Hoffenheim 1-3 Wolfsburg

The table before the round 34 fixtures kicked off simultaneously. Hoffenheim could finish the season no higher than seventh, but for Wolfsburg, staying in 15th place was the aim. A win would see them achieve that goal, regardless of what Borussia Mönchengladbach, away at Hamburg, and Eintracht Frankfurt, away at Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund, did.

A Mario Mandžukić-inspired Wolfsburg preserved their Bundesliga status after coming from behind to beat Hoffenheim on the last day of the 2010/11 season.

Unlike Hoffenheim, dozing in mid-table obscurity, Wolfsburg came into this game sitting just one place above the drop zone. St Pauli had already guaranteed themselves second division football next season, but the other automatic relegation spot was still up for grabs, along with the relegation play-off spot – a tie likely to be played against Bochum, who look favourites for third place in 2. Bundesliga. As the table on the left-hand side indicates, we had a three-team league towards the bottom going into the final day, with the team topping that table ensuring themselves first division football in 2011/12. Continue reading

Wolfsburg 2-2 St Pauli

The first half formations.

Wolfsburg scored a late equalizer to grab an undeserved point at home to fellow strugglers St Pauli. The draw now leaves both sides four points adrift from safety with just fives games to go.

With just six games of the season left, this battle between the sides in 16th and 17th was absolutely critical. Locked on points but separated by goal difference (Wolfsburg on minus ten, St Pauli on minus 21), a win for either of these sides here would elevate them to the heady heights of 15th place. Felix Magath’s return to Wolfsburg hadn’t eradicated the poor results and sloppy mistakes which marred the reigns of both Steve McClaren and Pierre Littbarski, but there had been a definite improvement in performances after the return of the arch disciplinarian. Nevertheless, a return of two wins from their last 20 games was an appalling run for a big-spending side who were champions of the country as recently as 2009. Continue reading

Stuttgart 1-1 Wolfsburg

The formations on the half-hour, with the score at 0-0.

An improved performance from Wolfsburg wasn’t enough to help them take three priceless points on the road as they conceded an unlikely injury time equalizer.

Both sides came into this game in desperate need of the points. Wolfsburg, second bottom on 26 points with a goal difference of minus nine, had a great opportunity to leapfrog Stuttgart, one place above the drop zone (St Pauli being the sandwich filling), but with two points more than their guests and a goal difference of minus three. The away side were onto their third coach of the season, as Felix Magath made his (second) début on the Wolfsburg bench after leaving Schalke on bitter terms in the week. He had to make do without goalkeeper Diego Benaglio, a key part of the Magath side which won the title in 2009, as well as the recent expensive but stuttering striking acquisition, Patrick Helmes. Tolga Ciğerci, Wolfsburg’s promising young midfielder, was also still sidelined with injury. Continue reading

Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 Wolfsburg

The first-half formations.

Leverkusen showed quality in front of goal and put in an accomplished second half defensive performance to keep Wolfsburg’s very plausible relegation nightmare going.

In spite of a much-needed win against Borussia Mönchengladbach last time out, Wolfsburg simply had to take something from this game. A tea-time kick-off, relegation rivals Gladbach and Stuttgart had won the early afternoon games which preceded the tie, and Kaiserslautern drew. Thus, Wolfsburg were merely a point above the relegation zone (with second-bottom Bremen, also a point behind the Wolves, due to play the following day).

The game was also crucial for Leverkusen, who’d seen Hannover leapfrog them into second spot in the hours before this home tie. Last weekend, they threw away a two-goal lead late-on to draw 2-2 against Werder Bremen. The most interesting news personnel-wise was that Patrick Helmes started for Wolfsburg – the 26-year-old netted 28 goals in 57 Bundesliga appearances for Bayer between summer 2008 and the recent winter transfer window, which saw him join the Wolves for £8million. Absence-wise, there was no Thomas Kahlenberg, Josué, Alexander Madlung, or Tolga Ciğerci for the visitors. Grafite, meanwhile, was only fit enough for the bench. For Leverkusen coach Jupp Heynckes, there was no Tranquilo Barnetta, Michael Ballack, Sami Hyypiä, Arturo Vidal, or Hanno Balitsch. Continue reading

Wolfsburg 2-1 Borussia Mönchengladbach

The first half formations.

Wolfsburg defeated relegation rivals Borussia Mönchengladbach to move into 13th place, and more importantly, three points above the drop-zone.

The stakes couldn’t have been higher before this one. Fifteenth-placed Wolfsburg, who knew a loss would set a new club record of five straight defeats, faced bottom-placed Gladbach, who won against Schalke last time out with a new coach in charge. And although that was his first game at the helm, this encounter was no doubt just as important to him – it was the first time Dieter Hoeneß and Lucien Favre (current VfL Wolfsburg sporting director and Borussia Mönchengladbach coach respectively) had come face to face professionally since their very public power struggle at Hertha BSC 20 months ago.

The Wolves came into the tie without several key players: goalkeeper Diego Benaglio (back), midfielder Josué (thigh) and striker Grafite (illness) were all out. Gladbach, meanwhile, were looking much better fitness-wise, and were relieved to hear that Marco Reus was fit to start following a knock to his heel. Continue reading

St Pauli 1-1 Wolfsburg

The formations that started the game.

Wolfsburg were held by an industrious St Pauli side but might consider themselves lucky to escape with a point after an abysmal first half performance.

St. Pauli were on a bad run of form coming into this round 13 match, with just one victory in six. They’d gone 265 minutes without scoring (keeping their record as the Bundesliga’s lowest scorers in the process), despite the fact that just a few weeks ago, they were riding high in sixth spot.

VfL Wolfsburg, meanwhile, arrived at the Millerntor seeking only their second away success of the season. It looked like they’d have to do it without their prized attacking trio though, as Grafite, Diego and Edin Džeko were all deemed doubts. However, the latter pair were eventually passed fit to start.

St Pauli pressed Wolfsburg all over the pitch from the off, and ensured the visitors were never allowed to control the game. Physically stronger and mentally hungrier, Holger Stanislawski’s 4-1-4-1 compensated for the potentially exposable length of the pitch it covered by keeping the midfield bank of four mobile – up and down, up and down, keeping Die Wölfe at arm’s length. Continue reading

Tactical titbits

Borussia Dortmund 2-0 Wolfsburg, 11/09/10. Starting XIs.

Another pulsating weekend of football action in EU member states has been and gone, and all we can do is reflect and hope next Saturday and Sunday are just as action-packed.

I began my weekend with two successive 2-0 triumphs – Hoffenheim’s conquest of Schalke on Friday evening, followed by Zenit’s cruise to victory over the downwardly-hurtling Tom Tomsk.

Subsequent to that interjection of Russian action, I found myself back in the realms of the Bundesliga as Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund sought to inflict a third successive defeat on Wolfsburg.

After an embarrassingly lacklustre first-half against Bayern Munich on the season’s opening day (during which Wolfsburg were allergic to the ball or their opponent’s half), positive tactics in the second half at last gave Wolfsburg some identity. Continue reading

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. Continue reading