Cologne - Even after a taxing European engagement and with a host of first-team regulars rested, VfL Wolfsburg continue to appear unstoppable in the Bundesliga.
Dost and De Bruyne filling their boots
On Matchday 23, the Wolves visited the club with the joint-best record in the league in 2015 and, despite falling behind on three separate occasions, still managed to blow SV Werder Bremen away in a 5-3 triumph, continuing their unbeaten start to the calendar year and remaining top of the Hinrunde form table.
As has been the case of late, Bas Dost stole most of the headlines at the Weserstadion. The Dutch goal machine, undoubtedly enjoying the most fruitful spell of his career, helped himself to a brace to take his goals tally to a remarkable 14 in nine matches - only FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi has more in Europe’s top five leagues in 2015 - but the match was littered with success stories for the 2009 league winners.
Maximilian Arnold was recalled to the starting line-up and duly notched his fourth in four appearances against the Green-Whites, while Kevin De Bruyne, who spent the 2012/13 season on loan at Bremen, laid on another three assists. The Belgium international now has 15 this term and has 11 more matches to break Zvjezdan Misimovic’s record of 20 set during the 2008/09 campaign.
Hecking praises strength in depth
For head coach Dieter Hecking, the result vindicated his decision to make four changes to the side that started Thursday’s goalless draw at Sporting Clube de Lisbon, which secured the Wolves’ passage to the last 16 of the UEFA Europa League. “After a few early wobbles, the four that came in more than justified the faith we showed in them,” said the 50-year-old afterwards.
“Daniel Caligiuri scored twice, Maxi Arnold got one, Timm Klose played extremely well and Marcel Schäfer grew more and more solid as the game went on,“ he continued. “It’s a great feeling to have a squad like this.” With another englische Woche coming up - Wolfsburg face RB Leipzig in the DFB Cup before the trip to FC Augsburg on Matchday 24 - Hecking will be pleased that the likes of Andre Schürrle and Ricardo Rodriguez have received a much-needed rest.
Bayern still in sight
FC Bayern München’s 4-1 victory over 1. FC Köln on Friday means eight points still separate Wolfsburg from the league leaders, but there is good reason for Hecking’s charges to believe that maybe, just maybe, they will still have a say as to which club’s name will be engraved on the Bundesliga plate come May.
Aside from the knowledge that they have already beaten the Bavarians this year, and in convincing fashion, they face four of the league’s current bottom seven after Matchday 24. By contrast, Pep Guardiola’s men have a potentially tricky tie away at Bremen, as well as a home encounter with Borussia Mönchengladbach and the small matter of the Klassiker away at Borussia Dortmund in that period. With 33 points still to play for, the title race has life left in it yet.