Hoffenheim 1-3 Wolfsburg

LORENZ Günther-Köstner’s temporary spell as Wolfsburg coach continues to get better and better, as his side registered their fourth win from the five games they’ve had under the 60-year-old’s control. Crucially, the result also lifted Wolfsburg out of the relegation zone and above Hoffenheim, who paid the price for their woeful first-half performance (and an improved, if not much better, second-half showing). Markus Babbel’s side, coming into this game with their spirits buoyed after learning on Friday that popular, talented midfielder Boris Vukčević – involved in a nasty car crash in September – had finally woken up from his coma, just never got going, and played like a side who have only won one of their last seven games.

But, credit where it’s due to Wolfsburg, who deserved all three points this afternoon. Defensively, they were mentally, tactically and physically solid, and in attack, were enterprising, creative, fluid and confident. If Günther-Köstner’s side can win against Werder Bremen at the Volkswagen Arena next weekend, it’s hard to see how the former Hoffenheim coach won’t be given the Wolfsburg job on a permanent basis. Today’s hosts, meanwhile, booed regularly by the home fans, welcome Bayer Leverkusen – coached by Sami Hyypiä, Babbel’s former Liverpool teammate – to the Rhein-Neckar-Arena. It’s hard to see how Babbel, once a coach of such promise, will be able to hold onto his job if his players fail to pick up even a point from that encounter.

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Hoffenheim (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Tim Wiese; Andreas Beck, Pelle Jensen, Matthieu Delpierre, Fabian Johnson; Sebastian Rudy, Daniel Williams; Roberto Firmino, Sejad Salihović, Kevin Volland; Joselu

Wolfsburg (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Diego Benaglio; Fagner, Naldo, Simon Kjær, Marcel Schäfer; Josué, Jan Polák; Makoto Hasebe, Diego, Ivica Olić; Bas Dost 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

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

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

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

Werder Bremen 0-1 Wolfsburg

The first half formations.

Wolfsburg secured a vital win away at a relegation rival to haul themselves out of the drop zone and ensure Werder Bremen endure a nervy final two matches of the campaign.

The parapenultimate round in the Bundesliga’s 2010/11 season began with a double-header on the Friday night – Kaiserslautern against St Pauli, 12th against 18th, and Werder Bremen against Wolfsburg, 11th against 16th. When these fixtures were scheduled a few weeks back, these two games looked like they would be putting four teams fighting for their lives in action on the same night. However, although nothing but a win would have been considered good enough for both of the away sides coming into these games, the hosts’, five and six points respectively above the drop zone, could enter their respective fixtures in a more relaxed state. 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

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 0-0 Werder Bremen

The first-half formations.

Wolfsburg and Bremen played out an entertaining scoreless draw, albeit one that will only truly live on in the memory for Edin Džeko’s petulant reaction to being substituted.

Bremen came into this game with a number of absentees, including Claudio Pizarro, Wesley, Naldo and Tim Borowski. Wolfsburg, meanwhile, made do without just two first-choice players – Arne Friedrich, and Grafite.

For two teams struggling in the lower-reaches of the division, this was a refreshingly open and attack-minded encounter from the word ‘go’.

However, one team always has to take the initiative, and that responsibility belonged to the hosts. With the visitors content to let Wolfsburg bring the ball out, they sat back in a 4-4-2, and only applied pressure when the ball approached the halfway line.

Thomas Schaaf kept the home side’s attacking options man-marked whenever this pattern of play occurred. Diego, stationed on the left whenever his colleagues brought the ball out, was picked up by Dominik Schmidt, Mario Mandžukić by Petri Pasanen, Josué by the two foremost attackers, and Džeko by the equally tall Per Mertesacker. 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