Steve McLaren’s Wolfsburg showed some of their best form this season in a 2-0 home win over a Stuttgart on Saturday. Both teams started the season being regarded as title contenders, however both went into Saturday’s match languishing in the lower half of the table.
Wolves took the lead early with a 6th minute set piece that began with a corner taken by Diego. Simon Kjaer succeeded in connecting with a powerful header that crossed the line but bounced out off the bar, a la Frank Lampard, only to be headed in again for good measure by Eden Dzeko. However Kjaer’s initial shot had cleared the line and the defender was given credit for the goal.
Just over five minutes later Cacau could have drawn Stuttgart level but he blasted his close range effort over the crossbar.
Wolves nearly struck again just on the quarter hour mark when Kjaer played in a brilliant through ball for Dzeko who lofted his shot rather too easily into the hands of waiting Stuttgart keeper, Marc Ziegler. Wolves were on the attack again three minutes later when Grafite played in another ball for Dzeko who was finding a great deal of space in front of goal but this time couldn’t control the ball for a shot.
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In the 22nd minute Diego played the ball in for Grafite who broke inside but had his shot deflected out for a corner. Diego again stepped up and played it in where a bad clearance left it at the feet of Dzeko whose powerful shot was cleared off the line by Cristian Molinaro.
Diego took another Wolfsburg free kick in the 24th minute but the ball was cleared. Still Wolves continued to press and Grafite got a shot off seconds later that went off the post. Moments later Wolfsburg were awarded a corner which was again taken by Diego and shot on target by Grafite but Molinaro cleared off the line to again deny the home side.
Stuttgart nearly pulled one back back just after the half hour mark when Martin Harnik found space and shot from the top of the 18 forcing Wolfsburg keeper Marwin Hitz into his first real action of the match.
Stuttgart gave Wolfsburg another little scare in the final seconds of the first half when Cristian Gentner managed a shot from inside the 18th but chipped his effort over Hitz’s net.
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Five minutes into the second half Marcel Schaefer flashed the ball across Stuttgart’s goal for Dzeko who was unable to connect with it. Three minutes after that Grafite managed to connect with a close range header that bounced into the arms of the keeper.
Stuttgart’s most dangerous moments of the match came just on the hour mark when Christian Trasch blasted a shot on target from midfield that was pushed away by Hitz to Harnik who connected with a header forcing the keeper into making another save. Stuttgart were on the attack again seconds later when Zdravko Kuzmanociv received a good through ball but had the offside whistle blown on him.
But Wolfsburg were back on the attack in the 65th minute when Grafite received a ball in while in a good position and laid it back for Marcel Schafer who sent his shot high and over. Seconds later Grafite was subbed off to make way for Mario Mandzukic.
Stuttgart looked good again in the 68th minute when Harnik broke inside, shook two defenders, turned and shot right into the arms of Hitz. A minute later on the other end, Diego showed a flash of his best form when he broke inside, outmaneuvered two defenders, turned and fired from the top of the 6th sending his shot into the side netting.
Wolves doubled their lead just after the 75th minute with a Diego free kick from the right corner that went into area and was badly cleared by Khalid Boularouz who could have scored an own goal but instead gifted Wolves another corner. Diego stepped up and played it in again and this time it was latched onto by Dzeko who succeeded in slamming his header into the back of the net making it 2-0.
Stuttgart subbed attacker Mauro Camoranesi on for the more defensive Gebhart in the 80th minute. The Italian winger was involved immediately, breaking down the right and flashing the ball across Wolves goal where there was unfortunately noone there to tap it home.
Diego was subbed out in the 85th minute to make way for Thomas Kahlenberg. The Brazilian had been involved and did fairly well on set pieces and through balls. But the playmaker seemed to struggle at times and the flair and invention he was known for in his time with Werder Bremen were in little evidence during Saturday’s match.
Stuttgart’s final chance to pull one back came in the form of an extra time free kick taken by Trasch who sent his ball into the area and had it cleared by Kjaer for a corner that was subsequently cleared by Wolves defense just as the final whistle was being blown.
Wolfsburg created opportunities constantly and looked sturdier in the back then they have for much of the season. Were they to hone their attack to convert more of the chances they create, a charge up the table would not be beyond them.
Stuttgart on the other hand fielded a rythmless attack that allowed defenders like Kjaer to score goals and a defense that seemed to give free reign to the likes of Dzeko, Diego and Grafite. The team that gave Barcelona such a difficult time in the Champions League last season were nowhere to be seen.
Wolfsburg, Bundesliga champions a mere two seasons ago, are now stuck in 12th place while Stuttgart continue to languish in the relegation zone just above Schalke.