VfL Wolfsburg take a two-goal advantage into the second leg of their relegation play-off with 2. Bundesliga side Holstein Kiel, but they were lucky not to concede in a late charge by the hosts.
Divock Origi scored as the Bundesliga outclassed the Storks early on, but Kiel gained their composure and equalised through Kingsley Schinder, only for a Josip Brekalo to restore the Wolves’ advantage.
Yunus Malli added a third, but Kiel pounced as the hosts sat back, but the finishing from Marvin Ducksch and Aaron Seydal was wayward and they will have a tough task in Monday’s second leg as a result.
Origi gets Wolfsburg going early
Wolfsburg ensured they didn’t go down automatically by beating 1. FC Köln 4-1 at the weekend, and Bruno Labbadia made just one change for this game with Ohis Felix Uduokhai replacing Paul Verhaegh, with Daniel Didavi still injured.
With third-place in the 2. Bundesliga confirmed before the weekend, Kiel had rotated against Eintracht Braunschweig, who played the Wolves in this fixture last year, and duly relegated them with a 6-2 win, with Steven Lewerenz scoring four goals. Key players including Schindler and Ducksch were back in the line-up here, two of six changes.
The game started frantically, and despite both sides having early chances saved – Brekalo for Wolfsburg and David Kinsombi for Kiel - that suited the hosts more. Their extra quality showed as they started to run rings around their visitors, and it didn’t take them long to take the lead.
The Storks had no answer when Malli weaved his way into the box, finding Renato Steffen with his pass. His shot was saved by Kenneth Kronholm, but the parry found Origi alone at the post, and he poked it into the net.
Kiel equalise in style before Brekalo pounces
That set the pattern for much of the first half, with Kiel looking out their league against a Wolfsburg side playing as confidently as they have all season. Malli tried to set up another goal just a couple of minutes later, but William had his shot saved. He then went it alone, after running through space and getting past Dominik Schmidt, but his shot outside the box went wide.
In response, Kiel kept getting dispossessed in key areas, but when they finally strung their passes together, they drew level. Kinsombi’s ball forward found Dominick Drexler, who once inside the box dodged a couple of defenders on the byline and pulled the ball back to Schindler. No Wolfsburg player had tracked his run, and he finished a fine move with the equalising goal, and an away goal too.
Unfortunately for them, the parity didn’t last the long. Robin Knoche’s long ball into the box was headed by Schmidt straight to Brekalo on the edge of the area. He hit it first time, and although the shot his Kronholm, that didn’t nothing to stop the rocket from going in. He could have put the Wolves even further ahead just a couple of minutes later, but this time Kronholm got his fingers to it to keep it out, and it remained 2-1 at the break.
Malli cements Wolves’ dominance
Within the first couple of minutes of the second half, Origi put a chance wide after struggling to get a shot away, before Steffen’s shot was saved over his head by Kronholm. Drexler had an opportunity saved at the other end, but otherwise Kiel were looking very sloppy, with Kronholm summing it all up. After giving the ball away to Steffen, Rafael Czichos was able to deal with him and win a free-kick, before the Kiel keeper put that out for a throw-in.
It was looking all too easy for the Bundesliga side and they eventually reflected that on the score-line. Origi did superbly to beat a couple of defender on his charge forward, and eventually he found Malli, who was being played onside by Patrick Herrmann. Kronholm came out but Malli got around him, leaving him with an empty net to aim at. 3-1.
Kiel brought on Seydel to help their attacking efforts on the left, but Wolfsburg responded by targeting his side of the pitch, with Steffen twice getting past him to shoot, although only one hit the target, saved by Kronholm.
Kiel rally but poor finishing lets Wolfsburg off the hook
Wolfsburg went to sleep at the back after then though, with Alexander Mühling, another substitute, going wide after a Drexler cross, before Seydel got involved with a drifting header just wide and, a few minutes later, he just failed to connect with the ball with a Ducksch cross, with Uduokhai taking the hit instead as he managed to clear.
The best chance fell to Ducksch though. Mühling got ahead of the Wolfsburg midfielder, picking the pass, but the 2. Bundesliga’s top scorer blazed wide. The openings kept coming, with Seydel then scuffing a shot wide, with the Kiel fans wondering how they hadn’t scored at least one more.
They kept up the pressure, with Seydel and Ducksch sharing a one-two before the former failed to get a shot away. Kiel then had big appeals for a penalty, when Maximilian Arnold seemed to put undue force on Czichos. Deniz Aytekin must have felt it wasn’t enough to point to the spot, but Kiel coach Markus Anfang wanted him to confer with VAR. If the replays were looked at, it decided in the background that Aytekin shouldn’t take a second look.
Wolfsburg were hanging on and will have been relieved to hear the final whistle without Kiel getting a second away goal to take back to the far north of Germany in Monday’s second leg. The Storks will have an uphill task when they meet again, but they arguably hold the momentum and should certainly gain confidence after their late rally here. They’ll just need to take their chances.