Hoffenheim-Wolfsburg preview

TWO 1. Bundesliga clubs who have been making headlines for positive reasons this week come face to face tomorrow afternoon. On Friday, Hoffenheim attacker Boris Vukčević awoke from the coma he had been in since a car crash on September 28, giving the club and its squad a timely boost. Wolfsburg, meanwhile, travel to the Rhein-Neckar-Arena buoyed by last weekend’s Diego-inspired win over Bayer Leverkusen, and the news that sporting director Klaus Allofs has left northern rivals Werder Bremen after 13 years to join Germany’s 2009 champions.

Wolfsburg have been in fantastic form in recent weeks, winning three of the last four matches. That run, unsurprisingly, has coincided with the aftermath of coach/manager Felix Magath’s departure, with the players verbally expressing and physically playing like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders. The popular Lorenz Günther-Köstner – who was head coach at Hoffenheim in the third-tier for several months in 2006 – is now in temporary charge, and most fans seem to want the 60-year-old to stay on. What Allofs has in mind, though, remains to be seen. Continue reading

Kaiserslautern 0-0 Wolfsburg

Kaiserslautern slipped to the bottom of the Bundesliga table and remain without a win since October after failing to beat the worst away team in the division. A nervy and foul-riddled match which Wolfsburg had the better of in the first half, and Kaiserslautern the second, it was easy to tell why both these teams are struggling against the drop this season, with the quality in the final-third conspicuous mostly by its absence. Although Kaiserslautern’s fans stuck with their players – including unfamiliar faces such as Andrew Wooten and Julian Derstroff – throughout the 90 minutes, jeers accompanied the final whistle at the Betzenberg. With Kaiserslautern’s immediate relegation rivals Freiburg and Hertha Berlin both picking up three points this afternoon, beating top-six teams Schalke and Werder Bremen respectively, and Augsburg picking up a point at high-flying Hannover, this draw could be the final straw for Stefan Kuntz and the Lautern board when it comes to coach Marco Kurz, with the team now four points from safety. Wolfsburg, meanwhile, do end the day six points rather than seven clear of the bottom three, but the very fact that they avoided defeat in a tricky away tie will please coach Felix Magath, and give his players some much-needed confidence.

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Kaiserslautern (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Tobias Sippel; Florian Dick, Jan Šimůnek, Mathias Abel, Leon Jessen; Ariel Borysiuk, Pierre de Wit; Richard Sukuta-Pasu, Christian Tiffert, Derstroff; Sandro Wagner

Wolfsburg (4-4-2, from right to left): Diego Benaglio; Christian Träsch, Marco Russ, Felipe Lopes, Ricardo Rodríguez; Ashkan Dejagah, Chris, Josué, Marcel Schäfer; Patrick Helmes, Mario Mandžukić Continue reading

Kaiserslautern-Wolfsburg preview

It’s the stadium where Australian football fans experienced a heartbreaking injustice at the 2006 World Cup, and this Saturday afternoon, the Betzenberg’s primary users, Kaiserslautern, will be hoping for some Italy-esque luck in their battle to avoid the drop. Marco Kurz’s side, firmly planted in the Bundesliga relegation zone and without a win since October, host Wolfsburg – several spaces above Kaiserslautern in the league, but by no means certain themselves of avoiding the drop to 2. Bundesliga just yet. Both these sides have been Bundesliga champions since the German men’s senior side last won a trophy (the 1996 European Championships), and although Wolfsburg’s title-winning coach Felix Magath is still at the club, the only truly notable thing about his side’s 2011/12 campaign is the fact that the 58-year-old has set a new record for the highest number of players used by a coach in a German football season (36 – a figure bolstered significantly after the winter break, because Magath signed nine players in January, the majority of whom he is now using in the first-team). Continue reading

