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FEATURE | Wolfsburg and Mark van Bommel: Will it work?

Last season in a rather unexpected result, Wolfsburg finished fourth in the Bundesliga. This meant that they qualified for the UEFA Champions League for the first time since 2015. Unfortunately, the man who helped guide them there, Oliver Glasner, left the club at the end of the season and joined Eintracht Frankfurt.

This would explain his departure as many wondered why he would leave a Champions League club that he had helped rebuild for a team in the Europa League. Even so, this was considered a huge loss for Wolfsburg. Glasner had helped create a team that was strong at the back but also had an expansive style of football.

Van Bommel’s Hiring

Following Glasner’s departure, Wolfsburg hired former Bayern Munich and Netherlands captain Mark Van Bommel. Though inexperienced as a head coach, Van Bommel does come with some coaching experience.

He had previously held an assistant coach position in both the Australian and the United Arab Emirates national teams. Van Bommel was the head coach of PSV from June 2018 until December 2019. Despite winning 58.67% of his games, he was sacked after a run of two wins in 12 games across all competitions. Therefore, it could be considered a risky hire due to Van Bommel’s limited experience.

However, in a league that has recently seen the likes of Julian Nagelsmann, Pellegrino Matarazzo, and Sebastien Hoeneß given top jobs with limited experience, Van Bommel’s hiring is not a surprise.

To explain the reasoning behind the hire, Jörg Schmadtke, said that Van Bommel suits their philosophy perfectly. He also labeled him as ambitious. Van Bommel’s statement also alluded to the fact that he felt that his ideas and perceptions were like the people in charge of Wolfsburg. So, with a Champions League campaign ahead and with the hope of another good season ahead, what can we expect from Van Bommel’s side?

Tactical Tweaks

Well, it has been reported that Van Bommel has talked about tweaking the Gegenpressing style that Wolfsburg preaches. Wolfsburg has often talked about “winning our challenges first.” From a tactical point of view, this could be very interesting to watch. On the other hand, from watching his first few games in charge, he seems to be sticking with the 4–2–3–1 that Wolfsburg had found success using in the past.

Transfers and Squad Makeup

What could help Van Bommel be successful is that Wolfsburg has not lost any of their key players from last season. The likes of Ridle Baku, Woug Weghorst, Xavier Schlager, Maxence Lacroix and Maximillian Arnold all remained at the club despite interest during the summer transfer window.

Along with that they have made the loan signing of Maximilian Phillip permanent from Dynamo Moscow. They also added talented players like Sebastiaan Bornauw, Aster Vranckx, and Lukas, and Felix Nmecha from Manchester City. Factor in the signing of Germany international of Luca Waldschmidt from Benfica and they have made some exciting acquisitions. Even adding Hertha Berlin’s Dodi Lukebakio to the squad on loan in the final hours of the window. These players will add quality to an already very good squad. However, there has been a feeling that they could use some veteran experience in their squad.

How have they started?

Technically they have won their first four competitive games. They beat newly-promoted Bochum 1-0 on matchday one and followed that up with a 2–1 win away to Hertha Berlin. Their most recent win saw them beat title challengers RB Leipzig 1–0 in a feisty encounter. They now sit at the top of the table and they are the only side who have won all three of their games.

Technically they also beat fourth division side, Preußen Munster, in the first round of the Pokal. However, Van Bommel made six substitutions after only being permitted to use five. As a result, the DFB have kicked them out of the Pokal despite an appeal. Van Bommel has rightly received a lot of criticism for this mistake. As well as being kicked out of the competition, he has brought unwanted scrutiny on himself and his team early on in his tenure. So, a great start to the season with just a hint of controversy.

Expectations for this season

Wolfsburg exceeded expectations last year by getting into the top four. However, those associated with the club will hope that they can achieve something similar, as they have improved their squad.

In the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and RB Leipzig are widely predicted to be the top three teams again this season. However, that fourth position is up for grabs. Wolfsburg will be competing against the likes of Eintracht Frankfurt, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Bayer Leverkusen and others for that position.

However, Wolfsburg will also be mindful of the fact that we have seen teams fade away after getting top four the season before. Gladbach being an example from last season.

In the Champions League, Wolfsburg should be quietly optimistic of advancing to the knockout stages. Along with their improved squad, they have also been blessed with a very favourable draw in the Champions League group stages. Expectations will be to at least progress in a group that has Sevilla, RB Salzburg and French Champions Lille.

Wolfsburg is sure to be one of the most interesting teams to watch this season in the Bundesliga. Yes, they have a head coach who is a big name in European football, but they also have a very talented squad. It will be a challenging season for Wolfsburg and Van Bommel, but it is a challenge that so far, they seem prepared for.

Nadim Bart-Williams

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