It's a quick trip on basically any westward bound ICE train from Berlin to Wolfsburg. Regional rivals 1. FC Union Berlin and the VfL are also pretty close in the current Bundesliga table.
Two clubs on 24 points through 14 rounds prepare for a big showdown on Saturday.
For one former Wolfsburg player, it's a very special reunion.
|Robin Knoche when still playing for Wolfsburg||Photo: GEPA Pictures/Sven Sonntag|
It has already been confirmed that VfL Wolfsburg defenders Jerome Roussillon and Maxence Lacroix will not be able to participate in a highly anticipated duel between two teams on the cusp of the Bundesliga's UCL places. Faced with some tough choices on how to properly build his back-four, Wolves trainer Oliver Glasner may wish he still had veteran defender Robin Knoche on his roster.
The 28-year-old Braunschweig native departed Wolfsburg last summer, leaving the local club that developed him after 15 long years with Germany's green company team. The parting of ways was by no means a very cordial one. The club showed no interest in extending the loyal defender's contract after 252 combined appearances for the reserve and senior side. In a video chat with journalists on Thursday, Knoche admitted it was a tough "upheaval".
"I had the luxury of being able to play football at home with friends and family nearby," Knoche noted, "[this match] is definitely something special for me."
Knoche moved to Union on a free transfer in early August. He's started all 14 Bundesliga fixtures for die Eisernen. Through very solid defensive work, the veteran has earned praise from all quarters of German footballing journalism. Many consider him to be one of the best transfers of the season; an undisputed jewel in Union's incredibly strong autumn transfer class.
While both Union and Wolfsburg have surpassed the expectations of many with their early play thus far this campaign, the East Berlin club truly counts as the big surprise that Bundesliga watchers remain smitten with. Knoche knows that Saturday's fixture is not only a critical match for him, but for his team as well.
"They're not in the international ranks for nothing," Knoche noted when asked how he gauged his opponent, "However, we've no need to be modest about out accomplishments. We're not in fifth place for nothing, and we're playing at home. We should play very courageously."
Knoche will be given quite the task on Saturday. As a central defender, he will be expected to shut down former teammate Wout Weghorst.
Asked how he hoped to mark a nine-goal striker, Knoche simply said with a wry smile "Let's talk about it after the game. We'll see."