Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Game of the Week

Wolfsburg 1 - 1 Schalke

W: Krzynowek (35)
S: Altintop (86)

A raucous crowd watched a draw between the Royal Blues and the Wolves at the Volkswagen Arena. The 1-1 final was just deserts for both sides, who each took advantage of questionable calls and dominated stretches of the match. Felix Magath might feel let down to lose two points so late in the game, but he can take heart that his revolution at Wolfsburg is starting to take shape and his defense could well see him challenge for a spot in Europe by the end of the campaign. Meanwhile, Schalke have pulled draws in their first two away matches of the year, but still hasn’t found a sound tactical formation to rely upon.

The game’s outcome turned from a question of how could Schalke possibly draw to a question of how could Schalke not win in the last 30 minutes. Part of the change was due to the second yellow awarded to Wolfsburg’s new midfielder Josué in the 51st. The more significant reason for the change in fortunes was Schalke’s trainer Mirko Slomka’s tactical switches eleven minutes later.

Schalke dominated possession in both halves as Wolfsburg was willing to play counter. However, during the first half, Schalke were unable to translate possession into chances, with Josué marking 19 year-old playmaker Ivan Rakitic out of the game, while Madlung, Schäfer and Simunek created a fortress around the final third, so that Schalke were only able to get three shots off in the first half.

While the defending of Wolfsburg has to be commended, the poor midfield lineup by Slomka has to be noted. He decided to play without any wide men, as he sat three central midfielders behind Rakitic resulting is a 4-3-1-2, where halfbacks Pander and Rafinho provided depth but only halfway into Wolfsburg’s side. Jones and Ernst found a role within this structure as a runner and ball-winner respectively; however Bosnian Zlatan Bajramovic was unable to provide any significant contribution to his side as he jogged complacently about the pitch, invading Kevin Kuranyi’s space in the 18 and providing no decent width or passing.

Wolfsburg, on the other hand, made good work of their few chances. Their goal came when simulation by Wolfsburg’s lone striker Radu led to a freekick on the edge of the box, which Jacek Krzynowek curled around the wall perfectly to catch keeper Manuel Neuer flatfooted. In the second half, Marcelinho came alive and began to command the midfield, especially immediately after Josué was sent off. The chances started coming for Wolfsburg and they looked to finish off the game when substitute Edin Dzeko pulled the ball down the by-line and fed a ball to Marcelinho, which may go down as one of the worst missed of the season, who flailed on an attempt at an open net. The miss took the air out of Wolfsburg.

Soon after, Slomka replaced Asamoah with Halil Altintop and the worn out Jermain Jones with Mesut Özil. Özil immediately provided width on the left, and Bajramovic moved back into a deeper setting role, which suited him better. This freed up space for the speedy Altintop and the skillful Rakitic who took advantage of to force midfield prepotency. With Rakitic free from Josué’s excellent marking he was ever-present in the later stages of the game. He almost leveled the game on a number of occasions including a blinding shot from outside the 18 that bounded off the wood onto the line and out where Kevin Kuranyi brilliantly controlled the ball but sent the rebound high.

Schalke had 33 shots in the game, most of them in the late stages of the second half. The one that leveled was set up by a poor clearance by Madlung; however, it was a perfectly timed run by Bordon, who Kuranyi had tried to freed, that left Madlung in an awkward position, only able to stab the ball clear. It landed to Altintop who placed his effort into the far right corner of the net. Schalke would have many more chances to win, but could never break down Wolfsburg defense again.

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