VfL Wolfsburg bounced back from being nearly relegated to qualifying directly to Europa League. Can they keep up their momentum and finish top six, or even top four? Or will the burden of having a new manager and extra Europa League matches be their undoing?
Bundesliga: 6th, 55 pts. (16W-7D-11L)
DFB-Pokal: Round of 16 – 0:1 defeat to RB Leipzig
Die Wölfe were in a bad place to start last season, sitting in 12th after five losses and only recording 12 points in the first 11 matches of the season, but they bounced back to end the Hinründe with 16 points in the final six matches. After opening the Rückrunde with two defeats, they rebounded and lost only four matches the rest of the way to finish sixth in the league for their best finish since 2014-15.
And thanks to Bayern qualifying for Champions League based on winning the league, Wolfsburg qualified directly to the Europa League group stage. After finishing the last two seasons in the relegation playoff, a tight sixth-place was about as good as any Wolfsburg fan could have asked for.
· Xavier Schlager (CM) – RB Salzburg – 13.5m
· Kevin Mbabu (RB) – BSC Young Boys – 8.28m
· Joak Victor (LW) – LASK – 3.15m
· Paulo Otávio (LB) – FC Inglostadt – 990k
· Lukas Nmecha (CF) – Manchester City U23 – Loan
· Landry Dimata (CF) – RSC Anderlecht – 4.5m
· Victor Osimhen (CF) – RSC Charleroi – 3.15m
· Gian-Luca Itter (LB) – SC Freiburg – 2.25m
· Paul Seguin (DM) – Greuther Fürth – 270k
· Paul Verhaegh (RB) – FC Twente – Free Transfer
· Sebastian Jung (RB) – Hannover 96 – Free Transfer
· Marvin Stefaniak (RM) – Greuther Fürth – Loan
The biggest move of the off-season for Wolfsburg didn’t happen on the pitch, but rather on the touchline. Manager Bruno Labbadia did not opt to have his contract renewed and left the club following the 2018-19 season. Why he resigned is somewhat unclear, but replacing him for the upcoming season will be Oliver Glasner. Signed to a three-year deal, Glasner was previously in charge of LASK Linz of the Austrian Bundesliga, and he led the club to within a goal against Besiktas of making the Europa League group stage last season and a spot in the 2019-20 Champions League qualifying round. On paper this seems to be a good move, but it remains to be seen whether he can make the move from the Austrian Bundesliga to the German one.
Player-wise, appears to have made some good moves. Schlager and Mbabu are the big signings for Die Wölfe. Schlager pumped in a combined eight goals and four assists in 44 matches last season for RB Salzburg, while Mbabu chipped in one goal and three assists for Young Boys last season. They both saw playing time in the team’s first round DFB-Pokal match, so it should be believed that they’ll play important roles for the club going into the season.
What to expect in 2019/20
Expect Wout Weghorst to lead the team in scoring once again, as the Dutch forward banged in 20 goals across all competitions. Giving him opportunities to score will most likely be their core of Maximilian Arnold (7 assists) Admir Mehmedi (7 assists), and Yannick Gerhardt (6 assists), while Jérôme Roussillon will be a threat from the left-back position.
They’ll be led a young group of defenders such as Robin Knoche, John Brooks, Felix Uduokhai, Roussillon, and William, and in goal will be Koen Casteels. Die Wölfe allowed 50 goals last year and finished with a goal differential of +12. Even with a 6-0 drubbing by Bayern, that’s still a very impressive mark for a club that looked like they were going to finish mid-table halfway through the season. The players they’ve brought in should only help strengthen that part of the squad.
Prediction: Challenge for Top 6
Did Wolfsburg do enough to push themselves into the top four? That’s what will determine whether they finish in European competition or if they miss out. How Glasner adjusts to managing in Germany will be the biggest indicator of the club’s success.
While Frankfurt proved the notion of more games, European travel, and a new manager didn’t automatically mean a dip in domestic form, they also saw two of their players be sold for a combined €100 million. I don’t know if there’s one player on Wolfsburg’s roster worth half that.
They’ve got fine players, but do they have that one game-changer that everyone on the opposing team has to know where they are at all times? Dortmund has that, Bayern has that, even Leipzig has (for the moment) a game-changer. I think they’ll be good enough to safely avoid relegation, and possibly even challenge for Europa League qualification again, but I don’t see them breaking through the top four unless one of the top teams takes a nose-dive.