We expected to see a improvement for Wolfsburg under Dieter Hecking in 2013-14. But, a berth in next season's Champion League? Did anyone see that coming? A team finally playing up to their potential, along with the addition of some astute summer signings, has Wolfsburg knocking on the door of the elite Bundesliga clubs. Is one January signing enough to push them over the edge?
What Went Right
Last season, Wolfsburg's defense allowed a grand total of 52 goals.Through 17 games in 2012-13, they've allowed a whopping 19. 19! The improvement falls heavily on the shoulders of two players: Robin Knoche and Luiz Gustavo. The 21 year old Knoche was promoted to a full time starter and has formed quite the impressive partnership with Naldo. However, they wouldn't be as great without the signing of Gustavo from Bayern Munich over the summer. Having a pure destroyer like Gustavo in the midfield has allowed the Wolfsburg defense to relax and focus on defending better as a unit, and it has clearly paid off.
The Bundesliga is full of a lot of talented youngsters these days, but it must be said that Maximilian Arnold was one of the stars of the first half of the Bundesliga season. He wasn't pegged as a starter at the beginning of the season and only made two appearances in the first eight matches. In the final nine matches when he was a regular, Wolfsburg never suffered a defeat, winning six and drawing three. The 19 year old has also managed to bang in five goals so far. The future is very bright for Maxi Arnold.
Kevin De Bruyne
Wolfsburg announced the signing of Kevin De Bruyne from Chelsea for £17 million. We saw the talent that the Belgian had last year when he was on loan at Werder Bremen, so there's a general idea of what to expect from De Bruyne. However, I'm not quite sure what Dieter Hecking's plan with him is at the moment. Through the first 17 games of the season, only Luiz Gustavo and Diego made more than 10 appearances in the midfield. It's a never-ending rotating door. Though, I think it's clear through that transfer fee that De Bruyne will be shoehorned into that midfield. Nonetheless, signing De Bruyne is a big statement by Wolfsburg regarding their plans for the future. They're also being linked with a move for Edin Dzeko. Keep an eye on Die Wölfe.
What Went Wrong
Struggles Away From Home
While the Volkswagen Stadium has been a place of comfort for Wolfsburg in the Hinründe, they sure struggled away from it. Four of their five losses and two of their three draws came on the road. Those four losses were their first four away games and included visits to the Allianz and Bay Arenas, so at least those are out of the way.
In the "Goals Scored" table, Wolfsburg are floating almost smack dab in the middle of things with a measly 28 goals scored. Most of the heavy lifting has fallen on the feet of Ivica Olic. The Croatian has only score 7 goals, and he's followed by Maximilian Arnold with 5. Nobody else on the squad has more than 3 goals. This needs to change in a big way during the second half. We're at the point now where we can consider Bas Dost a bust. He's likely gone this summer, if not sooner. Kevin De Bruyne did manage 10 goals last year for an abject Werder Bremen side. Perhaps he can work his magic for Wolfsburg?
Second Half Outlook
Wolfsburg will be in the hunt for a spot in next season's Champions League until the very bitter end. If they are going to pip either Borussia Dortmund or Borussia Mönchengladbach for a spot in Europe's most prestigious competition, they'll need a full team effort to get there. Goals have to be found.