Analysing table-toppers Wolfsburg under Mark van Bommel


Wolfsburg are top of the table boasting a 100 per cent record after four matchdays, with new coach Mark van Bommel creating a solid unit that is also capable of making the most of their chances. How has the former Bundesliga champion changed and improved things?

bundesliga.com analyses Van Bommel's Wolf Pack…

Wolfsburg have made their best-ever start to a Bundesliga season, while their new Dutch coach is the first person to win his first four Bundesliga matches in charge of club. It's remarkable progress for a team who survived the drop only via the play-off in both 2016/17 and 2017/18.

Two years under Oliver Glasner turned them into European contenders and ultimately UEFA Champions League qualifiers for their best finish since coming second in 2014/15. In only his second stint in charge of a senior team, 44-year-old Van Bommel has built on those solid foundations.

Solid as a rock

For him, a no-nonsense defensive midfielder in his playing days with Bayern Munich, Barcelona, AC Milan and PSV Eindhoven, it's all about ensuring everything is in order at the back - and then going forward. It's too early to be thinking about trophies yet at the Volkswagen Arena, but they know the old saying that attack wins you games, defence wins you titles.

Van Bommel (r.) was a no-nonsense player in his own right, winning two Bundesliga and DFB Cup doubles with Bayern. - /

Starting right at the back, goalkeeper Koen Casteels has been pretty much unbeatable. The only goal he's conceded across the first four matchdays was a penalty from Dodi Lukebakio - then of Hertha Berlin, now a fellow Wolf.

Based on xGoals, the club captain should've been picking the ball out of his net four times, but has pulled out some big saves. It means he's yet to concede from open play this term, while the only other goal the Wolves have shipped in six games in all competitions was from a corner in the DFB Cup first round against Preußen Münster.

Wolf pack closes ranks

You might point out that the Belgian goalkeeper has only made nine saves in the Bundesliga this season, but that’s down to the defensive line in front of him.

Casteels had the second-most clean sheets last season and has already kept three in four games this term. - Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Wolfsburg already boasted the second-meanest defence in the division last season behind RB Leipzig, but have stepped it up a notch this time.

As demonstrated in the video at the top, the Wolves close ranks quickly and flood the centre of the pitch, particularly in and around the penalty area. Their three main centre-backs of John Brooks (6'3"), Maxence Lacroix (6"2") and Sebastiaan Bornauw (6'3") ensure that very little finds its way into the penalty area from crosses out wide - high or low. The former two are among the top 10 players in the league for challenges won this season, at success rates of 69 percent (Brooks) and 65 (Lacroix). Challenges include moves like competing for a cross.

As well as the centre-backs, the two holding midfielders also drop deep to take up space in the central area in front of the goal, adding yet more defensive bodies. Wolfsburg as a team are third for the proportion of challenges won (52 percent), while they in fact come out on top for duels in the air (56 percent). Bornauw, for example, won all eight of his aerial challenges on his Bundesliga debut for the club on Matchday 4.

Watch: Highlights of the Wolves’ Matchday 4 win over Fürth

Nice and simple

It might sound like Wolfsburg have become a team happy to just sit back and repel balls into their box, but they aren't actually. They've averaged 58 percent possession this season, which is second only to Borussia Dortmund. On top of that, it's also diligent passing. There are very few reckless balls, instead trusting each other to play sensible and pick out the teammate in better space.

Players have all come out and spoken about the difference from last season under Glasner and how Van Bommel wants his side to be playing more with the ball, not just sitting off opponents.

But there is still a safety-first approach, which is borne out in the attacking numbers. Despite the majority of possession, the Wolves have only created 50 attempts on goal (10th best in the league) and scored six goals. That's (less than) half what Dortmund, Bayern and Bayer Leverkusen have managed.

They have also only mustered up one shot (in fact a goal) following a counter-attack, which is the lowest amount in the league and a surprise when considering their approach of keeping things tight and the pace they have up front through a Lukas Nmecha or Ridle Baku.

Put it in the mixer

Three of Wolfsburg's six Bundesliga goals have come from open play. That, therefore, means half are the product of set pieces. They're doing at one end of the pitch what they're not allowing opponents to do in their third.

While one of those dead-ball goals was a penalty, two more came from Kevin Mbabu throw-ins, causing mayhem in the box, with big Brooks also going up there to win the first ball and give the likes of Wout Weghorst the chance to pounce on anything loose.

No team has scored more goals from set pieces this Bundesliga campaign. Conversely, only strugglers Hertha, Augsburg and Greuther Fürth have managed fewer goals from open play.

Emblematic of their coach, it's a robust approach that's leading to success. And it's difficult to critique a style when you're top of the league and yet to drop a point…