VfL Wolfsburg: Die Wölfe’s De Bruyne-less Decline

Last season, Wolfsburg, led by Kevin de Bruyne, finished second in the league and won the DFB-Pokal for the first time in their history. They had overtaken Borussia Dortmund as Germany’s #2 power, something they had been planning on doing for some time and had finally managed to achieve. With the club also in a healthy financial position thanks in no small part to their connections with Volkswagen, it seemed like things were only going to get better for Die Wölfe going forward.

But, following the club record sale of de Bruyne to Manchester City and Ivan Perisic’ move to Inter Milan, the club has struggled to play anywhere near to the heights that they reached last term, with the team languishing in seventh place in the Bundesliga and having recorded just one win away from VW Arena all season. Wolfsburg fared better in Europe, though, by winning their Champions League group which contained Manchester United and PSV Eindhoven and have a favorable opponent in the shape of Belgian champions Gent in the next round, but their domestic woes cannot be ignoredas they had into Sunday’s matchup hosting 1.FC Köln.

One of the biggest reasons for their downfall is not just the sales of de Bruyne and Perisic, but also the failure to replace them adequately. That’s where Julian Draxler and Andre Schurrle come into play. Their form has been miserable ever since arriving at the club, which is something that not many were expecting as they were believed to be fine replacements for the two key players that left, especially given the fact that they were both World Cup winners with Germany two summers ago and are hoping to get into the squad for the Euros this summer.

Another factor for their below par displays, which could be tied in with the reasons stated above, is that they’re also lacking a clinical goal scorer up top. Bas Dost hasn’t played at the level that he was at on that ridiculous scoring spree last season, which let’s face it, he may never repeat again (and now Dost is on the shelf for a considerable period with a training camp injury). Nicklas Bendtner has been even worse and injury prone to top it off. Max Kruse has been lively and is looking like a good signing, but he’s no true #9 himself. The center forward position has been one of Wolfsburg’s weak links, despite Dost’s robust 2015 Ruckrunde, and management’s failure to upgrade here could be a key reason as to why the Volkswagen club are not further up the table at the moment.

It wouldn’t be fair to pin all Wolfe’s problems on the offensive players, though. Defensively Wolfsburg have experienced issues as well. Much surely has to do with the somewhat strange decision made by Dieter Hecking in benching the talented Robin Knoche, who very much has potential to appear for Deutsche Mannschaft at some point in the future, in favor of the ageing Brazilian Dante, a summer signing from Bayern. Wolfsburg’s centerback pairing currently consists of two Brazilians already well into their 30s with a young home-grown talent sitting on the bench, idly watching his team. With Naldo and Dante as the starting central defenders, the club has struggled to keep clean sheets on a weekly basis, with just six managed all season in the league.

One could also argue that rival Bundesliga teams have adjusted to Hecking’s tactical approach, and there hasn’t been a resulting response by the Wolfsburg coach.  Even the popular and highly-successful Jurgen Klopp suffered a similar fate with his Dortmund side last season while he too saw his team lose some key players to the vultures of European football before suffering a rapid, tumultuous decline. Hecking is doing himself no favors by insisting on playing the same tactics every week when the results clearly show that it’s just not working and changes are necessary to get the best out of this Wolfsburg team, which honestly should earning more results given it’s still talent-filled roster.

2015/2016 could still be a good season for Wolfsburg, with a top four spot still up for grabs, given all the inconsistencies of their closest rivals, and a historical Champions League quarterfinal berth looks to be a probable one. But ,if theclub is to reach their targets, they’ll have to improve and Hecking will have to change his ways. Otherwise they risk losing more key players like Ricardo Rodriguez, Luiz Gustavo, and Vierinha in the summer and having to rebuild from scratch once again.

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Edin Halilovic

Edin is a Bosnian currently residing in the United States whose interest in the Bundesliga and German football in general has been increasing heavily in recent years. Follow him @edinh_96