Six games into the Bundesliga season, VfL Wolfsburg are among a handful of high-profile clubs who find themselves in the bottom half of the table. VfL have only scored four goals and have mustered just one win from their first six contests in the league.
This is the same club that just two seasons ago were the 2nd best club in the Bundesliga, finishing 10 points behind Bayern Munich in 2014/15.
Since then, Kevin De Bruyne is gone. Andre Schürrle has moved on to Dortmund. Bas Dost and Lord Nicklas Bendtner have also moved on.
To combat this exodus, Wolfsburg have responded by making some notable signings. Julian Draxler joined the team from Schalke last summer and following a great European Championship performance Jakub Blaszczykowski was added to the midfield before this season.
Also thanks to a surprisingly successful European Championship following a, Wolfsburg decided to plug their hole at striker by pushing the Mario Gomez button. Unfortunately for Wolfsburg, Gomez is yet to get on the scoresheet in 2016/17.
The 31-year-old German international returns to the Bundesliga after playing three seasons in Italy and Turkey. In Gomez’s last season in Germany, he was part of a Bayern Munich team that won a treble. However, Gomez was more of an after thought during his final Bayern season as he netted 11 league goals in what was an injury riddled campaign. In his German career prior to leaving for Italy, though, Gomez scored 200 goals in all competitions for VfB Stuttgart and Bayern, winning three league championships, two Pokal trophies and the Champions League.
Injuries continued to plague Gomez, though, as he moved to Fiorentina. In two seasons, Gomez missed 65 games due to injury and only scored 5 goals in 23 Serie A appearances.
He seemed to right his ship when Fiorentina loaned him to Beşiktaş last season. In Turkey, Gomez led the Süper Lig in goals with 26 (six more than 2nd place Samuel Eto’o) and Beşiktaş won the title. Gomez impressed so much that he gained a recall to Joachim Löw’s Germany side for the 2016 European Championship tournament.
His play also earned him a move back to Germany at club level, as Wolfsburg spent €12 million to bring him to Lower Saxony. Unfortunately his return has yet to be a triumphant homecoming, as Gomez has rarely even come close to scoring in his five appearances.
Wolfsburg got their lone win of the young season in the one game they played without Gomez, a 2-0 away win over Augsburg on the opening weekend. In that game Bas Dost started up top, just a day before he was sold to Sporting Lisbon.
Now, Gomez is the only striker on the Wolfsburg roster with Bundesliga experience. For a club with European aspirations, this is a dangerous proposition. In his five games, Gomez has appeared slow and listless. He has seemed far off the pace and has done little to trouble opposition goalkeepers.
Clearly, the gap between the Turkish Süper Lig and the Bundesliga is a little more than he or Wolfsburg were counting on. Last season, Gomez was ever lively, even finding his way behind the defenses of Turkey. This season, not so much
Gomez is a classic number nine. He is tall (1.89m), strong, and at this point in his career largely immobile. He requires excellent service from the players around him in order to be effective. At no point in his career was creating his own scoring chances or stretching a defense considered his forte.
Thus far, the service has not been coming.
At Beşiktaş last season, Ricardo Quaresma and Jose Sosa rampaged the wide areas for the Istanbul side and were able to then provide cross after cross that Gomez was able to deftly finish. Six headed goals and just two goals from outside the box last season paint the picture of how Gomez was able to be successful in Turkey.
Wolfsburg are favoring a 4-2-3-1 formation that should provide the width needed for someone like Gomez. The problem is who is in those wide positions in the attacking midfield.
Blaszczykowski and Daniel Caligiuri have combined to create only 8 chances in 5 appearances each this year. This is not enough, but their style conflicts with Gomez as well. They are both very direct players who are more inclined to cut into the box and score themselves rather than get wide and provide service for their big striker.
Additionally, Draxler, starting in the number 10 role, has struggled. He has created 10 chances this season, but has not linked as well with the rest of the attack as was expected. Most of all he has not been able to set up his striker, Gomez.
Only two teams in the league have scored fewer goals than VfL this season and with Gomez up top it doesn’t seem like there is a bright future. His lack of pace and the congestion being caused by the attackers behind him has made Die Wolfe easy to defend by the well-organized back lines featured by most Bundesliga clubs.
Wolfsburg may need to get busy in the transfer market come January, because if they want to climb their way back into contention for the European places this season, Mario Gomez is not the man who can take them there.
The following are Bundesliga Fanatic livetweet comments from Sunday’s Wolfsburg-Mainz match specifically concerning the performance of Mario Gomez, in chronological order.
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