Will Wolfsburg’s USA international centre-back John Brooks still be all smiles after playing Saint-Etienne, Gent and Oleksandria in the UEFA Europa League? - © DFL
Will Wolfsburg’s USA international centre-back John Brooks still be all smiles after playing Saint-Etienne, Gent and Oleksandria in the UEFA Europa League? - © DFL
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UEFA Europa League Group I: what Wolfsburg should look out for against Gent, Saint-Etienne and Oleksandriya

Drawn in Group I along with Gent, Saint-Etienne and Oleksandriya, what will Wolfsburg need to be wary of in their European campaign?

bundesliga.com has a closer look…

Wolfsburg

How they got there

Wolfsburg stormed to a sixth-place finish in last season’s Bundesliga, with a thumping 8-1 victory over Augsburg on the final day sealing their return to European football.

Key player

Wout Weghorst had been one of the top goalscorers in the Dutch Eredivise before joining the Wolves from Augsburg in the summer of 2018, but few people would have predicted that the former AZ striker would be just as devastating in the Bundesliga. The 27-year-old has shown no signs of letting up after finishing with 17 league goals last season.

Aims in the competition

Having not featured in European competition for the past three seasons, the Wolves and new boss Oliver Glasner will be keen to finish in the top two in order to take part in the round of 32 knockout stage in February.

Wout Weghorst picked up where he left off last season by scoring in his first three matches for Wolfsburg in 2019/20. - imago images / Jan Huebner

Gent

Dates Wolfsburg play them

Thursday 24 October Gent vs. Wolfsburg (Matchday 3)
Thursday 8 November Wolfsburg vs. Gent (Matchday 4)

How they got there

Gent looked to have missed out on their chance of European qualification when they lost 2-1 against then second-tier Mechelen in the Belgian Cup final. The team that finished fifth in the Pro League earned a reprieve, however, when the cup winners were denied a place in the Europa League due to the outcome of a long-running matchfixing investigation by Belgian authorities. The Buffalos still had a lot to do to reach the group stage, but they held their nerve to come through three qualifying rounds. They beat Romanian side Viitorul first up (7-5 on aggregate), before getting the better of Cypriot club AEK Larnaca (4-1 on aggregate) and Rijeka of Croatia (3-2 on aggregate).

Key player

League winners in 2015 and beaten by Wolfsburg in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League in 2015/16, midfielder Sven Kums and former Huddersfield striker Laurent Depoitre have returned to Gent this summer to add valuable experience. A physical centre forward, Depoitre got three goals in four qualifying matches, but just as important could be Canada international Jonathan David. The 19-year-old – who has previously been linked with a move to the Bundesliga – finished as Gent’s top goalscorer in 2018/19, getting 12 league goals and four assists in what was his breakthrough year as a professional. The clever attacker, who should play off Depoitre, got two key goals in qualifying as well as four in his first five league matches this season.

Freescoring Gent attacker Jonathan David will be reporting for duty against Wolfsburg in the UEFA Europa League. - imago images / Pro Shots

Wolfsburg’s path to victory

Gent pack plenty of power in midfield through Elisha Owusu and Vadis Odjijda-Ofoe and in attack through Depoitre, and they were regular goalscorers from set-pieces last season. Veteran full-backs Mikael Lustig and Nana Asare are not as sharp as they used to be, though, so Wolfsburg should look to open them up down the wing.

Familiar Faces

Japanese attacker Yuya Kubo scored one goal in 22 Bundesliga appearances while on loan with Nuremberg last season, while defender Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui was with Sandhausen and Nuremberg’s second team between 2011 and 2014. Odjidja-Ofoe, meanwhile, spent a year at Hamburg after joining in January 2008, but only made a couple of appearances. Asare, Depoitre, Kums and Brecht Dejaegere featured the last time the sides met in Europe, with Kums scoring as Wolfsburg went through 4-2 on aggregate in February 2016.

Japan international Yuya Kubo (in red) couldn’t prevent Nuremberg’s relegation last season. - imago images / Zink

Saint-Etienne

Dates Wolfsburg play them

Thursday 3 October Saint-Etienne vs. Wolfsburg (Matchday 2)
Thursday 13 December Wolfsburg vs. Saint-Etienne (Matchday 6)

How they got there

Before Neven Subotic returned to Germany and Union Berlin over the summer, he helped Saint-Etienne earn an impressive fourth-place finish in Ligue 1 in 2018/19.

Key player

Tunisia international Wahbi Khazri was Saint-Etienne’s star performer last season with 13 goals and six assists. The 28-year-old former Bordeaux and Sunderland player is in the prime of his career and he is a crafty attacker that the Wolves must watch out for.

Saint-Etienne forward Wahbi Khazri also helped Tunisia to the semi-finals of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. - imago images / PanoramiC

Wolfsburg’s path to victory

Les Verts have a solid keeper in Stephane Ruffier and a tough-as-nails captain in Loic Perrin, but the latter isn’t the quickest and his defence isn’t the tallest.

Familiar Faces

Defender Timothee Kolodziejczak had a brief stint with Borussia Mönchengladbach in 2017, while Leo Lacroix spent last season on loan with Bundesliga 2 side Hamburg.

Oleksandriya

Dates Wolfsburg play them

Thursday 19 September Wolfsburg vs. Oleksandriya (Matchday 1)
Thursday 28 November Oleksandriya vs. Wolfsburg (Matchday 5)

How they got there

The fourth seeds qualified for the group stage by finishing third in the Ukrainian Premier League’s regular season in 2018/19, and holding on to that position in the championship play-offs.

Key player

Midfielder Evgen Banada was directly involved in 11 of his team’s 39 league goals last season, scoring nine himself.

Wolfsburg’s path to victory

The Ukrainians have had minimal European exposure, losing to Hajduk Split in the Europa League third qualifying round in 2016/17 and to BATE Borisov in the play-off round a year later. Very few of their squad have played abroad or garnered international caps, so the Wolves will look to prey on that lack of experience at the top level.