Wolfsburg - VfL Wolfsburg responded to Thursday’s heavy defeat to SSC Napoli in the UEFA Europa League by grinding out a 1-1 draw against FC Schalke 04 in Matchday 29’s curtain closer.
Schürrle the ‘false nine’
While the Royal Blues retain an outside chance of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League, the more pertinent implications of the result concern the title race, as league leaders FC Bayern München, 12 points ahead of the Wolves with five games remaining, now need just one more victory to be assured of practically, if not mathematically, wrapping up a 24th Bundesliga title.
Wolfsburg coach Dieter Hecking sprang a surprise in his starting formation by bringing Maximilian Arnold into the side in place of Bas Dost and moving Andre Schürrle into a ‘false nine’ role to lead the attack, but it was an experiment that brought little success in a scrappy first half low on cutting edge.
With Schürrle isolated, the Wolves looked at their most dangerous when Ivan Perisic or Kevin De Bruyne were in possession, and the Belgian was twice thwarted by Ralf Fährmann in the Schalke goal, first when his powerful strike went straight down the goalkeeper’s throat and then later in the half when Fährmann, diving the other way, produced excellent reflexes to deny the Wolfsburg man with his legs.
Sane breaks the deadlock
Schalke’s Robert Di Matteo also tinkered with his line-up by starting Leroy Sane in attack and youngster Marvin Friedrich in defence, but his side lacked any real spark in the first 45 minutes, save for a few busy runs from Max Meyer. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar might also have done better when he was eased off the ball by the recovering Naldo after the Dutchman found himself clean through.
If the first half had been low on quality, though, the second half began with a bang. Minutes after the restart, Ricardo Rodriguez was inches away from an opener when his thumping drive cannoned off the crossbar, but the game’s first goal arrived a few moments later as Sane sprinted almost the length of the field, stumbled through two challenges and calmly found the bottom corner.
Double figures for De Bruyne
At the other end, Fährmann continued to distinguish himself, first with a sprawling intervention to prevent Perisic restoring parity and then another agile stop to keep out a teasing De Bruyne free-kick. With Schalke dropping deeper and deeper, however, the home side’s pressure finally told, as De Bruyne finally beat the Schalke custodian with a well-placed strike into the bottom corner, his tenth goal of the season.
Bas Dost and Daniel Caligiuri were thrown on in the latter stages as the hosts pushed for a winner to keep some more concerted pressure on Bayern, but another substitute, Josuha Guilavogui, spurned their best chance of doing so with a wild volley over the top. Barring a hugely unlikely swing in goal difference over the final four games of the campaign, Pep Guardiola’s charges will now be champions if they can beat Hertha Berlin in Munich next Saturday.
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