My piece for the Boot Room on Wolfsburg’s poor season.
Wolfsburg’s season began with much promise but is coming to a disappointing end. The Wolves sit in tenth place with 39 points, six points away from a European spot, and three games remaining. The highs of last season are a distant memory.
Wolfsburg were the closest challengers to the dominant Bayern Munich in 2014/15, even dismantling Pep Guardiola’s side 4-1 late in the season. Ten points were the difference between first and second place in the end but a return to the Champions League beckoned. The highlight of the season came with Wolfsburg’s first ever German Cup triumph. Borussia Dortmund were the opponent on the night and Wolfsburg’s good results against Germany’s top two teams continued with a Super Cup win over Bayern at the beginning of this season.
Wolfsburg would have wanted to build on these achievements but this season has stopped them in their tracks. It’s difficult to pinpoint one major factor, though the first thing that comes to mind is the departure of talisman Kevin De Bruyne. The loss of a key attacker would hamper any team but Wolfsburg were not significantly weakened after that deal was concluded. Injuries and dips in form are expected each season and the Champions League schedule was actually easier to contend with than the previous seasons Europa League exertions. All these things played a role in Wolfsburg’s poor season.
Brazilian defender Felipe has missed the entire season, Diego Benaglio has endured various periods out with injury, and players such as Robin Knoche and Veirinha spent decent time on the sidelines. Bas Dost, the club’s top scorer last season, recently returned from a lengthy spell out and both Sebastian Jung and Julian Draxler are finished for the season. Dost’s time away from the field means it’s difficult to assess whether he could have replicated his 16-goal haul from last season. His current tally of eight goals in the Bundesliga in 18 games is decent but not spectacular.
A look at the Bundesliga table shows a side that has been distinctly average. The Wolves have picked up 13 points from 14 games in the second half of the season, good enough for 16th place in that period. The 42 goals scored and 43 conceded so far pales in comparison to last seasons 72 goals scored and 38 conceded. The problems on both ends of the pitch suggest there are a number of players besides Dost who failed to replicate last seasons form. That is further highlighted by the fact that only five players, six if you count the departed Ivan Perisic, managed a WhoScored rating over seven.
Things have just not come together domestically for Wolfsburg, with the poor league campaign compounded by an early exit from the German Cup. The Champions League provided more moments of optimism than may have been expected.
A manageable group including Manchester United, PSV Eindhoven and CSKA Moscow was concluded with Wolfsburg surprise winners. The reward was a tie with Belgian side Gent and Wolfsburg obliged with victory in either leg to progress. A tie with Real Madrid awaited and the German side were; rightly, considered extreme underdogs. A brilliant performance at home led to a 2-0 victory that gave the Wolves firm command of the tie. Dieter Hecking was unable to lead his team to an upset victory as a poor approach in the opening half handed Madrid the impetus and, eventually, the tie. Reaching the quarter-final and being dumped out by Madrid is no shame but Wolfsburg could, and really should, have progressed.
A return to Europe, preferably the Champions League, would have been the least expected from this side regardless of other achievements. Hertha Berlin and Mainz have crashed the top six party and surprised all but Wolfsburg’s failure is mostly of their own doing. The capitulation in the 5-1 loss to Bayern Munich early in the season was a sign of things to come and last weekends loss to relegation-threatened Werder Bremen, a side beaten 6-0 earlier in the season, added further salt to the wounds.
Wolfsburg must now look to the summer to regroup. A season of inconsistency should not be the norm for a side wanting to become Germany’s best. Hecking should stay on given his previous successes and the squad will be given the necessary upgrades throughout the squad. The Champions League will have to wait another year but Wolfsburg’s plan will be to take part on an annual basis.
My piece on Wolfsburg and the Kevin De Bruyne saga.
Losing your best player days before the transfer window closes usually means a bad summer. That’s not the case with German club, Wolfsburg.
The Wolves have been in the midst of a resurgence these last few seasons. They finished second place last year, had a German SuperCup win over Bayern Munich to start this season and a return to the Champions League as well. The man who was key to all that success on the pitch was Kevin De Bruyne.
