On a Bundesliga MatchDay 9 Saturday that saw Mainz impress in a 3-0 win over hapless Hoffenheim and both Schalke and Borussia Dortmund build on their huge wins midweek in the Champions League, perhaps the most important win was earned by a struggling VfL Wolfsburg club, Forty eight hours following the departure of Coach Felix Magath, the Wolfsburg squad threw off the shackles off an offensively inept season. With interim coach Lorenz Günther Köstner guiding the team, the Wolves smashed Fortuna Düsseldorf 4-1, doubling their measly total of two goals scored on the season in 90 minutes. Their win was the first since the 2012/2013 Opening Day, when a very late Bas Dost goal earned them a 1-0 win in Stuttgart.
Tactics and Formations
Fortuna Düsseldorf had a great start to their first season returning to the top-tier of German football after a long absence, posting five consecutive clean sheets to begin the campaign. Their own lack of scoring saw them only earn nine points from that streak, however, and Norbert Meier’s club had surrendered eight goals in its last three matches, all losses.
Coming off a 5-0 drubbing by Bayern München last weekend at the ESPRIT Arena that saw the Bavarians totally dominant, Meier made two changes to his starting XI, bringing in Oliver Fink and Ukrainian international Andreyi Voronin for Ken Ilsø and Cha Du-Ri. Meier’s 4-2-3-1 formation featured Fabian Giefer in goal, with Voronin tucked in behind F95 leading goal-scorer Dani Schahin up front while Fink and Adam Bodzek filled the holding midfield roles.
Wolfsburg came into the match under the guidance of Köstner, the club’s reserve team coach, who had filled the role of senior squad interim manager before in 2010. Köstner, 60, has been in professional coaching for 30 years and made quite a few changes to the Wolfsburg starting XI that lost to Freiburg last week. He replaced Ricardo Rodriguez and Emmanuel Pogatetz on the backline with Marcel Schafer and Simon Kjaer, while utterly changing last week’s midfield, starting Jan Polak and Josue in front of his backline while placing Makoto Hasebe, Diego and Ivica Olić from left to right behind lone striker Bas Dost, the top Dutch scorer last season acquired over the summer.
Meier’s club regained their early season form during the first half, shutting out the revamped Wolfsburg side. While Wolfsburg fans surely had to expect an immediate bump upward in team performance following the departure of the unpopular Magath (the players voted that he be dismissed Tuesday), Wolfsburg were unable to dent the scoreboard as a sign of improved morale and dedication without the presence of the coach that they had quit on. Fortunately for the Wolves, Dusseldorf were also unable to do much in attack. A 16th minute shot by Fink was blocked, and neither team could garner anything tangible from the number of free kicks drawn. The best scoring opportunity of the goalless half came at the very end, when Giefer made a finger-tip save of a Dost header coming from Hasebe on the right.
Wolfsburg broke the deadlock five minutes into the second half, as Olić ran down the left flank and crossed to Dost, who converted from close range past Giefer. Olić himself doubled Wolfsburg’s lead just three minutes later as Diego found him with a diagonal pass that the Croatian international left-footed from the left corner of the six yard box. Dost added another goal at the 64th minute when he used his right foot to score from a Hasebe cross. Wolfsburg were in command, scoring three times in 14 minutes after tallying only two goals in the previous 680 minutes of league play.
Meier’s team fought back, and were able to earn a consolation goal as Jens Langeneke scored on a 71st minute penalty kick following an Olić tripping foul in the box, but that was the lone highlight of F95’s day. Seven minutes later Diego completed the second half fireworks when it was the Wolves’ turn for a penalty kick, following a foul by Fink that saw him ejected from the match. Meier brought in Danish striker Ilsø in the 76th minute, but down three goals and short a man, Düsseldorf were unable to change the final score. The home side were outshot by Wolfsburg 10-6, with the Wolves earning 54% of possession as they had almost a 100 more passes attempted and a similar number of touches more than Düsseldorf.
