Summer striker signing is what Wolfsburg need to challenge Bayern
Wolfrsburg, 14/1 chances with Coral to win the Europa League this term, made a major statement on winter window transfer deadline day by bringing Andre Schurrle back to the Bundesliga.
The intention that accompanies paying a reported £24m to Chelsea for the World Cup winning forward is clear. Die Wolfe want to step up and challenge Bayern Munich’s domestic dominance.
A nice idea, but many have tried and failed. Borussia Dortmund’s current plight shows no team can guarantee being able to replace key players when lost. Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski were both persuaded the grass was greener at the Allianz Arena, so they left Jurgen Klopp in the lurch.
It’s only six years since Wolfsburg last tasted the German top-flight title under Felix Magath. That success was built on the 54-goal strike partnership of current Manchester City frontman Edin Dzeko and Brazilian centre forward Grafite in attack.
At the back, meanwhile, Italian pair Andrea Barzagli (now Juventus) and Cristian Zaccardo (AC Milan), who were both part of the Azzurri’s victorious 2006 World Cup squad, got great protection from Magath’s midfield diamond.
Having Brazilian holder Josue, and current Japan captain Makoto Hasebe, anchoring the engine room allowed Dzeko’s fellow Bosnia international Zvjezdan Misimovic the opportunity to supply through guile and supplement with goals.
Width largely came from full back, though followers of Magath will note right-sided combination Sascha Riether and Ashkan Dejagah that subsequently worked with him at Fulham was an alternative tactic to a narrow midfield.
Goalie Diego Benaglio, now retired from representing Switzerland, is pretty much the only one left from the 2008/09 vintage at Wolfsburg. Attacking left back Marcel Schafer remains on the books, but his spot in the side under Dieter Hecking is now occupied by Benaglio’s compatriot Ricardo Rodriguez.
A third Swiss star, Timm Klose, is being kept out of the current XI by academy product Robin Knoche and centre half Naldo, who has huge Bundesliga experience. Former Arsenal target Sebastian Jung completes the first-choice defence.
Instead of Josue, Die Wolfe now have Luiz Gutsavo patrolling in front of the back four and Atletico Madrid loanee Joshua Guilavogui. Schurrle will most likely slot in down the right flank, as he is of a markedly higher profile than number seven Daniel Caligiuri, who was poached from Freiburg in 2013.
Swapping flanks with Croatia’s Ivan Perisic may be a feature of Wolfsburg’s play going forward. Schurrle is reunited with old Chelsea teammate Kevin de Bruyne here, and his move to operating off the front has proved hugely fruitful.
In wide areas the Belgium international was able to have an assisting influence but, since being shifted to a central supporting role, De Bruyne has grabbed six goals in as many matches. Aside from the fineries of tactical nuance between 4-4-2 with a diamond and the en vogue, progressive 4-2-3-1 formations, then, Die Wolfe look largely similar to the winning blueprint of 2008/09.
There is one major difference, however. Where is the 20 goals plus striker or front two? Dutch forward Bas Dost and ex-Arsenal man Nicklas Bendtner have just eight between them across all competitions this term so far.
Bayern’s fabulous front four of Gotze, Lewandowski, Thomas Muller and Arjen Robben have all bettered than combined tally individually. What Wolfsburg are clearly missing, then, is a Dzeko-type to finish off chances laid on for him by De Bruyne with Perisic and Schurrle either side.
A gap of eight points separates Munich and Die Wolfe, and the latter’s Achilles heel in trying to stop Pep Guardiola from securing more silverware looks to be this issue. It does give Hecking, backed by the investment of car manufacturer Volkswagen, an indication of what he needs in the summer, though, as a prolific striker appears to be the last piece of the puzzle.