The Belgian attacking midfielder joined from Chelsea midway through 2013-14 season and immediately made a difference. Goals, assists, defense-splitting passes, you name it, De Bruyne did it. In doing so he set himself apart as one of football’s best young talents. It also helped that he was arguably Belgium‘s best player in the 2014 World Cup, even ahead of Chelsea’s Eden Hazard.
It was inevitable, then, that clubs with cash to burn would come calling.
Bayern Munich, as with any star in the Bundesliga not already on their team, were linked with the player. It was Manchester City, though, who were linked with the player more than any other club during the summer. And so it came to pass that, despite consistent statements of “he’s not for sale” from the Wolfsburg hierarchy, De Bruyne joined City in a deal reportedly worth £55m. It’s the fee Wolfsburg were asking for but it came only three days before the transfer window closed.
What did Wolfsburg do in response?
They simply signed a Champions League winning defender and a World Cup winning midfielder. Bayern Munich’s Dante and Schalke‘s Julian Draxler are the players in question and both improve the squad. You have to wonder if this was Wolfsburg’s plan all along given how quickly both players were signed. String along the cash-rich suitor to raise the price all the while find a replacement, Draxler, and improve the defense with Dante.
Dante and Draxler will undoubtedly help the club domestically and in an interesting Champions League group. Dante will provide experience, quality and even some versatility in his ability to play defensive midfield. Draxler will be a direct replacement for De Bruyne and can also play out wide. More importantly, they each have Bundesliga experience so the club isn’t gambling on the acclimatization of players from abroad.
The slight risk for Wolfsburg where Draxler is concerned is the player’s injury worries during the last few seasons. The former Schalke man has already started this season well though, scoring a goal and leading his club’s attack. When he’s on form he can provide a similar impact to De Bruyne and will be given the freedom to do so.
A look over at Manchester City and you still have question marks with De Bruyne.
De Bruyne left the Premier League before getting a real chance for his skills to be tested in the league. His stint at Wolfsburg shows the talent is there, but the Premier League is a different challenge. The obvious storyline will be his motivation to prove Jose Mourinho wrong after the Portuguese manager claimed, upon his leaving for Wolfsburg, that he needed love. Manuel Pellegrini has proven himself a great manager for playmakers to work with so that’s already a bonus for De Bruyne. Regardless, there are hurdles to overcome. De Bruyne will have to handle life back in Premier League, the adjustment to being the junior playmaker to David Silva and live up to his price tag. All of that will have an effect on how he performs.
De Bruyne may perform well when he puts on a City shirt. He may even be the difference in the club’s bid to retain their title. There’s no need for his former club to worry, though. With two excellent replacements in place, and still some money in reserve from the transfer, Wolfsburg come out winners.
Seems like a lot of the focus was on how Wolfsburg would miss out if the move occurred and there was little talk about how it would impact De Bruyne specifically. Wolfsburg would be in a pickle but if they’re sensible they’ll either have someone lined up or go back to the drawing board quickly. They’ll have silly money to play with so things could work out in terms of a replacement. De Bruyne didn’t have a fond time at Chelsea but that was Jose Mourinho and this is Manuel Pellegrini. He’ll still have to get used to rotation and being behind David Silva, at least, in the pecking order but I think he’ll be alright at City. I guess we’ll see what happens though.
Agreed. Wolfsburg are definitely on the rise but they’re not ready to challenge Bayern Munich yet.
Good breakdown here of what Germany’s top teams need this summer.
Yup. Wolfsburg are bringing it together well. Will be interesting to see how they manage the Champions League and Bundesliga together. They did make it to the quarterfinals of the Europa League so have some experience juggling it all.
My piece for the Aspirer on Wolfsburg returning to the Champions League
Good piece here.
Wolfsburg probably won’t win the league anytime soon, I expect Borussia Dortmund to be back up and running next season, but they’ll give the traditional big clubs a run for their money. They do have some great players obviously, and they are keeping Bayern Munich honest this season. Will be interesting to see how they progress.