To talk of a roller coaster season might sound cliché, but in the case of VfL Wolfsburg this season it is completely justified as die Wölfe went from their worst Bundesliga start to the brink of European qualification, only to be denied on the final matchday in bizarre circumstances.
The decision to bring in Nico Kovac in place of Florian Kohfeldt was taken with the intention to progress the club forward, but the opening phase of the season saw the complete opposite as Wolfsburg sunk into the relegation zone after enduring an awful run. Five points from the opening seven matches saw them sitting in 17th place with the pressure really starting to mount on Kovac.
A 1-0 win away at Frankfurt was the only moment of cheer with four of the seven lost (Bayern, RB Leipzig, Köln and Union Berlin). A 3-2 win on matchday 8 over VfB Stuttgart courtesy of an injury time goal from Yannick Gerhardt stopped the rot and that was followed by three successive draws to claw themselves out of the drop zone.
Wolfsburg then four all four of their games before the Winterpause (including a 2-0 win over Dortmund) with the break coming at the wrong time for them as they were starting to really find themselves. Nico Kovac had survived and his ideas were starting to bear fruit.
They started the New Year where they left off with two big wins (6-0 against Freiburg and 5-0 versus Hertha Berlin) before losing three of their next four to Werder Bremen, Bayern and Leipzig. Once again they responded with a five match unbeaten streak. As the Rückrunde progressed the realisation that European qualification was distinct possibility dawned on Wolfsburg and they put themselves above both Frankfurt and Mainz in the race for seventh.
By the final matchday they were in seventh with a two-point advantage over Frankfurt. They ‘only’ had to overcome relegated Hertha Berlin at home knowing that the Adler had a much trickier game with Freiburg to contend with.
Wolfsburg choked. Against a Hertha team that resembled a youth team by the end of the 90 minutes they managed to lose 2-1 after taking a second minute lead. Frankfurt duly beat Freiburg to rob them of their European hopes and put real dampener on the season.
It had started abysmally for Wolfsburg before Nico Kovac instigated the renaissance, but there was to be no happy ending as the final day drama unfolded. An average season overall, but it could have been so much better, but also based on the start so much worse.
The six-match winning streak either side of the Winterpause was VfL Wolfsburg at their best this season with a 2-0 win over Dortmund included in that. They also had big wins over Freiburg (6-0) and Hertha (5-0) to start the year. Matchday 29 also saw a 5-1 win away at Bochum.
The opening seven games of the season were a lowlight and there must have been some consideration as to whether Nico Kovac would keep his job. The 6-0 loss to Dortmund on matchday 31 was their biggest defeat of the season and damaged their European hopes, but by far the lowest point was the final matchday. Losing to an already relegated Hertha Berlin, who were playing a host of youth prospects. The loss saw Wolfsburg’s European ambitions snuffed out and they only had themselves to blame.
Tale of the Tape
Record: 13-10-11, 49 points (1.44 per game), 8th in Bundesliga
Home Record: 25 points (6-7-4) Away Record: 24 points (7-3-7)
Goals: 57 (1.68 per game), Goals Against: 48 (1.41 per game), Diff: +9
xG: 51.3, xGA: 51.3, Diff: 0
The lack of a regular source of goals from a striker was an obvious issue for Wolfsburg this season when you consider that their top scorers were Jonas Wind and Yannick Gerhardt with six apiece. Never before has the club’s leading scorer finished with so few goals.
Lukas Nmecha was limited to ten starts through injury, while Max Kruse fell foul of Nico Kovac and was given the boot from the squad. Patrick Wimmer scored four and provided eight assists with Matthias Svanberg also scoring but adding six assists. Egyptian Omar Marmoush returned from loan at Stuttgart to score five, but he fell out of favour somewhat when he revealed he wasn’t going to sign a new contract.
Luca Waldschmidt scored four, but the goals were shared around rather than there being a focal point in the forward line to guarantee the flow of goals. Wolfsburg were actually the joint fifth highest scorers with their 57 goals from an xG of 51.3.
The coming to the fore of Dutchman Micky van de Ven meant that both Maxence Lacroix and Sebastian Bornauw had to vie for game time alongside him. Ridle Baku and Paulo Otavio were the primary fullbacks, although Otavio is sadly moving on at the end of the season. Kilian Fischer made five starts, while January signing Nicolas Cozza made five substitute appearances towards the end of the campaign. Koen Casteels continued to be the ever-present between the posts.
Despite their poor start, Wolfsburg had the sixth meanest defence overall conceding 48 goals and they were the league leaders in terms of blocks made. Micky van der Ven was the quickest centre back in the Bundesliga being clocked at a top speed of 35.97 kmp/h.
Captain Maxi Arnold continued to be the anchor in midfield, but Nico Kovac had plenty of options. Felix Nmecha really developed this season to such a point that he was called up to the German national team after the World Cup. Jakub Kaminski, Mathias Svanberg, Partick Wimmer and Yannick Gerhardt all featured prominently with veteran Joshua Guilavogui limited to just eleven starts.
Youngster Kevin Paredes made 22 appearances (one start) while summer signing Bartol Franjic largely disappointed.
In terms of sprints and intensive runs, Wolfsburg led the league, but they ranked third from bottom for tackles in the midfield third.
Last summer die Wölfe brought in three new players from abroad and two from the 2.Bundesliga to boost their squad. Jakub Kaminski cost €10 million from Polish side Lech Poznan while midfielder Mattias Svanberg arrived from Bologna for €9 million. Both were to have good first seasons where they became first team regulars.
The arrival of defensive midfielder Bartol Franjic was less of an immediate success with the 22-year-old not really justifying his €7.5 million price tag making just five appearances (three as a starter).
Patrick Wimmer came in from relegated Arminia Bielefeld and was one of the best players across the season while Kilian Fischer was signed from Nürnberg as a back-up right back. The only arrival in the January transfer window was defender Nicolas Cozza- a €500,000 signing from Montpellier.
Player of the Season
After being largely anonymous in his first season after joining the club from Dutch side Volendam, 22-year-old Micky van de Ven had a breakout season in 2022-23 making himself the first-choice in the centre of defence. His speed was a huge asset in recovering the ball and stopping counters and his form this season has unsurprisingly stirred the interest of foreign clubs with Liverpool reportedly at the front of the queue to sign him.
Although he was limited to just one start, 19-year-old US attacking midfielder Kevin Paredes made quite the impact in his 22 substitute appearances and after an impressive season is set for a bigger role next season. He scored a debut Bundesliga goal against Werder Bremen on matchday 18 and provided a further three assists.
Wolfsburg’s grade fluctuated this season between an F and a B. They spent three weeks in the relegation zone at the start of the season after making their worst-ever start to a Bundesliga season. The club however didn’t push the panic button and kept faith with trainer Nico Kovac. He repaid the faith by leading them to within a hair’s breadth of European qualification, only to see his side bottle it on the final weekend with an inexcusable home loss to Hertha.