Kaiserslautern slipped to the bottom of the Bundesliga table and remain without a win since October after failing to beat the worst away team in the division. A nervy and foul-riddled match which Wolfsburg had the better of in the first half, and Kaiserslautern the second, it was easy to tell why both these teams are struggling against the drop this season, with the quality in the final-third conspicuous mostly by its absence. Although Kaiserslautern’s fans stuck with their players – including unfamiliar faces such as Andrew Wooten and Julian Derstroff – throughout the 90 minutes, jeers accompanied the final whistle at the Betzenberg. With Kaiserslautern’s immediate relegation rivals Freiburg and Hertha Berlin both picking up three points this afternoon, beating top-six teams Schalke and Werder Bremen respectively, and Augsburg picking up a point at high-flying Hannover, this draw could be the final straw for Stefan Kuntz and the Lautern board when it comes to coach Marco Kurz, with the team now four points from safety. Wolfsburg, meanwhile, do end the day six points rather than seven clear of the bottom three, but the very fact that they avoided defeat in a tricky away tie will please coach Felix Magath, and give his players some much-needed confidence.
Kaiserslautern (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Tobias Sippel; Florian Dick, Jan Šimůnek, Mathias Abel, Leon Jessen; Ariel Borysiuk, Pierre de Wit; Richard Sukuta-Pasu, Christian Tiffert, Derstroff; Sandro Wagner
Wolfsburg (4-4-2, from right to left): Diego Benaglio; Christian Träsch, Marco Russ, Felipe Lopes, Ricardo Rodríguez; Ashkan Dejagah, Chris, Josué, Marcel Schäfer; Patrick Helmes, Mario Mandžukić
The match started in a frantic fashion: tackles flying in, and both teams looking to attack, albeit with Wolfsburg seeing more of the ball. The green-shirted players had their every single touch jeered, with a roar going up from the Betzenberg crowd whenever the visitors gave away possession. Whereas Magath’s side looked to attack their opponents along the ground early on (especially down the wings), Kaiserslautern were a bit more direct – something Wolfsburg were also showing that they could be, mind, via Chris’ long-throws.
Despite the time they spent in the hosts’ half during the opening ten minutes, Wolfsburg had very little to show for it save a 25-yard shot from Chris which forced a flying dive from Sippel. The balance in Wolfsburg’s attacking system, however, looked decent enough, with Helmes dropping to hold the ball up and flick it on, and Dejagah and Mandžukić making driving, probing runs behind him. Marco Kurz’s side, on the other hand, found it more difficult to keep hold of possession in the visitors’ half, with the nominally nearest player to lone forward Wagner – Tiffert – constantly drifting out to one of the channels, or deep to collect the ball. Added to that, Russ and Lopes constantly had the better of – the admittedly isolated – Wagner in the air, while Träsch had too much experience to be troubled by rookie left-winger Derstroff in the opening quarter-hour.
But, with touch and technique continuing to elude Wolfsburg in the final-third, causing Magath’s team to lose some of their urgency and confidence, Kaiserslautern started to attack their guests a little more as we neared the 20-minute mark. Having said that, the only occasions on which they had got anywhere near the six-yard box came from Dick’s long throws, or Tiffert’s corner-kicks. Helmes showed the home side’s players how to truly test a goalkeeper in the 21st minute, though, when firing a long-range right-footed shot towards the top right-hand corner. Like Chris’ effort earlier on in the game, Sippel dived acrobatically to palm the ball to safety, keeping the match goalless.
As we approached the 25-minute mark, the number of fouls being given away by both sides and the safety-first defensive tactics deployed by either coach whenever the ball was in their goalkeeper’s half of the pitch encapsulated just how crucial it was for neither of these struggling teams – Kaiserslautern more so than Wolfsburg – to lose this game. As well as stopping efforts materialising from open play, the number of free-kicks and corners given away also paved the way for a number of poor set-pieces, which didn’t help when it came to the match gaining a few more chances on goal. Nevertheless, there were exciting battles still to be found, such as down Kaiserslautern’s right-flank, where the likes of Sukuta-Pasu were giving the out-of-his-depth looking Rodríguez a tough time.
However, as we went past the half-hour mark, the game had become even uglier, with yet more bad tackles flying in, and touch, technique and decent crosses in and from the danger-zones continuing to elude almost every outfield player on the pitch. Whereas Wolfsburg were winning more set-pieces at this stage of the game, and had good height in the box, Kaiserslautern – spurred on by former Wolfsburg defensive stalwart Šimůnek – defended every ball that came into Sippel’s box heroically, keeping the goalkeeper untroubled. But then, on the break, Wagner at last had a sight of goal while running with the ball towards the D. Unfortunately for the noisy Betzenberg crowd, the on-loan Werder Bremen attacker sliced his right-footed effort high and wide as defensive cover zoomed into his eyeline.
One chance then became two in the space of a minute, as the Wolfsburg defence was caught too high and too narrow. Derstroff ran at the green-shirted backline down the left, before squaring the ball behind the defence to the coming-in-from-the-right Tiffert. Onside and nigh-on one-on-one with Benaglio, the former Duisburg player attempted, calmly, to pass the ball into the bottom right-hand corner. However, the Swiss international made himself big and showed his superb agility by saving the shot with his left leg. The noise from the crowd and the look on Tiffert’s face said it all: surely they wouldn’t get a better chance than that in the remaining 55 minutes?
