Napoli European romp threatens to derail Wolfsburg’s campaign
Wolfsburg have enjoyed a sensational season so far under the guidance of manager Dieter Hecking, storming to second place domestically and reaching the DFB-Pokal semi-final, although their recent 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Napoli may have delivered a fatal blow to their campaign hopes.
The Bundesliga battlers were heavy favourites to clinch this year’s Europa League crown, having stormed to prominence in the later stages of this current campaign, firing prolifically on all domestic fronts and emphatically reaching this crucial European stage.
However, Rafael Benitez’s Serie A side overturned a recent poor run of form to rally to a comprehensive triumph on German soil, with the former Liverpool boss celebrating his 55th birthday in style and keeping the dream of a record third Europa League triumph with three different clubs alive.
Napoli have stormed to 13/8 front runners with Coral for the competition after their impressive display at the Volkswagen Arena, leaving Wolfsburg with a daunting task ahead of them in Naples. Hecking’s Die Wolfe are now a massive 100/1 to claim European glory, after haplessly conceding four away goals and, with Bayern Munich opening a massive 10-point lead at the summit of the Bundesliga, a domestic cup coup seems their most likely chance of silverware success this term.
The hosts were humbled in their quarter-final outing by a clinical performance from Argentine attacker Gonzalo Higuain, who struck a superb half-volley to open proceedings, before later teeing up his skipper Marek Hamsik for his first of two goals, and substitute Manolo Gabbiadini then headed home late on to top off a dynamic display.
Wolfsburg boss Hecking has little time to dwell on his side’s futile outing, with the German outfit set to play a further four games within two weeks, including vital league and cup clashes before their uphill second leg battle with Napoli.
Despite reaching this stage of the competition for the first time since 2010, when they lost out to Fulham, and only being toppled twice in 23 games in all competitions, Hecking will ultimately see their season as a failure if their performances don’t get back on track, having previously looked set to dominant on all fronts.
Elsewhere in Europe, holders Sevilla secured a courageous comeback to keep hopes of retaining their title alive, battling from a goal down to earn a 2-1 win over Russian outfit Zenit St Petersburg, as on-loan Barcelona midfielder Denis Suarez stunned their opposition with a late volley.
Meanwhile, Napoli’s domestic top four rivals Fiorentina claimed a late 1-1 draw against Dynamo Kiev, meaning a double of Italian sides could be set for semi-final appearances, with Khouma Babacar keeping the tie in the balance with his improvised stoppage-time effort.
Former favourites Wolfsburg have been incredible this term, despite their recent European blip, and will be hoping to channel their previous ferocious form to secure a stunning recovery against Napoli in a Stadio San Paolo showing which could prove crucial to their immediate future.