BUNDESLIGA fanatic Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his verdict from Monday night's Bundesliga relegation/promotion play-off first leg.
Eintracht Braunschweig v Wolfsburg | Bank Holiday Monday 19:30 | BT Sport
Just 14 months after beating Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-finals, Wolfsburg need to avoid defeat to escape a humiliating and potentially disastrous relegation from the Bundesliga.
The Wolves lead the relegation/promotion play-off 1-0 after the first leg where Mario Gomez converted a contentious first-half penalty for the German international’s 11th goal in his last 13 games.
First leg review
Andries Jonker’s team appeared the more dominant side at the Volkswagen-Arena and set the tempo. Neither side looked nervous in a fast-paced affair but the Wolves’ technical superiority was clear to see but it was only at set-pieces where they looked dangerous.
Eintracht Braunschweig keeper Jasmin Fejzic was forced into a fine fingertip save from Younes Malli’s free-kick before referee Sascha Stegemann gave the controversial spot-kick for a handball on the edge of the box.
The Lions were happy sitting deep in their own half but did enjoy the best chance of the match after breaking on the counter – Mirko Boland had the goal gaping in front of him but his header somehow dropped wide.
Wolfsburg ramped up the pressure on the second-division side after the interval and took the initiative right from the outset but were unable to double their advantage, leaving Braunschweig coach Torsten Lieberknecht to remonstrate with the referee at the full-time whistle.
Braunschweig signed-off their Bundesliga 2 campaign with a 2-1 win over Karlsruhe, accumulating 66 points over the course of the season – that was the best tally for a third-placed team in Bundesliga 2 since the introduction of the three-points-for-a-win rule.
In fact, since the reintroduction of the play-offs in 2008/09, the Lions’ tally would have been enough for automatic promotion in five seasons so Torsten Lieberknecht’s troops can feel unfortunate on missing out, especially considering they were only three points adrift of title winners Stuttgart.
The Lions can look to a 6-0 thrashing at Arminia Bielefeld as a reason why they concluded their campaign outside the top-two. Eintracht only shipped 36 goals throughout the season meaning a sixth of the goals they leaked happened in that one match.
As in the first leg, cat Jasmin Fejzic has been a consistent performer, and in front of him centre-backs Saulo Decarli and Gustav Valsvik have formed a solid partnership, making Braunschweig no easy meat.
Wolfsburg have never really recovered from the €75 million sale of Kevin de Bruyne. The Belgian was instrumental in the Wolves’ exceptional 2014/15, setting the league record for the most assists in a season (21), scoring a goal in the DFB Pokal final win and being named Footballer of the Year in Germany.
Throw in the emission scandal that engulfed parent company Volkswagen and subsequent cuts and job losses, Wolfsburg have struggled to keep the show on the road. A €90m annual wage bill would hurt in Bundesliga 2.
In October, Wolfsburg halted construction of a new 32-hectare academy which was due to cost the club around €40m and would be backed by Volkswagen. Meanwhile, Bild reported that €60m from the sales of De Bruyne and Ivan Perisic went straight to VW rather than being reinvested in the club,
Nevertheless, the club’s hierarchy, coaches and players remain defiant and understandably so. Wolfsburg’s total of 37 points (W10-D7-L17) was the best for a side in 16th since Nurnberg in 1998/99 and since the reintroduction of the play-offs, the Wolves’ points tally would always previously have been enough for automatic survival.
In what’s been dubbed the A39 derby, Eintracht Braunschweig are rated a 12/5 (Matchbook) play to clinch a vital victory. The Lions recorded W13-D3-L1 when welcoming second-tier sides to the Eintracht-Stadion this season.
However, Bundesliga teams has won six of the last seven relegation play-offs against Bundesliga 2 teams, suffering only one loss in their last 15 play-off matches (W8-D6-L1), perhaps explaining why Wolfsburg have been chalked up as 67/50 (Marathon) shots.
Onto their third coach of the season, Jonker was parachuted in from the Arsenal academy and has at least provided a little light at the end of the tunnel. But I wouldn’t want to be backing the Wolves at those sorts of quotes.
Wolfsburg returned W5-D4-L8 on their travels and if we exclude the top-six it’s still a rather tame W4-D3-L4. Braunschweig held both Stuttgart and Hannover to draws here and I’d be more inclined to back the stalemate between the Lower Saxony rivals at 12/5 (Bet365) than take sides.
Both Teams To Score
The fast tempo of the first fixture has enthused me to source a goals-based bet and I can’t turn down the 13/14 (188BET) available on Both Teams To Score here.
Statistical evidence is also in our favour; five of the Lions’ six home encounters with top-seven sides in the regular season delivered for BTTS backers whilst the same could be said of eight Wolfsburg trips to 11 clubs outside the top-six; in fact, the Wolves scored in all 11 of those games.
With so much at stake and trailing by a one-goal margin, it’s in Braunschweig’s interests to get forward here and having notched in all 17 of their home Bundesliga 2 matches this term, I’d back them to get on the scoresheet having also come so close to doing so in the first leg.
Eintracht Braunschweig v Wolfsburg – Both Teams To Score (13/14 188BET)