If someone hadn’t noticed Wolfsburg creeping slowly up the table before the weekend, now it should be clear to everyone that they are the number one candidate to lift the salad bowl in May.
The match had similar significance for both teams. With a victory both had a chance of going top providing that Hertha Berlin drop points (which they did with a 3-1 home defeat to Dortmund). This is exactly a situation in which Bayern usually thrive and other Bundesliga challengers crumble. An opportunity for the struggling team to finally show their muscle and stamp their authority. A real situation to separate candidates from champions. And what happened? Wolfsburg simply destroyed them. Wolfsburg didn’t do it by running riot for 90 minutes but, what is perhaps even worse, they did it with seeming ease, without even having to try that hard. It wasn’t as much a case of being better, it was a case of being superior.
After a non-eventful first 44 minutes, the match finally took off: Wolfsburg took the lead from a set-play only for Bayern to copy them 30 seconds later through Luca Toni’s poaching ability. The initiative was, therefore, on Bayern’s side as the teams left the pitch for the half time. During the fifteen minutes Bayern, however, somehow managed to find a way to loose the psychological advantage they had gained and as the second half started it was clear that the field was taken by eleven sheep dressed in red that were heading for the slaughter. Bayern kept possession (65%) but always looked intimidated to challenge Wolfsburg’s authoritative defence duo Andrea Barzagli-Jan Simunek. And as the second half progressed Toni’s five week absence started to show more and Franck Ribéry was fading close to invisible on the left side of the Bayern attack.
While Bayern continued to tiptoe around Wolfsburg’s half, Wolfsburg raided Bayern’s with perfect counter-attacks and hit four goals in the space of fifteen minutes. The most clinical being their 3-1 goal: the keeper, Diego Benaglio, found Edin Dzeko with a quick throw, Dzeko played it to Zvjezdan Misimovic on the half-way line who then released Dzeko with a beautiful diagonal pass. There has been a lot of talk about Dzeko this season and his second goal proved that he’s worth all the superlatives used about him: his touch when connecting with Misimovic’s pass was as graceful as any you have ever seen, and the instinctive finish was not bad either.
If Dzeko has emerged on the scene this season (now fifteen goals), his attacking partner Grafite has taken it by storm. Twenty goals in seventeen matches (as opposed to eleven last term) is an outrageous tally in any of the bigger leagues in Europe and the way he scored his two goal on Saturday left no one questioning his ability. For about the first three-quarters of the match, Grafite looked closer to a pub-team player who sells plastic bags for a living (which he did just eight years ago) than someone who can single-handedly make the whole Bayern defence look like amateurs. His first goal on the 74th minute, however, was just a warm-up. He received the ball inside Bayern’s area with Breno, who had until that point looked rock-solid, hanging on his back. Just when you thought Grafite would give away the ball for the umpteenth time during the afternoon, he turned his fellow Brazilian as he was a packet of crisps and slotted in the finish. As if Bayern hadn’t already had enough, three minutes later Grafite scored the goal of the season. He got the ball on the left side of the box, slipped between Christian Lell and Andreas Ottl, rounded the keeper, Michael Rensing, side-stepped Philip Lahm and scored with the cheekiest and most delightful of reverse back-heels. What made it all even more entertaining was that the shot had so little power to it that the ball was agonizingly rolling in the net in slow-motion while Ottl ended looking like a character from a vintage slapstick comedy as he was trying his hardest to stop the ball from crossing the goal line.
To top it all off and make Bayern’s humiliation perfect, Felix Magath burnt the last of the remaining bridges between him and Bayern, with his undignified, though hilarious, stunt just before extra time. He used his last substitution to replace Benaglio with the substitute keeper André Lenz. Why? Well, simply because he could and because he clearly doesn’t seem to be the most sympathetic of characters. Be that as it may, this was Magath’s hour and the moment to get back at the club that fired him after having taken them to two consecutive titles. Magath, therefore, got his revenge and with the victory Wolfsburg is now on top of the table and possibly heading for their first ever title.