal came on for Xabi Alonso in the 71st minute. Caligiuri had his breakaway saved by Neuer in the 72nd minute and then also missed the rebound. Wolfsburg fans finally had something to cheer about in the 90th minute when Maximilian Arnold played a perfect ball to spilt Bayern's defense and André Schürrle found the back of the net from about 10 yards out. Bayern Munich were deserved winners on the night and will advance in the German Cup.
I know it was a Cup game and Bayern have much better squad depth but I was quite disappointed in Wolfsburg's performance. I expected Wolfsburg to give Bayern at least some trouble but Pep's Guardiola's side was on cruise control for most of the match. The movement off the ball from Bayern was absolutely world class and they press so well to win the ball back. I don't like using cliches but Bayern really are a well-oiled machine, everyone knows their role and they execute it well. Overall I expected a better performance from Wolfsburg but the atmosphere at the Volkswagen Arena was fantastic for the whole match and the match was a great experience.
Some player notes: Wolfsburg Dante - Not the greatest compliment but he was Wolfsburg's best defender on the night against his former team. Good signing for Wolfsburg. Luiz Gustavo - Did well at times in the middle of the pitch to break up play. Julian Draxler - Struggled to get involved in the match and put his footprint on the match as a #10 should. Obviously Wolfsburg didn't have much possession but I wonder how he's settled into the team after his big summer move from Schalke. Bas Dost - Was isolated up top and was never involved in the match. He had very few touches.
Bayern Munich Philipp Lahm - Classy captain who is a great player. He spoke with reporters the longest and laughed a lot with them. David Alaba - Fantastic performance from the Austrian. Can defend well, has pace, skill, quality first touch and can cross. For me he's the best left back in the world. Thomas Müller - A great performance from the German with 2 goals. His technique is great and always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Kingsley Coman - Seemed pretty comfortable out on the left flank. Worked very well with Alaba. Sometimes took too long to make a decision with the ball. He walked out with his hood up and denied a question from a reporter.
Arturo Vidal and Xabi Alonso walked out of the locker room together laughing and nobody asked them any questions, presumably because of the language barrier.
Post match comments:
Pep Guardiola: “Congratulations to the team. They played very well with lots of aggression. We looked especially good on the ball and hardly ever lost possession. We know Wolfsburg are dangerous and we wanted to defend high up the field. The first half was very convincing. We’re very, very pleased.”
Philipp Lahm: “It's fun at the moment. Our positional play was outstanding. During the break we set out to continue with focus. We succeeded in part. We were up against very, very good opponents who have their qualities. But at the moment it's hard to prevail against us.”
Thomas Müller: “You always intend to do this and that, but then you have to go out and do it on the pitch. In the first half we were flawless. We made very, very few technical mistakes and we controlled the ball well, with sustained attacking moves. We just played superbly and defended with discipline. It was just like we wanted it.”
Dieter Hecking (Head coach): “We have to talk about the first half in private. You can't play like that. Bayern played well, but I would have liked to see more fighting in one-on-ones. We know that if we play the best we can it would be more even than it was in the first half. It's our own responsibility.”
Bas Dost: “We had many plans and prepared well. But in the first half Bayern played the way they’ve been doing the entire campaign. We had no answer. It was frustrating.”
Diego Benaglio: “We knew about Bayern's qualities. They were very efficient in terms of their chances. Especially at the beginning they almost steamrollered us. Our aim was to keep it open as long as possible, but if it goes the way it did, it's game over, especially in the first half.”