It all turned out fine in the end, but Wolfsburg had to rely on an additional Europa League spot being freed up by both Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich contesting the DFB Pokal to really end the season with a smile on their faces. Originally it was going to be the fifth and sixth place teams that qualified for the Europa League, but in the end seventh place was sufficient, which just as well considering Hoffenheim pipped them to sixth on the final matchday.
A happy ending then but not an ecstatic one. Six points less and one league place lower than last season explains why there was no huge party at the Volkswagen Arena come the end of the season.
It all began so positively with new trainer Oliver Glasner installed at the helm. The former LASK coach began the Bundesliga season with a nine-match unbeaten run which brought four wins and five draws. After matchday nine die Wölfe sat fourth just two points from the top and a point adrift of Bayern Munich- a best ever Bundesliga start for the club.
Then came the crash, the reality check, the wake-up call. In the eight matches up to the Winterpause they lost five won two and drew the other meaning they finished the first half of the season in 9th– a full thirteen points adrift of the leaders RB Leipzig.
Losing their opening two matches after the Christmas break had a few alarm bells ringing with defeats to Köln and Hertha Berlin not exactly what they’d hoped for with the onset of the New Year. Previous coaches may have been looking over their shoulder, fearing the axe, but Glasner enjoyed the confidence of the board and slowly improved matters.
Wolfsburg remained undefeated in the six games up to the Corona virus interruption with a 4-1 away win at Bayer Leverkusen particularly impressive. They also beat Augsburg, Werder, and Schalke, but lost to Dortmund, Mönchengladbach and Bayern allowing Hoffenheim to overtake them into sixth.
What really hurt Wolfsburg however was their inability to take full advantage of the so-called ‘lesser teams’ at home. They drew with Paderborn, Augsburg, and Fortuna Düsseldorf, while they lost to Werder Bremen. There are nine points that could have had a massive impact on their final position.
The did have the added burden of Europa League football and at the time of writing still have to face Shakhtar Donetsk in the second leg of their round of 16 tie. The Ukrainians hold a 2-1 lead from the first leg at the Volkswagen Arena.
The season objective was achieved, but any celebrations were decidedly muted. They had finished with less points and far fewer goals than last season under Bruno Labbadia, ended up one place lower in the table and will now have to navigate the qualifying rounds for the Europa League.
Is it a case of glass half-full, or glass half-empty for Wolfsburg this season?
Maxi Arnold’s spectacular 91st minute volley to snatch all three points at home to Borussia Mönchengladbach on matchday 15 was one moment the Wolfsburg fans will cherish from the past season. Oliver Glasner got one over on his Austrian compatriot Marco Rose and kept the Foals long winless run at the Volkswagen Arena going.
The only thing missing from the 4-1 away win at Bayer Leverkusen on matchday 28 to make it perfect was the fans. It is a real shame that the Wolfsburg away support was denied the opportunity to witness their side’s demolition of the Champions League chasing Werkself. Two goals from defender Marin Pongračić as well as strikes from Renato Steffen and Maxi Arnold steered them to an important win.
The 4-0 loss to Bayern put a real dampener on the end of the season and cost Wolfsburg sixth place in the league, but then again Bayern were capable of doing that to any team in the Rückrunde, so there can’t be too much blame attached. Failing to win any of their four home games before that was however more of a low point that does warrant criticism.
The side’s poor run of form between matchday 10 and 19 was a lowlight with seven defeats arriving in those ten matches. Defeats to Bayern, Leverkusen and BVB were excusable, losses to Bremen, Freiburg, and Köln less so.
Getting thumped 6-1 by RB Leipzig at home in the second round of the DFB Pokal was also a moment to forget.
Tale of the Tape
Record: 13-10-11, 49 points (1.44 per game), 7th in Bundesliga
Home Record: 19 points (4-7-6) Away Record: 30 points (9-3-5)
Goals: 48 (1.41 per game), Goals Against: 46 (1.35 per game), Diff: 2
xG: 49.1, xGA: 40.8, Diff: 8.3
Wolfsburg scored 48 goals this season giving them an average of 1.41 per game. The scored 62 scored in the previous 2018-19 campaign so there has been quite a drop off in the goals produced by the team. Wout Weghorst top scored with 16, which was only one fewer than last season, so it is elsewhere where the goals have been lacking. Renato Steffen was the next highest scorer with six.
Daniel Ginczek was out with a back injury for a lot of the Hinrunde and ended up scoring three in his 18 appearances (9 starts). The 3-4-3 formation favoured by coach Glasner saw Weghorst as the main striker with two wide attackers joining- either Josip Brekalo, Renato Steffen, Joao Victor or Felix Klaus.
They actually ranked 6th in the league for total shots (466 and ahead of Dortmund) but 12th for percentage of shots on target (33.3%). Wolfsburg hit the post/ crossbar twelve times this season, so luck also played a part.
The club conceded 46 goals this season (1.35 per game) which was a slight improvement on the 50 let in the previous year. Oliver Glasner switched to a back three at the start of the season with captain Josh Guilavogui employed as one of the centre backs and had initial success with their bright start.
When the results began to slide moving towards Christmas, he held firm in his belief in the back three, only to cave in to pressure from the players in the Rückrunde and returned to a back four. At first it was Robin Knoche, who was the preferred partner for John Brooks, but Marin Pongračić gained favour in the second half of the season and veteran Knoche left the club at the end of the season after not accepting a contract renewal. Right back Kevin Mbabu had a very solid first season while Jerome Roussillon on the left enjoyed life more when Wolfsburg reverted to the flat back four.
Koen Casteels remained the number one with Pavao Pervan providing cover in the eight games he missed.
Maxi Arnold and Xaver Schlager formed the ‘Doppelsechs’ in midfield with Josh Guilavogui also playing there after being ‘released’ from his experiment as a centre back. Yannik Gerhardt made 7 starts in the centre as well.
Maxi Arnold scored three and provided a team high eight assists with his dead ball delivery always a weapon. He also led the way on total distance covered with 365.5km which put him 6th overall in the Bundesliga.
There wasn’t a great deal of transfer activity in the summer following the arrival of coach Oliver Glasner. Midfielder Xaver Schlager followed him from Austria joining for 15 million from Red Bull Salzburg and he enjoyed a positive first season in the Bundesliga. The €9.2 million on left back Kevin Mbabu was also money well spent.
Joao Victor was a player that Glasner had at LASK and arrived for €3.5 million. The Brazilian made 18 starts, scored twice, and provided two assists. More will be expected next season.
Young striker Lukas Nmecha was signed on loan from Manchester City, but his impact was limited with just one start and 131 minutes of first-team action all season.
More business was concluded in January with centre back Marin Pongračić the key arrival with Wolfsburg paying Red Bull Salzburg €10 million for the 22-year-old. He settled very quickly and looks to become a cornerstone of the back three/four for the coming seasons.
Player of the Season
Wout Weghorst was once again the star performer for die Wölfe this season. The giant Dutch striker was only outscored by Robert Lewandowski, Timo Werner, and Jadon Sancho this season and ended with 16 goals on his account. He dispatched all four penalties he took and also added three assists.
Understandably he ranked 4th in the entire league for aerial duels won (137), but also ranked very high on sprints (3rd overall) and intensive runs (2nd overall). His consistency over the past two seasons has been excellent and it is no wonder that other clubs are beginning to show an interest in him.
European football for next season was achieved so job done for Wolfsburg, but the party poppers weren’t required at the end of the season and any party they had would have been a little muted. Losing out on sixth place to Hoffenheim was disappointing as was their second half of the Hinrunde and the home stretch after the lockdown was eased. Good, just not very good.