Luiz Gustavo shines as Wolfsburg rout Schalke

It was anything but an ordinary win for Wolfsburg.  Their 4-0 win against Schalke on matchday 2 is their biggest in the league in over three years.  The last time they scored four unanswered goals was back in April of 2010 against Hoffenheim. It was also the first time in five years that they’ve won their first home match of the season  Their dominant performance against the Blues also marked the debut of record signing Luiz Gustavo following his midweek move from Bayern Munich who had an immediate impact on his team.

It is no coincidence then that this, aside from their 4-0 loss against Bayern last season, was also Schalke’s biggest Bundesliga defeat since 2010 and their 5-0 loss to Kaiserslautern. While the loss to Wolfsburg represented some of the outstanding issues Schalke coach Jens Keller still needs to address, namely the balance in defense and continuing to work on the team’s transition game, it also showed the potential Wolfsburg’s squad has, especially now that they have added the missing piece of the puzzle with Gustavo.

Gustavo the key

Following their 2-0 loss to Hannover on the opening weekend Hecking made three changes.  The young and talented Robert Knoche started alongside Naldo in defense while Perisic replaced Maximilian Arnold in midfield.  Instead of Jan Polak, Luiz Gustavo slotted in next to Koo in the center of midfield.  It’s a position that has troubled Wolfsburg ever since another Brazilian, Josue, entered his decline following their title winning season in 2009.  But with Gustavo they not only have an ideal replacement but a modern upgrade.  And it showed against Schalke.

Gustavo won 13 duels against Schalke, a team high, and completed 90% of his 40 passes.  Last season only Xavi had a better passing accuracy than the Brazilian in Europe’s top leagues and against Schalke Gustavo’s confidence and movement with the ball was obvious for all to see. His industry allows Diego the freedom to be at his most creative and his passing precision engages and brings players like Perisic and Vieirinha into the game.  Last week Hannover double or triple teamed Diego and against Schalke Gustavo took a lot of that pressure off by distributing the game more evenly amongst his teammates.

It should be said, Schalke were not entirely out of the game.  They had good spells in the first and second half but Wolfsburg capitalized on their chances and used the open space better on the break. That’s also where Gustavo was so crucial. When Wolfsburg regained possession they did not dwell on the ball and moved it quickly out of their own half.  Koo and Gustavo’s partnership in the middle was key to that and Draxler always ventured out wide because he had difficulties finding space in the middle.

Schalke suffer on set pieces and in balance of play

Unfortunately for Schalke, the result is not the only bad news as first choice striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar had to come off with what looked like a serious injury and is now awaiting official diagnosis to assess the damage.  His replacement in today’s game, Adam Szalai, did not get a single shot off against Wolfsburg. That is as much down to Wolfsburg’s defense as it was Schalke’s inability to move the ball quickly and precisely enough.  Farfan looked fatigued after his midweek trip to South Korea with the Peruvian national team and Draxler and Clemens did not click as well as they did against Hamburg last week.  It took them a good 40 minutes to create a real scoring chance.

In two league matches Schalke have already conceded three goals from corner situations, one more than in the entire campaign last year.  With imposing figures like Höwedes, Santana, Fuchs and whichever of Huntelaar or Szalai are on, they have a lot of room for improvement.  To add to that, they have conceded seven goals in their first two games, their worst tally in league history after 180 minutes of play. Keller has some of the league’s most competent defenders on his squad and needs to find the right balance between getting the most out of their talented attack and not being so vulnerable at the back.

Similar to last year, Keller’s responses to going down could be brought into question.  He was of course hampered by Huntelaar’s injury but neither Pukki or Meyer offered much to address the issues they faced in this game.  With both Goretzka and Neustädter on the bench, he had two players that would have not only assured possession better but been able to keep up with Wolfsburg’s seemingly higher fitness levels.

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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari

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