Will Steve McClaren resuscitate Wolfsburg?

England’s Wally With The Brolly left FC Twente at just the right moment. Having delivered the league title and a spot in the Champions League group stage, McClaren will forever hold a place in the club’s history.

But with the centre-forward bound for MLS, the left-winger returning to Chelsea after a loan spell, chief playmaker nearing retirement, and the right winger, left-sided centre-back, and left-back potentially lured elsewhere, the replication of last season’s feat looks very difficult.

FC Twente, 2009/10

McClaren’s Overijssel outfit operated in what was deemed 4-3-3. However, the actuality of the system altered from what was stated on the tin. Two hard-working shuttlers flanked a regista in the centre, and the inside-out wingers would drop back. On-ball, they’d always cut infield – Miroslav Stoch tending to shoot, and Bryan Ruiz making disguised through-balls.

Twente weren’t much fun to watch, however. They’d start play via very cynical, overdrawn melina. Then, one of Douglas or Dwight Tiendalli would carry the ball forward at pace. Alternatively, one of the showing widemen or Kenneth Perez would drop, collect, and instigate. McClaren stuck by this system with great rigidity, and it served him well.

The tools currently available at his new employers, VFL Wolfsburg, won’t allow him to employ a similar system. So does McClaren bring his tried and tested tactics across, or adjust to the formula currently in place at the 8th-placed Bundesliga finishers?

Armin Veh and his successor Lorenz-Günther Köstner set the 2008/09 league champions in a 4-4-2 diamond-midfield style. A lack of width was overcome by the pacy full-backs bursting forward, and both strikers’ penchant for receiving the ball on the chalk.

Nevertheless, Wolfsburg chiefly operated down the centre. They could hoof it to Edin Džeko, or roll it onto Grafite’s feet for a trademark

Wolfsburg, 2009/10

hold/spin/go move. Likewise, the skilful Christian Gentner would weave forward, or the trequartista figure of Zvjezdan Misimović was fed to concoct.

With the talented Bosnian striker, Džeko, all set to depart, now might be the right time for McClaren to instigate a formation change. Although there’s a paucity of decent wingers in the squad (Thomas Kahlenberg and Ashkan Dejagah, the plan B, flattered to deceive), the funds generated by Džeko’s sale could be invested in quality wingers.

Using a central-midfield base of Gentner and Josué (or the more cautious busybody Makoto Hasebe when caution’s required), the Pérez-esque Misimović could play off lone striker Grafite. Positioning his wingers *inside-out* à la Miroslav Stoch and Ruiz, the full-backs at McClaren’s disposal would remain utilised.

If McClaren doesn’t want to gamble on amending the familiar formation, he could try and buy a like-for-like replacement for Džeko. Alas, replacing one of the world’s best strikers will be difficult. A realistic target though is Rubin Kazan’s Aleksandr Bukharov (impressive against the Volkswagen-funded Lower Saxons in last season’s Europa League).

Scanning the domestic market, Freiburg’s Papiss Demba Cissé – arguably the league’s most improved player in 2009/10, and pivotal to his team staying up – looks capable of adjusting to life at a higher level, and could be an option.


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