Alas, those two chances didn’t lead to the home side camping out in Benaglio’s box and peppering the goal with shots, as Wolfsburg soon regained their place in the driving seat. Träsch and Dejagah had no trouble reaching the byline time after time, putting in tens of crosses or winning corner-kicks. And, in the 41st minute, it was the German and Iranian internationals who again linked up to superb effect after Schäfer’s corner went from looking wasted (passed back to the halfway line, resulting in everybody exiting Sippel’s box), to training-ground-move genius. Showing tremendous vision, Träsch, standing just off the chalk, passed into the gap between de Wit and the narrow-standing Jessen. Dejagah ran onto the perfectly-weighted ball from the chalk, reaching it as it began to near the edge of the six-yard box. Rolling it across Sippel’s goal with the ‘keeper exposed, the isolated Russ had the simple task of tapping it in: but, calamity struck, as the former Eintracht Frankfurt centre-back chose the worst possible time to make an air-kick.
Two minutes later, and Dejagah was at it again; getting in behind Derstroff for the umpteenth time. Again, the Iranian – who scored on his international début in the week – squared across the six-yard box, only for the back-post hovering Helmes, who decided to control the ball first, to have his placed shot blocked by the onrushing Sippel. That was the last notable bit of action of a first-half which only really came into life in a footballing sense in the final ten minutes.
Second half starting formations
Kaiserslautern (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Sippel; Dick, Šimůnek, Abel, Jessen; Borysiuk, de Wit; Sukuta-Pasu, Tiffert, Derstroff; Wagner
Wolfsburg (4-4-2, from right to left): Benaglio; Träsch, Russ, Lopes, Rodríguez; Dejagah, Chris, Josué, Schäfer; Helmes, Mandžukić
Neither Kurz or Magath made a personnel change for the second half, which, perhaps understandably given that the players had just enjoyed a 15-minute sit down, started at a less frantic pace. Thins didn’t take too long to liven up, though, with Wagner having a volley taken off his feet in the 48th minute – exciting the crowd, and winning a corner. Although that particular set-piece was cleared, it was a cue for yet more fouls, and one-way attacking traffic – albeit this time, with Kaiserslautern making the constant forays forward, winning fouls and keeping the visitors involuntarily pushed back.
However, as we neared the 60-minute mark, Kaiserslautern’s confidence seemed to dip after a few wasted chances and several offsides, allowing Magath’s side to rediscover their rhythm. Wolfsburg showed good width during this spell of resurgence, although bizarrely, Rodríguez elected to come infield with the ball every time, constantly forcing himself into a dead-end. Looking to freshen things up on the other flank, the unsurprisingly fatigued-looking Dejagah was replaced in a like-for-like switch by Venezuelan youngster Yohandry Orozco in the 59th minute, who instantly sought to keep the pressure on Sippel & co. by putting yet more crosses into the hosts’ box (which, as had been customary all match for aerial balls into the Kaiserslautern final-third, were cleared).
The substitute then had the chance to open the scoring in the 62nd minute, when some good work from Helmes on the break resulted in Orozco being fed on the edge of the right-hand side of the box. However, the pocket-sized 20-year-old tried to be a bit too intricate with his effort, curling and wasting it wide (Helmes could be seen all alone in the box, exasperated that Orozco hadn’t looked up and squared the ball to him). Magath immediately made another change, replacing Schäfer with Thomas Hitzlsperger. Two minutes later, Kurz got in on the act, making a double-change by bringing on Nicolai Jørgensen and young American striker Wooten – making his first ever appearance – for de Wit and Derstroff. This change saw the 4-2-3-1 retained, but it was now a more attacking system. Wagner move out to the left flank, Tiffert dropped into centre-midfield, and Jørgensen played behind Wooten, albeit closer to him than Tiffert had been to Wagner. And, it was the American who made a quick impact, winning a – subsequently wasted – free-kick on the edge of the box after spinning Lopes on a dropping ball.
Kurz’s substitutions helped keep up the pressure, as it was all the home side as we entered the final quarter-hour, with the best chance being cleared off the line by Mandžukić – the very player who had missed Wolfsburg’s sole chance during this ten-minute spell of sustained pressure, and what a chance it was too (a sitter of a header from close range, which the out-of-form Croatian sent towards Sippel’s stomach). Meanwhile, although Hitzlsperger’s set-piece delivery seemed to be of a higher standard than Schäfer’s, the former Aston Villa man – who shaved the joint with a long-range effort in the 82nd minute – looked isolated out on the left flank, and couldn’t offer much defensive support to Rodríguez – who put in a glorious cross in the 79th minute after running down the flank for a change – either.
As we entered the final five minutes, the game was becoming increasingly more open. It remained 0-0 thanks to a combination of sloppy finishing, poor decision-making and stern defences, although in the 86th minute, the ball was just a little too high for Wagner to steer into an empty net after Benaglio came for and missed a Sukuta-Pasu cross. That was the former Bayer Leverkusen winger’s final contribution, as Konstantinos Fortounis took his place. Magath, meanwhile, was forced into his final change three minutes from time due to an injury to Russ, who was replaced by Alexander Madlung. But, it was a former Wolfsburg defender who might have won the game for the hosts one minute from time, Šimůnek putting too much spin on a volley from the edge of the box after a long-throw – won after the speedy Wooten chased a ‘lost cause’ and forced Lopes into a needless clearance – wasn’t cleared far away enough from the visitors’ box. And that, was that. Wolfsburg, who probably need to pick up about eight points from their final ten games to be certain of playing the 2012/13 season in the top-flight, host in-form Leverkusen next weekend, while Kaiserslautern – still by some way the Bundesliga’s lowest scorers – face a Stuttgart side who have scored eight goals in their last two games on Friday night.
Formations that finished the match
Kaiserslautern (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Sippel; Dick, Šimůnek, Abel, Jessen; Borysiuk, Tiffert; Fortounis, Jørgensen, Wagner; Wooten
Wolfsburg (4-4-2, from right to left): Benaglio; Träsch, Madlung, Lopes, Rodríguez; Orozco, Chris, Josué, Hitzlsperger; Helmes, Mandžukić