Despite finishing sixth last season under Bruno Labbadia, VfL Wolfsburg go into the new 2019/20 Bundesliga season with the relatively unknown Oliver Glasner at the helm. The Austrian is promising a new style from die Wölfe this season, so just what should we expect from his side?
That may well be the first question on many people’s lips with the 44-year-old Austrian far from a household name. He has however built up quite a reputation in the past four seasons with LASK Linz guiding them from the second tier of Austrian football to challenge for the first division title.
After taking over the club in 2015 he instantly led them to a runners-up spot, before going one better the following year and going up as champions with a 17-point winning margin. In their first season in the Bundesliga LASK finished an impressive fourth. Better came last season as they finished as runners-up to eternal champions Red Bull Salzburg.
Glasner clearly can build a team up, improve the players at his disposal and implement an effective playing style. Good news for Wolfsburg then.
The need for speed
Much of what we can expect from Wolfsburg can be gleaned from their summer transfer activity. The players brought in all have one thing in common- they inject increased speed into the VfL ranks. Other evidence comes from looking at Glasner’s ex-side LASK Linz, and then we have what the coach has said publicly.
With Wolfsburg finishing last season with an 8-1 win over FC Augsburg and qualifying for Europe, you’d think there wouldn’t be much need to change tactics/ philosophy, and doing so might upset the balance. Not so when Wolfsburg played French side Nice in a pre-season friendly to school the players in Glasner’s new ideas. The result was the same- an 8-1 victory.
Glasner will change the default formation to a nominal 3-4-3 when in possession and reverting quickly to a 5-2-3 when defending. The big change is from Labbadia’s possession based approach to one where they transition from defence into attack quickly, press the opposition into errors and use their pace to full effect.
“We want to play a very attractive style of football. When we have the ball we want to get to the opposition’s goal as fast as possible, and when we’re not in possession we want to win it back as quickly as possible” he explained at his official unveiling.
“We’ll use the time we have in our numerous training sessions and friendly matches to help the players take that on board.”
One major change we will see is the deployment of captain Joshua Guilavogui into the centre of the back three with ‘proper’ centre backs John Anthony Brooks and Robin Knoche either side. The fullback/ wing back roles will be taken by the revelation of last season, Jerome Roussillon and new signing from Young Boys Kevin Mbabu.
The Austrian League, which Glasner knows so well is the source of two further signings with Brazilian Joao Victor following Glasner from LASK, while central midfielder Oliver Schlager joins from RB Salzburg. Attacking wide man Victor scored 12 goals in 25 games last season and will inject pace into Wolfsburg’s attack. Schlager was much sought after by both RB Leipzig and Borussia Mönchengladbach, but cited trainer Oliver Glasner as the major factor in his decision to opt for the Volkswagen Arena.
With Daniel Ginczek out potentially for the entire Hinrunde, Wolfsburg have signed German U-21 international Lucas Nmecha from Manchester City.
The question of time
The changes that Oliver Glasner is implementing at Wolfsburg will take time, even if the initial signs are promising. Wolfsburg however are not famed for their patience with coaches. In the 2017/18 season they went through three coaches, and Bruno Labbadia was dispensed with despite last seasons success after falling out with Jorg Schmadtke.
Oliver Glasner has made a big point about him being a team player and stressing the importance of communication, so at least on the surface it would seem that peace and harmony might be the order of the day, rather than the abysmal relationship Labbadia enjoyed with Schmadtke.
There is also the question of success. Their sixth place finish last season was a great surprise to many considering the previous two campaigns had ended with relegation play-offs. What is the realistic targe this season? Wolfsburg have a better squad than last season, a highly promising coach, but there are plenty of teams battling for those Champions League and Europa League places.
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