2017-18 Finish: 16th
2018-19 Prediction: 9th
Notable Transfers Out: CAM Daniel Didavi (€4M, Stuttgart), CF Landry Dimata (Anderlecht – loan), ST Divock Origi (Liverpool – end of loan),
Notable Transfers In: CF Daniel Ginczek (€14M, Stuttgart), CF Wout Weghorst (€10M, AZ Alkmaar), LB Jerome Roussilon (€8M, Montpellier), CB Marcel Tisserand (€7M, FC Ingolstadt – loan made permanent), RW Felix Klaus (€3M, Hannover 96), LW/RW Paul-Georges Ntep (St. Etienne – end of loan), ST Kaylen Hinds (Greuther Furth – end of loan)
It was one of the more forgettable campaigns in decades for VfL Wolfsburg in 2017-18, as the Wolves avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth by beating Holstein Kiel in the Bundesliga promotion/relegation play-off.
Wolfsburg fans will hope the disastrous season is rock bottom, as any worse than last year would mean relegation. Last season was quite the unwanted 180-degree turn for a club that won the Bundesliga in 2009, won the DFB-Pokal in 2015 and played a Champions League quarterfinal match in 2016.
It should turn out to be as close to rock bottom as possible, because Wolfsburg spent a decent sum of money in this summer’s transfer window and will welcome the return of a healthy John Brooks at centre-back and captain Ignacio Camacho from severe injuries to climb back up the table. Midfielder Yannick Gerhardt also missed significant time last year.
To be fair, Wolves’ final position of 16th on the table may not have been fair, as they looked better than Freiburg, Hannover and Mainz for most of the season – all of whom finished above them on the table. Wolfsburg shockingly finished with 15 draws and can boast that they earned a result against every Bundesliga side, clearly showing they were capable of a mid-table finish if it weren’t for disastrous losses to Hamburg and Köln.
1. CB John Brooks
2. CAM Maximilian Arnold
3. GK Koen Casteels
There’s no reason to believe Wolfsburg will again be a bottom-table team. They have far more talent than many clubs in this league – manager Bruno Labbadia just needs to put the pieces together.
There’s already a respectable defence in place in front of solid goalkeeper Koen Casteels. Wolfsburg allowed 48 goals last season, joint-10th in the Bundesliga, but they could not score consistently, netting only 36 (1.1 per game). Their frustration was often clear, racking up six red cards throughout the season.
Statistically, Wolves were OK. They had a strong 79.3 pass percentage and 49.6% possession as a team. They were also somewhat unlucky in managing only one penalty goal all season, which does underline their need for more skilled, quick dribblers up front.
It’s only preseason, but Wolfsburg have faced some very hefty competition and fared well. They’ve earned a 3-1 win over Napoli and 3-0 win over Ajax, also facing off against OL Lyon.
Strengths: defensively strong, good talent all-around, productive transfer window
Weaknesses: discipline when trailing, creativity in attack, injury-prone
The loss of leading goalscorer (and assist-man) Daniel Didavi to Stuttgart will surely be a blow, but in return Wolves get former Stuttgart-forward Daniel Ginczek who tallied seven goals in only 1532 minutes last season.
What is Ginczek’s strength? Dribbling. Exactly what Wolves need. They also added Dutch striker Wout Weghorst, who has been one of the Eredivisie’s top goal-getters the past two years, bagging 17 or more goals for AZ Alkmaar in back-to-back seasons. Those two should should replace, or even be an upgrade, from Didavi and Divock Origi, who was unimpressive as Wolfsburg’s first-choice striker in his loan spell from Liverpool.
With more strength in attack, a solid midfield when healthy and a defence that’s also proven capable when healthy, Wolfsburg will have a relative bounce-back campaign after near disaster last year. A lot depends on Weghorst’s transition to the Bundesliga and how well Ginczek slots into the team with the long-time Wolfsburg man Maximilian Arnold playing behind or alongside him. A run toward European football is certainly not out of the question if all the stars align, with another relegation battle unlikely for VfL Wolfsburg.