Srđan Lakić comes up against his former club tomorrow afternoon as two of the Bundesliga’s early-season strugglers face off. Wolfsburg currently sit one spot and point above their 15th-placed guests, although Felix Magath’s side boast a one goal worse goal difference of -5. When these sides last met back in May for the penultimate match of the 2010/11 season, a surprise 2-1 away win for Kaiserslautern secured their spot in the Bundesliga, leaving Wolfsburg needing something from their final game. Thus, revenge might be in the air for one or two players in green, although the squad has been altered a fair bit since then.
The most notable departures have been Diego (Atlético Madrid), Simon Kjær (Roma), Cicero (São Paulo), Sascha Riether (Cologne), Grafite (Al-Ahli Dubai), and, most recently, Arne Friedrich (released). To fill in the gaps in true Magath fashion, 12 players have been brought in from other clubs, and three promoted from the U23 squad. One of the former Schalke coach’s buys, Christian Träsch, has been made club captain, and also proved himself to be the best javelin thrower in the squad this week. Magath had invited javelin world champion Matthias de Zordo and the athletics national team trainer Boris Henry to the training camp, and the Germany international scored a team-best distance of 41 metres.
He was closely followed by young centre-back Bjarne Thoelke, who reached 39 metres. The 19-year-old could be in line to start tomorrow’s match, as another new signing, Sotirios Kyrgiakos (Liverpool), is out with a foot injury. Magath said in his pre-match conference: “Bjarne impressed me with the javelin – he could definitely take a place in the team. There is nothing to see from his long lay-off through injury – he seems to be in physically good condition and is very determined. He is not at all fearful.” The Greek defender will join fellow newbies Alexander Hleb (who returned to training this week but is still to make his début), Thomas Hitzlsperger and Chris on the sidelines, with cold-victim Josué and Makoto Hasebe (thigh muscle problems) also expected to miss out.
However, the situation looks better for Diego Benaglio, who has missed the last two games through injury but is now pencilled in to return, as well as Hasan Salihamidžić, who has been out with a hand injury. Magath has hinted that his tactics could involve more long ball football this week, and they have just the man for the job up front in Lakić. Loathed by Kaiserslautern fans for announcing his transfer to Wolfsburg several months before it was scheduled to happen, the 27-year-old Croatian striker claimed this week that he has no qualms about downing his former side: “My situation shouldn’t be over-evaluated. I had a wonderful time in Kaiserslautern, for which I am very thankful, but FCK is a thing of the past for me now and doesn’t count anymore. We have a new team here now – one that needs to give its’ all and look to the future. We want to win at all costs.”
His new employers will have to buck up their ideas considerably against Kaiserslautern if they are to claim only a third win this season (the club are yet to draw a game, losing their four other matches in the league and even exiting the cup at the hands of lower-league side Leipzig). Nevertheless, they didn’t look too bad against high-flying Hoffenheim last weekend, before falling behind after a Marvin Hitz howler and never recovering. At 0-0, though, their narrow and compact 4-4-2 was stifling Hoffenheim’s more fluid, floor-based game, even if Wolfsburg were playing an ugly brand of long-ball football through their not exactly technically-gifted defence that got them nowhere efforts-on-goal wise.
The team did at least win a friendly game in the week, beating amateur side Eintracht Lüneburg 12-0 on Tuesday evening. Speaking about the mood in the camp ahead of this relegation six-pointer, last weekend’s goalscorer in the 3-1 defeat, Ashkan Dejagah, said: “The team is in good spirits and want to win at all costs against Kaiserslautern. We know that we have to make up for lost ground. The fans are expecting a reaction from us. They are always behind us and that’s something we have to pay back.”
Kaiserslautern, meanwhile, hauled themselves out of the relegation zone and bettered their 2011/12 ‘goals for’ tally by 150 per cent last weekend as they won their first game of the season against Mainz in the Rheinland-Pfalz derby. Tomorrow’s visitors to Wolfsburg played played with a real energy and determination throughout, and hadn’t looked as tactically sharp all season.
After that win at the Betzenberg last Saturday, coach Marco Kurz declared: “Now we’ve got to use the momentum to climb the table.” He and the squad have been assiduously preparing for the trip to Wolfsburg since Tuesday, with the main focus being on accurate and quick passing, and moving to improve the team’s build-up play and create more openings.
Kurz knows that the Wolfsburg tie won’t be as easy for his players as Mainz were, however. He said: “We know [Wolfsburg] are a strong team, so we are expecting a tough game. But,” he added, “we are up for the fight.” Talismanic midfielder Christian Tiffert was a bit more boisterous in his pre-match comments, and said of The Red Devils’ trip to the Volkswagen Arena: “We want three points, and we will fight all the way to win the game.” Three squad players will be missing for the four-and-a-half-hour trip to Wolfsburg, with Chadli Amri and Clemens Walch not included, and former Wolfsburg defender Jan Šimůnek not yet fit enough to return.
Wolfsburg versus Kaiserslautern kicks off at 2.30pm tomorrow in the UK, and can be watched live on Bet365.com.