The German Bundesliga resumed at the weekend following the Winter break and after the 18th round of fixtures were completed on Sunday evening, Borussia Dortmund are now rooted to the bottom of the league despite earning a 0-0 draw at Bayer Leverkusen. However, the opening Friday evening match featured second place Wolfsburg hosting reigning champions and current leaders Bayern Munich and it was the first match competitive match to played by the home players since the sad death of their team-mate Bernard ‘Junior’ Malanda.
A fatal car accident during early January ended the life of Belgian footballer Malanda and at 20 years of age, a promising career awaited the young midfielder. Although he had not been a regular member of the starting XI at Wolfsburg, he was gradually becoming more involved with the first team after an injury-plagued first season at the club.
Prior to the match with Bayern Munich on Friday evening, there was a minute’s silence for Malanda with several flag, banners and smaller emblems raised in a fitting tribute to the popular defensive midfielder and it was apparent from an early stage that the Wolfsburg players were determined to win the match for their late team member. An emotional home crowd offered their vociferous support as they urged the players to produce a performance worthy of the occasion.
They were not to be disappointed. Wolfsburg responded with a goal after just four minutes with Dutch striker Bas Dost slotting home following a swift counter attack and he added a second goal just before the break. It was appropriate for Malanda that fellow Belgian and close friend Kevin De Bruyne should score a third goal, and when Bayern reduced the arrears via Juan Benat, De Bruyne completed the scoring to complete an unlikely 4-1 victory.
Bayern Munich had not lost a Bundesliga match this season and had conceded just four league goals prior to Friday evening but perhaps it was a case of certain players losing some competitive edge during the Winter break. Equally certain is that the Wolfsburg team were desperate to win for their former colleague but and this match had been targeted for several weeks following Malanda’s untimely death.
The mere presence of Bayern Munich players on the pitch can sometimes scare the opposition team before the match has started and the Bavarian team have benefited from this negativity for several seasons. On Friday, they witnessed the opposite effect from a team bearing no fear and eager to produce a fitting performance.
Wolfsburg now occupy a clear second position in the Bundesliga with an eight point gap to Bayern Munich but it will be a difficult task in trying to overhaul Pep Guardiola’s team. It would be no surprise if Bayern were to remain unbeaten for the rest of the campaign while Wolfsburg need to concentrate on confirming their Champions League qualification.
For now, officials, players and supporters of Wolfsburg can be assured that they served an appropriate spectacle in memory of ‘Junior’ Malanda.