Are Wolfsburg ready for Europe?

Jürgen Klopp may not have been particularly joyful following Wolfsburg’s 2-1 win over last season’s Bundesliga and Champions League runner-ups, however their opponents will have been just about satisfied. Given that Borussia Dortmund had lost two games in a week, the last being against Arsenal, Neven Subotić had also been ruled out for the rest of the season with a torn cruciate knee ligament. Neven is the club’s third player to be unavailable for Die Schwarzgelben at the moment.

Nevertheless Wolfsburg won. They had to fight for it, but a Ricardo Rodríguez equaliser after Marco Reus opened the scoring on half-time, was then followed by Ivica Olić. Quite the spectacular effort from the ex-Bayern München forward, who managed to get off a great curling left-footed effort off the post and in. Schmelzer harried him on the turn, but clearly not enough as the shot came in from the edge of the 18-yard box. 19-year-old attacking midfielder Maximilian Arnold replaced the talismanic Diego, who is out with injury, with a decent performance.

Post-match Arnold said: “We went into the game with a lot of confidence after three straight victories. We had a bit of luck with the first goal, but I feel we fully deserved the 2-1 win.” He was right about the first goal. Rodríguez’s free-kick looked to have taken a deflection, but bounced awkwardly in front of Weidenfeller who anticipated the ball wrongly. The unintentional effort on goal was a timely leveller.

Captain Diego Benaglio praised the home advantage. “We’re starting to come into our own at home, which is a positive. We’ll keep working hard after a good win.” he said. And that was their fifth home win of the season, their only defeat coming against determined newcomers Eintracht Braunschweig. A strong record considering four more teams have since been unbeaten on their own turf – Bayern, Bayer and the Borussias.

Whether Die Wölfe can continue their positive start to the season for a place in Europe is left for the months ahead to decide. Seven wins and five defeats in 12 matches puts them fifth ahead of early strugglers Schalke. Just a point behind Sami Hyypiä’s Bayer Leverkusen. Dieter Hecking at the beginning of the season had intentions of turning Volkswagen Arena into a “fortress”, things have turned out that way since.

Prior to his side’s opening day fixture at home to Schalke, Hecking said: “We’ve got to make sure we play on the field in such a way that we get the fans behind us. We have got to show that we desperately want to win this home game. I’m sure our fans know all too well what we need from them.”

They knew back in 2008/09 when, under Felix ‘Quälix’ Magath, they pried the title out of previous winners Bayern München’s grasp. Magath also led the team to an unbeaten home record of 16 wins and a draw. Since then they have stagnated, with their worst tally coming last season – three wins, six defeats and eight draws.

It’s their inconsistent forward line in producing goals (9th in goals scored) and staunch defence (4th) that makes Wolfsburg a liability. Undoubtedly Naldo’s arrival from Werder Bremen last year has shored up the defence and made it the best outside of the top four, however the lack of consistent strikers at Hecking’s disposal provokes issues that have plagued the club since their title-winning year. Is Bas Dost the man to take over from Olić when he needs a rest? Unlikely, however he will be needed to lead the front line soon enough.

Hecking hasn’t been particularly vocal on the topic, and has been busier dealing with his star players. Earlier in the season reports emerged about a rift between the 49-year-old and newest acquisition Luiz Gustavo. He questioned the Brazilian’s discipline and believed that he deserved to be booked following the 2-0 defeat to Eintracht Braunschweig. “He doesn’t know how to go his man.” he said.

And Diego’s future is ‘uncertain’. A fairly accurate assumption. The former Juventus midfielder’s (expensive) contract is winding down until June this coming summer. “We have to see if it makes sense to extend the contract of Ivica Olić, and the same with Diego. We must evaluate if he [Diego] suits the style of the game that we want, or if we are basing our game to be too dependent on him alone.”

So far he has proven to be an asset to the side, and keeping him probably would be a sensible move. As for their ambitions to qualify for European football next season, the Christmas break will allow them to assess their options. It’s a long shot, however it’s not an aspiration to rule out for the Wolves.

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