Thursday night will see Wolfsburg take on Holstein Kiel at the Volkswagen Arena in the first leg of the Bundesliga’s relegation play-off. For the second successive season, Bruno Labbadia’s Wolfsburg side will need to overcome their opponents to secure a place in the 2018/19 Bundesliga season for what would be their 22ndsuccessive campaign. Their opponents, Holstein Kiel who comfortably secured third position in 2. Bundesliga are looking to secure back-to-back promotions.
Both teams will be going into the game with confidence after recording big wins at the weekend. Wolfsburg beat already-relegated FC Köln 4-1, whilst Holstein Kiel demolished Eintracht Braunschweig 6-2 with Steven Lewerenz scoring four of their goals.
It is the second successive season that die Wolfe will go through the agony of the relegation play-off after overcoming Eintracht Braunschweig last season. Wolfsburg’s demise from being Bundesliga runners-up in 2015 as well as Champions League quarter-finalists a year later has been spectacular. In recent years they have seen the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Julian Draxler and Andre Schurrle all depart, and their replacements have not come close to replicating their success. It has been a tale of poor recruitment and a revolving door as far as the manager’s position is concerned, following the sacking of Dieter Hecking in October 2016. Bruno Labbadia is their fourth permanent manager since that time.
Conversely, their opponents are on a huge upward curve as they look to secure their second successive promotion. Their coach Markus Anfang, together with his assistant Tom Cichon will depart for FC Köln next season.
It would be tribute to the fantastic work that they have done if they can secure promotion before they leave for new pastures. If this was to be achieved, there would be pride for the region itself. Were they to overcome Wolfsburg it would make them the first club from the region of Schleswig-Holstein, the most Northern of Germany’s 16 regions to play in the Bundesliga.
Holstein Kiel have also been given good news after the DFL stated they will allow the minnows to play at their 10,000 capacity Holstein-Stadion should they earn promotion. There had been queries as to whether the ground meets Bundesliga standards which includes a minimum capacity of 15,000 of which 8,000 must be seats.
“Our stadium is that small is at our cost but has no impact on the match operations. If there are no exemptions for such starting positions, it will make it impossible for clubs like Holstein Kiel, who are not backed by investors, to turn a fairy tale like ours into reality,” Kiel executive Wolfgang Schwenke said in a statement.
History says that it will be tough for Holstein Kiel as since the reintroduction in 2008/09 – the Bundesliga have won on seven of the nine relegation play offs to have been contested. With so much at stake for both clubs, tensions will be high. It will be fascinating to see who comes out on top.
By Jonathan Shelley.