In a swift counterattack move, the hosts hit Werder Bremen when Kevin De Bruyne played a delightful ball to the path of the onrushing Ricardo Rodriguez. The Swiss international’s effort was a typical poacher’s strike, as he lobbed the stranded goalkeeper Raphael Wolf to put Wolfsburg ahead. Any striker would be proud of this finish, as Rodriguez’s composure in front of goal deserves credit considering that he is actually a fullback. What’s more is that this was the fourth goal the diminutive set-piece specialist has netted in as many matches.
We can see Rodriguez’s all-around quality from the variety of goals he’s scored: a stunning free-kick to cap-off a fine performance at Everton in the Europa League opener, despite a heavy defeat for Wolfsburg; a brace against Bayer Leverkusen to earn his side’s first league win with a usual precision from the penalty-spot and a sumptuous half-volley straight from the corner-kick; and, of course, the aforementioned strike in the weekend against Robin Dutt’s depleted side.
Picking up where he left off
Rodriguez had nine assists and five goals last season, and judging by his solid start to this new campaign, things are only getting better. However, one might whether Rodriguez making overlapping runs on the flank time and time again is a liability for the VfL back-line, since he leaves plenty of room for pacy wingers to operate in his wake. Indeed, this fear was fulfilled with Rodriguez’s sloppy play at Hertha Berlin during the English week, in which Marcel Ndjeng took full advantage off the open space to assist Salomon Kalou’s solitary strike of the game. Rodriguez come out quickly to apologise for his rare mistake, and his subsequent performance against Bremen helped bring the Wolves back to winning ways.
The return of Ivan Perišić to the starting lineup during the weekend brings back memories of the effective link up play between Rodriguez and the Croat international down the left-flank where they produced great performances last season to help the Green-Whites to a respectable fifth-place finish, whereas despite shortage of goals, Kevin De Bruyne’s current form makes him one of the best attacking midfielders in the Bundesliga. Of course, expectations were raised after last season’s satisfactory finish, and with new signings getting more time to gel with the team, Wolfsburg fancy their chances of sneaking into the top four this term.
Taking the next leap
Those who follow VfL’s developments closely since the appointment of Klaus Allofs and Dieter Hecking, will probably conclude that returning back to Champions League football seems attainable at this stage. While it would be a hell of a task to repeat the side’s heroics of winning the league out of a blue in 2008-09 season, Wolfsburg look like a more consistent force this time around.
Although their project isn’t helped by the fact that they are considered one of the few plastic clubs in the league, VfL face scant criticism compared to the solid protests RB Leipzig are accustomed to in the lower divisions. Nonetheless, the club’s attacking philosophy and the title-winning season in 2008-09, thanks in major part to the deadly attacking pair of Grafite and Edin Džeko, not to mention the controversial Felix Magath’s team management, draws a fair share of interest from the footballing world.
The start of the new season leaves much to ponder with Junior Malanda’s blunder misses in the first two league matches restricted VfL only to take some pride from the curtain-raiser performance at Bayern and home draw against Eintracht Frankfurt. A late equalizer from front-runner Ivica Olić earned them another point at Hoffenheim in “El Plastico”. They also kick-offed European football with a defeat in England, as Everton’s Tim Howard put on a performance reminiscent of the World Cup quarter final against Belgium; this time around, the US international’s effort did affect the final scoreline, as the Merseyside club came out top in a week that saw three German sides get the better of their English opponents in the Champions League.
There were not much time to recover from the heavy defeat for Dieter Hecking’s side, however, as they earned their own big win three days later in a comprehensive dismantling against ten-man Bayer Leverkusen. Another home win followed by edging past winless Werder Bremen after going down at Hertha Berlin in the midweek. Only trailing league leaders Bayern Munich by six points, despite a slow start to the season, Wolfsburg’s pursuit of the table top is in full swing.
Europa League dilemma
Unlike recent seasons, Wolfsburg will have an extra Thursday matches every now and then with their participation in Europe’s secondary club football tournament, the Europa League. As much as VfL’s participation brings much-needed continental football to the Volkswagen Arena, there are questions over the squad being good enough to cope with the additional pressure of delivering the good in three fronts, also considering their consecutive semi-final exits in the DFB-Pokal.
The attacking department seems to have better coverage with Bundesliga veteran Aaron Hunt and Denmark international Nicklas Bendtner joining their ranks in the summer, but they seem over-reliant to Luis Gustavo in the middle of the park. Luckily for Dieter Hecking, the Brazilian seem to get a grip from his last season attractions to red cards. Wolfsburg declined interests from top clubs to keep their midfielder maestro, and with his solid performance in the early season, the decision to keep the former Bayern Munich’s player at the club was more valuable than the summer signings.
The same goes for Ricardo Rodriguez, whose fine form in this summer’s World Cup brought him into the spotlight more than ever. Chelsea have been linked with his name for quite some time now, especially since they were looking for Ashley Cole’s replacement in the summer. The former England international is regarded as one of the top players in the position, and the London club’s interest in the Swiss international with ponytail speaks volumes. Manchester United also reportedly showing interest over the signing of Rodriguez in their search of rebuilding a new defensive line under Louis van Gaal. Furthermore, even the German record champions Bayern München are said to be interested to secure Rodriguez’s signature according to Wolfsburger Allgemeine Zeitung.
Even with top clubs are after the in form attack-minded left-back, Wolfsburg will be hoping to keep hold of the former FC Zürich’s player in their journey of becoming a force to be reckoned with in the not so distant future, as Klaus Allofs stated his interest on contract extension talks with Rodriguez. With traditional clubs like Hamburg, Stuttgart and Werder Bremen languishing on the wrong side of the standings, Wolfsburg’s extended project is starting to pay off, although the financial difference between those clubs should not be taken lightly. Nonetheless, Wolfsburg fans hope glory days are coming back to the Lower Saxony side, and it will be more than a one-season fluke this time around.
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