Three encounters with UEFA Champions League participants in the space of ten days have forced VfL Wolfsburg to prove themselves worthy of playing at the top level, a point that was certainly made in their 2-1 win over Bayer 04 Leverkusen on Matchday 11.
The victory represented a third straight league win, a feat last achieved by the Wolves eight months ago, which provided the perfect response to the midweek 3-1 defeat to FC Bayern München in the DFB Cup that sent the titleholders crashing out in the second round.
Great Dane to the fore
Beating Bayer saw Wolfsburg move above FC Schalke 04 and into third in the standings, the least of Dieter Hecking's aspirations this season. "It's like being on a rollercoaster," admitted Nicklas Bendtner, who was handed a rare start and opened the scoring in the 35th minute. "It was a very tough game, I was very delighted with the way we went about about everything, the way the team showed heart and commitment for 90 minutes."
Hecking explained after the game that he has always "maintained that during a run of difficult fixtures, we'll have to rotate accordingly", and on this occasion Bendtner was the beneficiary. "You know I've been a bit disappointed, everyone knows that," explained the Dane. "The fact of the matter is that if I don't play, I'm not as happy as when I do play. It's the same with every player. But this is a step in the right direction. A victory and a good performance."
Draxler does himself justice
Bendtner was not the only Wolfsburg player to play a starring role as Hecking's prudent decision-making in regard to substitutions once again paid off. Julian Draxler replaced Maximilian Arnold in the 73rd minute, 60 seconds later Bas Dost came on in place of goalscorer Bendtner and four minutes after that the Dutchman set-up Draxler to score the winner. "We said to one another that we'd turn the game in our favour when we came on," said Draxler.
For the summer signing from Schalke, scoring his first Bundesliga goal for his new club in a game of this magnitude and in the manner that he did will have felt like sweet redemption, but the 22-year-old was more focussed on the good of the side. "At home, it was important to pick up big points," continued Draxler. "We've put a bit of distance between us and Leverkusen which is a good feeling and calms everything down a bit, but in the Bundesliga things change so quickly. It goes blow-for-blow so we've got to stay in the mix."
'Right where we'd like to be'
Draxler was right in highlighting "the minor details" as the decisive factor in the game and gave a fair assessment in claiming that the match "produced a somewhat fortunate, but deserved winner". However, a third of the way through the season, Hecking is pleased with his side's trajectory. "Twenty-one points after 11 games is what we wanted and we've got it," said the 51-year-old. "We're in third place. We're right where we'd like to be as we want to to be playing in the Champions League again next year."
First though is this year's European challenge and the reverse fixture against PSV Eindhoven. "We can take a major step forward in Eindhoven," concluded Draxler. "If we pick up three points there then things are looking good for the Round of 16."