Wolfsburg-Stuttgart preview

Stuttgart travel to struggling Wolfsburg in the final round of Bundesliga fixtures before the winter break on Saturday afternoon. Despite an absolutely dreadful record away from home, Wolfsburg have actually won four and drawn one of their league home games so far this season. But, although Stuttgart have only won twice on the road in 2011/12, they’ll take hope from the fact that Felix Magath’s side have only kept one clean sheet at the Volkswagen Arena. Nevertheless, Stuttgart have scored twice and shipped 13 goals in their last five trips to Wolfsburg, where they have not won since 2005, when Mario Gómez secured a 1-0 win. Also playing that day for Stuttgart was current Wolfsburg midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger, who’ll miss Saturday’s tie through injury. Other former Stuttgart players currently on Wolfsburg’s books include Alexander Hleb, Diego Benaglio, and, a man there more recently, Christian Träsch. Not only that, Magath himself is a former Stuttgart coach, enjoying a successful three-year stint there at the start of the new century. Continue reading

Borussia Dortmund 5-1 Wolfsburg

The formations which started the game.

Borussia Dortmund capitalised on yet another mistake-ridden defensive performance by Wolfsburg to move up to second place in the Bundesliga. Felix Magath started the match with an extremely defensive line-up in a bid to crowd out Dortmund’s midfield-based passing game, and despite these tactics working perfectly in the opening ten minutes of the match, a mistake at the back allowed Dortmund to score, forcing Wolfsburg to come out and play, thereby leaving themselves open to the magic of Shinji Kagawa and Mario Götze – both of whom gave attacking-midfield masterclasses. The 5-1 defeat leaves Wolfsburg in 14th place with the second-worst goal difference in the Bundesliga, and you can’t help but feel that if it was anyone but title-winning coach Felix Magath at the helm, the board’s trigger finger would be getting twitchy.

Match preview here.

Wolfsburg tried to be too clever from kick-off, allowing Dortmund to press in numbers and win the ball just off the D. The sheer congestion in the area caused possession to be squandered, allowing Diego Benaglio to sweep up and release Patrick Ochs to run down the right. The former Eintracht Frankfurt man exposed the hosts’ sluggishness in getting into shape and reached the final-third, as Wolfsburg had the hosts briefly on the ropes. Two testing crosses and corner-kicks followed, but Dortmund got off scot-free. Continue reading

Borussia Dortmund-Wolfsburg preview

The 2009 Bundesliga champions travel to the title-holders tomorrow afternoon, with both sides in the midst of unsatisfactory starts to the 2011/12 campaign. This match is key for both Borussia Dortmund and Wolfsburg, with the former fully aware that they would – temporarily – move one point behind divisional-leaders Bayern Munich if they win at the Westfalenstadion, and the latter knowing that a defeat could see them go into the upcoming international break one point and two places above the drop-zone.  And, Wolfsburg coach Felix Magath used his pre-match press conference to confirm the challenge his side face tomorrow afternoon: “Dortmund are the reigning German champions and still a great team,” he said. “They impress with their determined attacking game, but also the way every individual works to get back. That was their greatest strength last year, and it hasn’t changed.” Continue reading

Wolfsburg 2-3 Hertha BSC

The first half formations.

Pierre-Michel Lasogga came back to haunt his old club with two assists and the result-settling goal in this exciting Bundesliga round 11 clash on Saturday afternoon. Felix Magath’s decision to play a high-line and a rookie centre-back backfired, as Hertha Berlin thrice exploited Wolfsburg’s dodgy defence to take all three points from the Volkswagen Arena. Bjarne Thölke was at fault for both the second and third of Hertha’s goals, although Markus Babbel’s side were impressively clinical on the break, displaying the cutting-edge in front of goal that was missing from Wolfsburg’s game. It was mainly left to Makoto Hasebe and Ashkan Dejagah to create the opportunities the anonymous duo of Thomas Hitzlsperger and Alexander Hleb were supposed to carve out; but, despite getting chances handed to them on a plate by the former pair on several occasions, neither Mario Mandžukić or Srđan Lakić displayed the sort of lethal, assured finishing that we saw from Lasogga – the one Wolfsburg let get away in 2009.

