With just two points from their opening four matches, VfL Wolfsburg have made their worst start to a Bundesliga season for 21 years. This was not the start new coach Nico Kovac had planned as he sought to rectify the shortcoming s of last year. Is it too early to speak of crisis at the Volkswagen Arena?
The 2021-22 season was on to for get for die Wölfe as they finished bottom of their Champions League group and slumped to a 12th place finish in the Bundesliga table (level on points with Bochum). Oliver Glasner was then tempted away to join Eintracht Frankfurt.
Mark van Bommel was the somewhat surprise choice to succeed Glasner, but he lasted just 13 games (which included an eight-game winless run). Florian Kohfeldt took over but was never really convincing that he could restore Wolfsburg to the upper echelons of the Bundesliga table.
So, to another coach, and the more exciting appointment of Nico Kovac, who had turned Monaco from relegation candidates to title challengers during his time in France. His reputation may have been tarnished a little by his last months at Bayern, but he did win the double in his first season and is tactically astute.
Losing key midfielder Xaver Schlager to RB Leipzig was a blow, but the club signed young players Matthias Svanberg and Kevin Wimmer as well as Jakub Kaminski and Bartol Franjic.
Hope, then nope
Kovac has been adaptable so far with formations starting with a 4-2-3-1 against Werder but switching to a 4-1-4-1 against Bayern Munich. The 4-2-3-1 however seems the default. The Werder opener saw them hit by two quick goals in response to Lukas Nmecha’s opener. A late Joshua Guilavogui equaliser rescued a point. Defeat to Bayern wasn’t on the scale Bochum suffered and they did frustrate the champions for long spells.
Then came a disappointing draw with Schalke before this weekend’s defeat at RB Leipzig. The teams xG was 1.0 against Werder and Bayern, raised to 1.2 against Schalke but fell yesterday against Leipzig to 0.55. A lack of bite upfront from the Wolves has been an issue this season with no goals in the last three games.
Talking after the RB Leipzig loss Kovac bemoaned another poor performance. “Leipzig deserved to win. After just a couple of minutes we conceded a penalty – which was rightly given – and that threw us off course a little. Leipzig dominated after that. We were much improved in the second half and had a few chances to score.
“We’re just lacking that bit of luck at the moment, but we made too many individual mistakes towards the end. We gave possession away far too easily without Leipzig really putting us under a great deal of pressure. It’s not what we wanted but it’s what we got, so we’re not satisfied.”
Kovac is looking to improve things tactically and this will take a little time, but it is evident early on is that the players are still struggling with the mental side of the game. They are not comfortable and easily rattled when teams up the intensity and pace in a game. Especially at home Wolfsburg need to be the ones dictating the tempo- not allowing it to be dictated to them.
Kovac clearly needs time to work on the players. Time however is not a commodity in huge supply at the Volkswagen Arena. Van Bommel was sacked after eight games without a win- Kovac is halfway there. Four games in is too early to talk of ‘crisis,’ but Wolfsburg do need that first win desperately to calm things down.
They face Köln at home next weekend before successive away trips to Eintracht Frankfurt and Union Berlin. Zero wins from those three matches would see the word ‘crisis’ being used in some seriousness.