Wolfsburg's Bundesliga Preview: 2015-16
Can Wolfsburg survive the exhaustion of playing the Champions League?
The 2014-15 season proved out to be a campaign when Dieter Hecking's men in green ended up truly discovering themselves. Most had predicted the Ruhr Valley giants Borussia Dortmund to stake claim to the second spot in the Bundesliga, but finishing second came as a pleasant surprise to the yearning Wolfsburg fans.
Dortmund's unprecedented fall, to depths they didn't know possible, allowed the Wolves to surprise the outsiders and finish as high as second in the Bundesliga, grabbing a direct Champions League qualification ticket. More so, the DFB Pokal triumph proved out to be the perfect icing on the cake as the Volkswagen arena realised that they was witnessing something spellbinding.
Last season wasn't just the evolution of this club, but also the re-emergence of Belgian star Kevin de Bruyne who had joined the side last January from English Champions, Chelsea. De Bruyne was at the centre of everything Wolfsburg did and achieved. Whenever they managed to score, it was after only a fractions of seconds that you'd have realized that it was De Bruyne again who had racked up another assist. De Bruyne, in fact, went on to break the Bundesliga assist record for a single season, proving many of his credentials. If he couldn't find an assist, a goal was always welcome.
'Die Wolfe' undoubtedly had earned a tag for playing exciting football last season. Their eye-pleasing passing and thundering counter attacking abilities raised eye brows of many, especially after their acclaimed 4-1 thrashing of would be champions, Bayern Munich.
The amount of time they took for transition from defense to attack was minimal and with the help of their pacy full backs- Ricardo Rodriguez and Vierinhia, their attack carried a substantial amount of zip and verve.
The duo of Bas Dost and De Bruyne was central to their success. Dost finished everything that came his way, made sneaky runs in behind the opposition back line and carried an unerring physical presence in the box too. De Bruyne's ability to pick out passes from midfield areas coupled with Dost's traits and they in turn, formed a destructive partnership, attracting attention from numerous foreign clubs.
Dost finished second in the goal tally behind Eintracht Frankfurt's Alex Meier, just three goals behind. The likes of Daniel Caligiuri and Ivan Perisic were always on their toes too and the addition of World Cup winner, Andre Schurrle, added more leverage to their attack.
The central midfield was filled to the brim with quality too. Both Luiz Gustavo and Maxi Arnold formed the foundation of the attack, with Gustavo sitting deeper and conducting things and young Arnold given the license to venture forward and create things higher up the pitch. Josuha Guilavogui's contributions here and there turned out to be vital too.
The worrying, pestering element was the defense. Sometimes, the amount of disorganization at the back allowed the opposition to score 3 or 4 goals, notably against Bayer Leverkusen, with Hecking's men having to outscore teams. They could keep only 8 clean sheets in 34 Bundesliga games, proving why their defense turned out to be too big a burden to carry.
The 2015-16 season is sure to present Wolfsburg with loads of different challenges. Many teams end up regretting playing the Champions League just because their league form suffers due to it but Wolfsburg have to avoid that. Team depth would be a key and letting go of players is something they would hate.
The futures of Ivan Perisic, De Bruyne and Dost's futures have come under jeopardy with reports linking them to Inter Milan, Manchester City and Newcastle United respectively. For the time being, Wolfsburg have pegged back approaches from all three clubs but the transfer window never ceases to spring surprises. Holding onto all three of them must be a top priority if Wolfsburg are to replicate a bit of what they did last season.
The signing of Monchengladbach's Max Kruse allows them another quality option up front, or a change in formation to 4-4-2 with Dost playing off the defenders shoulders and Kruse making use of strong hold up ability to create openings.
Naldo's age has to be taken into consideration and to increase the solidarity at the back and to increase their standards, they have to sign a centre half. Although, they have managed to secure the services of Carlos Ascues from Melgar Arequipa, but is he good enough? There are question marks over it.
The capture Francisco Rodriguez, who happens to be Ricardo's younger brother, does raise eyebrows but the 20 year old is not the finished material yet but may play a bit part role in the central midfield, taking into account that Ricardo is set to not budge.
Felipe Lopes, Robin Knocke and Tim Klose are decent players yet inexperienced and they need a solid, known defender in there to evolve as a team and in turn, increase team depth. They need someone who others can look upto and knows how to organize defenders around him.
Wolfsburg clearly are one of the top German clubs in the world right now but another clear fact which that Bayern Munich would still claim the Bundesliga. The 2nd, 3rd and 4th places could potentially be up for grabs with the trio of Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg likely to seize them; followed by Monchengladbach.
If Dortmund end up rediscovering their mojo, few things can stop them. And Wolfsburg are among those 'few things' only if they strengthen at the back and leak a lesser amount of goals. If there's something that can hinder them from making it to the Champions League once again, it's the Champions League itself.