Match preview here. 

The opening exchanges passed by with little of note happening. Wolfsburg saw the majority of possession, and were content to knock it about at pace and give everyone a touch. Sotirios Kyrgiakos could already be seen barking instructions at Thölke, the veteran Greek international doing his best to help the young German in any way that he could. In the fifth minute, though, the game very nearly exploded into life courtesy of another German, Christian Träsch. Mandžukić had already spotted the lay-off opportunity before receiving the ball, and when the Croatian finally got the chance to play his desired pass, he set up the perfect shooting chance for the right-footed Träsch. However, former Bayern Munich goalkeeper Thomas Kraft pulled off an athletic super save to keep the score at 0-0. Continue reading

Wolfsburg-Hertha BSC preview

Two sides locked on 13 points – five away from second-bottom HSV, six off second-placed BVB – meet at the Volkswagen Arena tomorrow afternoon. Wolfsburg’s away form may be poor, but at home, they’ve won three of the four games played in the 2011/12 Bundesliga campaign to date, and striker Mario Mandžukić is in world-class form. Hertha Berlin, meanwhile, look as though they have enough quality and spirit to stay in the top-flight, and even though they’ve lost their last two games on the road to Werder Bremen and Bayern Munich respectively, Markus Babbel’s side have won at Dortmund already this season, and until being defeated – with nine men – at the death by Bremen last month, they’d gone the whole of 2011 without suffering an away loss. Continue reading

Wolfsburg 1-0 Kaiserslautern

The first half formations.

An incredible second half performance by substitute Mario Mandžukić saw ten man Wolfsburg defeat Kaiserslautern. Sotirios Kyrgiakos’ sending off at the end of an invention-free, chance-light and dire first half made the visitors favourites to snatch all three points in the second half, especially as Marco Kurz’s strikers showed much better movement in the opening 45 minutes than their Wolfsburg counterparts. But, Felix Magath’s inspired decision to unleash the Croatian from the bench changed the game, although it was Ashkan Dejagah who bagged the goal which lifts Wolfsburg up to 12th in the Bundesliga.

Match preview here

An open start to the match saw some nice football being played, with both sides looking to spread the ball about among the outfield players at a good tempo, before releasing either a full-back or forward on a dart into the final-third. The visitors barely pressed Wolfsburg when the centre-backs had the ball, instead content to sit off in their high and compact 4-4-2. This tactic frustrated the hosts in their attempts to make attacks, and resulted in Patrick Helmes and Srđan Lakić playing too far apart from one another in the opening five minutes.

When the home side did manage to play a ball into the final-third and then keep it there with the next pass, they pushed as many outfield players into and around the Kaiserslautern box as was possible.  Continue reading

Wolfsburg-Kaiserslautern preview

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. 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

Wolfsburg 1-1 Eintracht Frankfurt

The first half formations

Wolfsburg dominated a limited Frankfurt side but had to come from behind to scrape a draw after missing a host of second-half chances.

As well as being a tussle between two sides struggling to avoid the drop, this game was also intriguing as it saw Felix Magath take charge of his first home game in his second spell at Wolfsburg. Meanwhile, there was also another new face on the bench a few feet away from Magath’s: Christoph Daum, the former Fenerbahçe manager, was back in the Bundesliga after a two-year absence. The 57-year-old East German replaced Michael Skibbe last week: Skibbe oversaw a solid first half of the season (including a 3-1 win over Steve McClaren’s Wolfsburg in November), but then a terrible second half of the season which has seen Frankfurt fall from being credible Europa League challengers to 14th place in the table and a mere three points above the relegation zone. Wolfsburg, sat in 17th before this match, knew that a win would take them to within a point of their guests. Continue reading