Wolfsburg - While FC Bayern München continued their Rückrunde preparations with a resounding 5-1 victory over VfL Bochum on Friday evening, the Bavarians’ Matchday 18 opponents and closest challengers in the Bundesliga, VfL Wolfsburg, made hard work of their 2-1 success against Karlsruher SC.
In front of just over 3,000 fans at the AOK Stadion, Dieter Hecking’s charges fell behind to the Bundesliga 2 outfit inside ten minutes, but second-half goals through substitutes Niklas Bendtner and Maximilian Arnold ensured they preserved their 100 per cent record in mid-season.
However, with less than a week to go until they welcome runaway leaders Bayern to the Volkswagen Arena, Hecking knows his side must up their game if they are to stand any chance of becoming only the fourth side this season to take points off Pep Guardiola’s troops. “We gave our opponents too much room in the first half,” the 50-year-old told German football magazine kicker after the match.
That was certainly the case for the opening goal of the match. A misplaced pass from Aaron Hunt allowed Japanese midfielder Hiroki Yamada to stroll through the Wolves’ rearguard and lay the ball off to Manuel Torres, who escaped the attentions of Timm Klose to slot home from close range. “[The goal] was too easy,” added Hecking. “It was all too casual and I said as much at the break. The second half was much better, though.”
Indeed, Wolfsburg wasted little time in getting themselves back on level terms after half-time. Danish international striker Bendtner, who has made just three league starts since joining the club on a free transfer in the summer after leaving Arsenal FC, showed wonderful composure to slide in Ivan Perisic’s cross after 50 minutes and, in doing so, boosted his hopes of a starting berth against the record champions on Friday evening.
Like Bendtner - and in no small part due to the outstanding form of Belgium international Kevin De Bruyne - midfielder Arnold has also been restricted to a bit-part role so far this term, but the 20-year-old staked his claim for a more regular first-team place with the winning goal after 79 minutes. “Victories are always important,” said Hecking, whose side have also beaten Ajax Cape Town and Chippa United this month. “We’ve won all three of our friendlies now and, in terms of fitness, we’re also doing very well.”
Naldo on the mend
One of the most notable absentees against KSC was centre-back Naldo, who was forced to sit out the match after taking a knock to his knee in training on Thursday. However, Hecking has allayed fears that the Brazilian could miss the visit of Guardiola’s side to Lower Saxony on 31 January.
“Even if this been a competitive game, we wouldn’t have risked him,” explained the head coach. “I’m not overly concerned about Friday, though.” Sporting director Klaus Allofs, meanwhile, is also confident the defender, who has scored five league goals this season, will be fit in time for the Matchday 18 curtain-raiser. “[The injury] is nothing to worry about,” he said. “The break will have done him good and he should be available for selection.”