McClaren’s new-ish Wolfsburg

2010/11 Wolfsburg in a 4-4-2?

Steve McClaren, via transfer director Dieter Hoeneß, has set his VfL Wolfsburg revolution to full steam ahead.

For starters, Obafemi Martins, a peripheral figure last season, has been sold to Rubin Kazan. This was the right move for all concerned, with the Nigerian striker never settling in Germany.

As Lorenz-Günter Köstner stuck by Felix Magath’s 4-3-1-2, last season’s Plan B tended to be an injection of width, rendering the former Inter striker surplus to requirements.

Also shown the door have been Jan Šimůnek, an unexceptional full-back from the Czech Republic, and South American midfielder Jonathan Santana.

The Paraguayan international did as little for his country in the World Cup as he’s done for Wolfsburg recently, and his occasional contributions from the bench won’t be missed.

Most significant, perhaps, is the departure of Christian Gentner. The silky box-to-box, left-sided centre midfielder was a driving force, and his return to Stuttgart will be felt.

However, it’s in the arrivals lounge that indicators of the tactical direction McClaren may take congregate.

Upon his appointment nearly two months ago, I raised the question of the Englishman either instigating Twente’s 4-2-3-1 at his new side, or retaining Wolfsburg’s 4-3-1-2.

But having had time to see players the 2008/09 champions believe needed, I don’t think it’s erroneous to suggest neither of those aforementioned formations will be deployed.

Regarding the transferred in personnel, star-studded is the incorrect term to use. However, promising, canny and talented certainly aren’t misplaced words to use.

Firstly, Cícero comes in as a direct replacement for Gentner. He was involved in 19 goals during his two-year spell at Hertha BSC, but I’ve often found him to be error-strewn, lazy and too eager to pass sideways.

Still, goals win you points, so the 10 strikes and nine assists the Brazilian provided the strugglers with indicate that he’ll strengthen McClaren’s midfield.

Crucially, centre of defence, a real problem area, has now been bolstered. At last, burst-prone full-backs Sascha Riether and Marcel Schäfer have less grounds for caution, and world class goalkeeper Diego Benaglio now has ample shields.

Arne Friedrich might have suffered relegation with Hertha, but his performances in World Cup 2010 show that the versatile defender is a clever acquisition.

And then there’s the deus ex machina, the magnum opus… the signature of Simon Kjær. Snatched from Palermo amidst cumbersome overtures from more glamorous outfits, Hoeness has pulled off a Luciano Moggi-esque coup.

With these two at the heart of the back-four, Wolfsburg arguably have a better defence than defending champions Bayern Munich, and one of Europe’s most technically complete centre-back pairings.

The capture of Dinamo Zagreb’s Milan Mandžukić is also noteworthy. Capable on the right channel or up front, this versatile Croatian goal threat offers an array of options, and competition for potential slackers.

2010/11 Wolfsburg in a 3-5-2?

Therefore, if Ashkan Dejagah, Karim Ziani and Thomas Kahlenberg can show improvements when given a chance on the left wing, it’s plausible that Wolfsburg will utilise a 4-4-2.

This system would balance freedom and restriction for the full-backs, while ensuring that Wolfsburg become less leaky. Similarly, it’d give them the width a 4-3-1-2 lacks.

However, with the plethora of midfield talent available at the club, including star playmaker Zvjezdan Misimović and U21 starlet Daniel Adlung, a 3-5-2 is equally likely.

In this system, wing-backs would add and keep the width. Josué could be accommodated in the defensive midfielder berth, while two of  Misimović, the reserved Hasebe or Cícero would fill the centre.

At present, Wolfsburg look like offering the surest challenge to Bayern Munich in 2010/11. Alas, much hinges on Edin Džeko staying, and he and Grafite continuing their hefty season-on-season goal tallies.

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