Saturday’s loss saw Fortuna Düsseldorf fall to the 11th spot in the table, their lowest berth in their first season following promotion, with the possibility of being passed in the standings Sunday by VfB Stuttgart and Borussia Monchengladbach. The F95 club had a plus 4 goal differential after seven matches — now following a combined 9-1 aggregate loss to Bayern and Wolfsburg, their goal differential is -5 after a brilliant defensive start to the season. Yet one could argue that all is not lost for Meier’s club, as they had the misfortune over the last two weeks to host not only the Bundesliga’s dominant team but also to receive a visit from a Wolfsburg side determined to show up their former taskmaster manager.
The fact that Meier’s club held a determined Wolfsburg scoreless for 50 minutes is a plus, although their shipping of three goals in less than 15 minutes is problematic. More problematic is the team’s inability to score itself, as the ejected Fink was the only F95 player who had more than one shot in Saturday’s game. Schahin and Voronin were both unable to attempt a shot, somewhat alarming given Schahin’s form this season and Voronin’s total of 108 professional goals. As a team, F95 could only earn one corner kick over 90 minutes, too. F95 have now been shut out five times in nine league games, and only Langeneke’s penalty conversion prevented a sixth shut out Saturday. Things won’t get easier for Meier and company as they host Gladbach in the DFB Pokal second round Wednesday and then travel to Leverkusen for next Sunday’s fixture.
Wolfsburg’s performance, especially in the second half, indicated that the players had indeed earlier quit on Magath the disciplinarian. While Magath, in a previous coaching stint, brought Wolfsburg its only Bundesliga title, his hard-nosed training, benching of players and bloated squad undoubtedly were among the reasons for the players’ unrest, along with the lack of positive results. A team that was tabbed as a potential Europa League candidate had earned only five points before Magath’s departure and were winless in four matches in the Volkswagen City, certainly a prescription for change. Further proof of Wolfsburg players’ re-dedication was demonstrated by their winning almost 57% of their tackles Saturday after winning only 45% at home last week against SC Freiburg. They got stuck in.
Returned to the starting XI, Brazilian veteran Josue played an important role for his team and completed 67 of 70 pass attempts from his holding midfield position, while his partner Jan Polak completed 69 of 65. Josue also led his team with 16 successful tackles and along with Diego, covered the most ground, as Wolfsburg covered a total of 5.3 km from runs more than their hosts. Right back Fagner pumped in four crosses while having the most touches. With two goals Saturday, Dutchman Dost reminded Wolfsburg supporters why he was acquired and how he led the Eredivisie in scoring last season.
But one strong performance does not yet indicate a true turnaround. While Saturday’s victory lifts Wolfsburg into 16th place, trailing Nürnberg and Hoffenheim only on goal differential, the squad will have to continue the discipline and teamwork to perform well again after a strong performance aided by the adrenaline spike of a coaching change. Many felt that Wolfsburg had the talent to compete well this season….now they have to prove it.
One also wonders about Magath’s future. The man who won three league titles as a player and another three coaching only lasted 51 matches in his second stint in the Volkswagen City. His 39% winning percentage during those 51 games has pulled his career winning percentage a notch under 50% in a career leading seven different Bundesliga clubs since May, 1997. While the 59 year-old still has many admirers and certainly has had tangible successes leading clubs, his tendency to alienate his squads with harsh training and the benching of proven veterans while drastically changing rosters and going on large transfer-window spending sprees calls into question where the veteran coach will next find a position. If he couldn’t work magic again in Wolfsburg, where he was beloved (at least by many supporters) as a title-winning coach, then has his excesses in discipline and spending come to outweigh the value of his abilities tactically and of creating a very fit squad? Time will tell, but to be fair to Magath, he came into a another relegation situation in this Wolfsburg stint and by next spring another call make come for the proven fireman, despite the recent downturn in his coaching fortunes.