Yussuf Poulsen’s second-half goal for RB Leipzig against Wolfsburg sent Die Rotenbullen on their way to the DFB Pokal semi-finals, but it wasn’t only Die Wölfe’s cup dreams that were ended in the process. The strike was the first Oliver Glasner’s side had conceded in 783 minutes in all competitions – unsurprisingly, that is a new club record.
Having shipped only 21 times throughout the Bundesliga campaign, Wolfsburg have the second best defence in the league, second to RB Leipzig and have conceded less than leaders Bayern Munich. Glasner’s men have been solid if unspectacular for much of the season, yet they are getting results – ten points behind leaders Bayern, they look well on course for a Champions League spot.
At this point last season, Wolfsburg had already conceded on 30 occasions. So what has changed? It is hard to look past the presence of Maxence Lacroix, who has grown into one of his team’s star performers since moving to Germany from Sochaux last summer.
Paying €5 million for a player with just one campaign of Ligue 2 football to his name is not to be sniffed in the Bundesliga, even for financially comfortable clubs such as Wolfsburg. However, Sochaux did concede only 22 goals in 19 games with Lacroix in the starting line-up – not bad for a team that finished in 14th place last term as the division was brought to a premature end due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It has taken the 20-year-old next to no time to establish himself as first-choice centre-back alongside John Brooks, starting 22 out of a possible 24 Bundesliga matches this campaign. Wolfsburg are arguably the most physical team in the German top flight, and Lacroix matches the profile they require. Standing at 190cm and weighing 88kg, the Frenchman is an imposing figure.
While Lacroix has the ability to overpower most of his opponents, it would be wrong to suggest he has nothing else to his game. Previously compared to Rio Ferdinand, he played as an attacking midfielder and striker as a youngster, which explains his grace and confidence on the ball. He also possesses a strong turn of pace – only Dayot Upamecano has been clocked at a higher speed among central defenders in the Bundesliga this season.
Lacroix’s performances for Wolfsburg have already attracted attention from more established outfits. Borussia Dortmund, for example, have reportedly made an approach for the defender as they prepare for life under Marco Rose next term. However, with Die Schwarzgelben currently sixth in the table, Lacroix may well be better off staying put for now.
The next target is a call-up to the France squad. There is plenty of outstanding talent for Didier Deschamps to choose from at the back – Raphaël Varane, for example, is a four-time Champions League winner, while Upamecano is expected to be Europe’s next great defender after signing off on a move to Bayern. However, if Lacroix continues to perform as he has done until now, he will become a hard man to ignore.
Wolfsburg Sporting Director Jörg Schmadtke said Lacroix is a “pleasure to watch” after his goal in the recent 2-0 victory over Hertha Berlin, his first in the Bundesliga. Die Wölfe know only too well they have a top talent on their hands.