BUNDESLIGA fanatic Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his verdict from Thursday night's Bundesliga relegation/promotion play-off first leg.
Wolfsburg v Eintracht Braunschweig | Thursday 19:30 | BT Sport
Wolfsburg will be looking to make home advantage count in the first leg of their relegation play-off as they host local rivals Eintracht Braunschweig at the Volkswagen Arena on Wednesday night.
In what’s been dubbed the A39 derby – the 35km stretch of the road separating the clubs in what is the smallest-ever distance between play-off participants – the Wolves must pick themselves up after a nightmare end to the Bundesliga campaign.
Andries Jonker’s team just needed to avoid defeat at fellow relegation-battlers Hamburg last Saturday and having taken the lead, all appeared to be going swimmingly. HSV levelled proceedings and goalkeeper Christian Mathenia was forced into a series of superb stops to thwart Wolfsburg.
But with minutes left to play, substitute Luca Waldschmidt’s perfect headed finish sent Hamburg into dreamland, avoiding the dreaded relegation play-off and propelling their visitors into it in their stead.
Mathenia made another crucial stop in stoppage-time to leave Wolfsburg on their knees with star striker Mario Gomez and Jakub Blaszczykowski wondering how the 2015 Champions League quarter-finalists had failed to record at least a point.
Wolfsburg must renew focus
Jonker’s team will now have to add focus to their superior quality, especially with Riechedly Bazoer, Sebastian Jung and Blaszczykowski almost certainly out for Thursday night’s first leg at least.
A €90m annual wage bill would hurt in Bundesliga 2, especially with planned cuts by parent company Volkswagen on the agenda, so the stakes are supremely high for the Wolves heading into this two-legged tie.
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.
Braunschweig breaking records
There is a flip-side to the argument, mind. Eintracht 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’ 66 points would have been enough for automatic promotion in five seasons so Torsten Lieberknecht’s troops should be confident in their ability to give the Wolves a game despite Bundesliga 2 clubs’ recent records in this encounter.
The top-tier team has won six of the last seven relegation play-offs against Bundesliga 2 teams, suffering only one loss in their last 14 play-off matches (W7-D6-L1). Wolfsburg are just 4/7 (BetVictor) to enhance that record for Bundesliga teams with a victory here.
Braunschweig have no new injury concerns since their final game of the season. Marcel Correia and Phil Ofosu-Ayeh remain the only players confirmed on the sideline, although there may be some changes to the side with Eintracht playing three matches in the space of eight days.
The betting angle
But with the stakes raised and the Lions bagging only six triumphs in 17 (W6-D6-L5) – and four defeats from four trips to top-five teams in the second-tier – they may need to bide their time before toppling their local rivals.
Wolfsburg may have only bagged W5-D3-L9 as hosts this term but they did return W3-D1-L0 when hosting the bottom-five, keeping clean sheets in all four encounters.
The win ‘to nil’ is available at 7/5 (BetVictor) but a better value bet might be to take the skinnier 6/5 (BetStars) on Wolfsburg winning and Under 3.5 Goals. None of the Wolves’ nine meetings with bottom-half clubs featuring more than three goals and the same can be said of all bar two of Braunschweig’s 17 away days this term.
It's a selection that provides profit should Wolfsburg win 1-0, 2-0, 3-0 or 2-1.
Wolfsburg v Eintracht Braunschweig – Wolfsburg to win and Under 3.5 Goals (6/5 BetStars)