Friday Match Preview: VfL Wolfsburg v Schalke 04

Week 3 of the new Bundesliga season gets underway on Friday with an intriguing match-up between Wolfsburg and Schalke at the Volkswagen Arena. Both sides have had okay, yet indifferent starts to the campaign and both could do with three points to boost morale.

Dieter Hecking’s Wolfsburg went into the season on a high following their second place finish last year and their Super Cup victory over Bayern Munich, but the mood at the Niedersachsen club has muted somewhat following their opening day win over Eintracht Frankfurt.

The ongoing saga of Kevin De Bruyne’s predicted transfer to Manchester City hangs over the Volkswagen Arena like a dark cloud and with the transfer window not closing until September 1st, it could well be that the saga is still not resolved by the time Schalke arrive on Friday.

Hecking took the decision to play De Bruyne on Sunday as they were held away at Köln, but the Belgian attacker, such a force last season as he was voted Player of the Year, was a shadow of his normal self and played well below the standard that has caused the speculation of a €70 million move to England.

However, by the time you read this, events may have moved hastily on.

It took an 84th minute equaliser from supersub Niklas Bendtner to rescue a point at the Rhein-Energie Stadion and the fact that goalkeeper Koen Casteels was Wolfsburg’s best player speaks volumes. They have four points, but the manner of their obtaining has been far from convincing.

Like die Wölfe, Schalke also started with an impressive opening day win only to disappoint in their second outing last week. A 3-0 away win at Werder Bremen handed new coach Andre Breitenreiter the ideal start to his reign, but last weekend’s draw at home to newly promoted Darmstadt was a disappointment.

The two performances were poles apart with the Werder win showing attacking dynamism and composure in front of goal, whereas against Darmstadt, they struggled to break down a resolute defensive line in a 1-1 draw.

In order to avoid the suspicions of a false dawn at the Königsblauen, Breitenreiter will want to see a reaction on Friday as his side hit the road once more.

One player particularly looking forward to the trip will be veteran full-back Sascha Riether. The 32-year-old won the Bundesliga title back in 2009 while at Vfl Wolfsburg during a five-year stint that saw him make 116 appearances. It will also be a return to his old stomping ground for Schalke trainer Andre Breitenreiter, who 24 Bundesliga appearances for Wolfsburg at the end of the 1990s.

Team news:

The big dilemma for Dieter Hecking is whether to keep faith with Kevin De Bruyne given the ongoing transfer saga and the player’s below-par showing against Köln. Diego Benaglio is still a little way off a full return, but Andre Schürrle is back in full training and could provide an option for the coach.

There are no new injury concerns for Andre Breitenreiter. Apart from Benedikt Höwedes, Fabian Giefer, and Atsuto Uchida, who are making their comebacks, Matija Nastasic is the only other notable absentee. The trainer has said that places are up for grabs, but don’t be surprised to see the same line-up from last week given another run-out.

Head-to-head:

Bundesliga played: 36
Wolfsburg won: 10 Schalke won: 12 Draws: 14

Last season: Wolfsburg 1 (De Bruyne,78) Schalke (Sané 53) (19/04/2015)
*Wolfsburg were unbeaten at home last season, but have failed to beat the Königsblauen in their past three meetings

Key men:

Luiz Gustavo

With Kevin De Bruyne underperforming with the pressure of the transfer speculation hanging over him, it may be time for someone else to shine for die Wölfe as they host Schalke. The Brazilian missed the Super Cup and the opening weekend, but is now back from injury to add some bite, leadership and quality to the Wolfsburg side.

Julian Draxler

Although there will continue to be rumours until the transfer window closes, Julian Draxler (touch wood) it seems looks to be staying with Schalke. That news will come as a massive boost to die Knappen as he has started the season in excellent form. He scored the equaliser last week against Darmstadt and was a key factor in the win over Werder Bremen in week one.

What they’re saying:

Dieter Hecking: “With a win we can go top of the table for a couple of hours. That is a nice additional attraction. The stadium is sold-out and there are two teams going head-to-head that have started the season well. I am really looking forward to this game and I am expecting an exciting clash.

“In Cologne, we lacked the necessary tempo over long periods. We spent too much time just knocking the ball about and for over an hour we didn’t manage to force our opponents into errors or create chances on goal. That’s normally our strength. We didn’t show enough of that against Köln and we must do better against Schalke.”

Andre Breitenreiter: “Commitment, motivation, willingness to challenge for the ball and the will to win were all there,” the coach said about the draw with Darmstadt. “I told the boys that. But there were also things that we didn’t do so well – we’ve discussed those and we want to improve on them in Wolfsburg”.

Prediction:
VfL Wolfsburg 2 Schalke 1

 

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Mathew Burt

A year spent living in Bremen got Mathew hooked on the Bundesliga with regular visits to the Weser Stadion getting in the way of his studies. Back in the UK now, he still keenly follows the Grün-Weißen and German football in general. Follow him on Twitter @matburt74.