A quick-fire double helped Wolfsburg edge out Eintracht Frankfurt 2-1 on the first week of the season, but Dieter Hecking’s men will need to improve if they have title aspirations.
Ivan Perisic opened the scoring on 13 minutes, before Bas Dost struck a few minutes later. Eintracht Frankfurt pulled a goal back and created the better chances throughout as Wolfsburg’s fragility in midfield without Luiz Gustavo was pertinent.
Gustavo is currently injured — and despite having Maxi Arnold in midfield, the balance between him and Joshua Guilavogui wasn’t there yet. Captain and regular keeper Diego Benaglio is on the sidelines, as well, and was replaced by Koen Casteels.
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Back at Frankfurt after a poor spell at Stuttgart, Veh has something of a midas touch at the Eagles. He led them to a remarkable fourth-place finish in their return to the Bundesliga and secured European qualification. The signing of Luc Castaignos was certainly a way of showing that he means business at this club.
Indeed, the Dutchman was influential in all of Frankfurt’s penetrative play early on. After two minutes, Castaignos outfoxed the Wolfsburg defenders with a neat flick to Haris Seferovic whose finish was ruled out for offside. Seven minutes later, the Dutch forward — a $3 million arrival from FC Twente — almost netted with his head, but Joshua Guilavogui did just enough to put him off inside the penalty box.
Frankfurt’s results in preseason had been encouraging — the Eagles won all three matches on tour before beating FC Tokyo three weeks ago. Veh has made no secret in his attempts to promote several young talents to the first-team. Marc Stendera, the attacking-midfielder who has set the benchmark for others, has picked up an injury and will miss the first few weeks of the season. Nevertheless, attacking pair Joel Gerezgiher and Luca Waldschmidt were on the bench.
However, despite the attempts to shore up the back-four in the summer transfer window, Veh’s men imploded at the first test. Wolfsburg broke down the left in the 13th minute, Max Kruse finding the late run of Inter Milan target Perisic at the back-post and the forward nodded the ball intelligently into the far corner.
Four minutes later, it was 2-0 — Kruse and Perisic were involved as the ball rebounded around in the penalty box, eventually falling at the feet of Dost who opened his account for the season with a trademark, one-touch finish. It was harsh on the Eagles who had enjoyed the strongest first quarter of an hour.
Frankfurt had looked to play a 4-2-4 formation with the two wide forwards dropping back to help mark the opposition fullbacks. Reinartz, a new arrival from Bayer Leverkusen, headed in one to cut the arrears on 19 minutes.
Later on, Frankfurt sprung another excellent counter-attack when Seferovic looked to find Castaignos in the penalty box, but overhit the pass. The Dutchman chased down the loose ball, crossed back into the box for Reinartz who rose highest to head past the stand-in Wolfsburg number one Koen Casteels.
Wolfsburg’s performance was perhaps best summarized in the efforts of Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian attacking-midfielder has been subject to constant speculation about his future with Manchester City reportedly throwing their millions in his direction. But he looked a bit rattled when things didn’t go his way and was involved in a spat at the break, earning a yellow card. Normally, he’d shrug off such incidents, but it was in line with his overall contribution. De Bruyne was substituted with around 15 minutes left as Frankfurt continued to put the pressure on the hosts.
At some point, Frankfurt coach Veh was presented with the dilemma — stick or twist — as his side struggled to find new ways towards goal.
Veh twisted. Speedy youngster Gerezgiher was on after 76 minutes and Waldschmidt soon joined him with seven minutes to play. Shortly after the former’s introduction, the wide man confidently came on to his right foot and saw his shot turned around the post by Casteels. With five minutes left on the clock, Seferovic ought to have leveled, but his header was directed straight at Casteels.
Wolfsburg held on at the end to take the points and begin their season with a win. But Hecking’s side will need to end the saga around De Bruyne’s future to keep on track in the Bundesliga and the UEFA Champions League. And if Veh’s side — tipped for a relegation battle by some — can perform like this for the next few weeks, points will soon be coming their way.