Wolfsburg are the one of only two teams who remain unbeaten in Europe's top five leagues in all competitions. - © 2019 DFL
Wolfsburg are the one of only two teams who remain unbeaten in Europe's top five leagues in all competitions. - © 2019 DFL
bundesliga

How Oliver Glasner has transformed unbeaten Wolfsburg

Wolfsburg is known as the city Volkswagen built, and - after its epic 2008/09 title-winning side - it again features a football club competing in the fast lane alongside some of the high-powered brands of the Bundesliga.

Quick quiz question: heading into the October international break this season, one Bundesliga team was still unbeaten. It's Wolfsburg, and no-one - not even the man who has orchestrated a start that has left Wolfsburg in second place, just a point off top spot - expected that.

"It's not something you can take for granted, going seven games unbeaten from the start of the season," acknowledged coach Oliver Glasner, who has yet to taste defeat in 19 matches with his new club in or out of competition in 2019/20. "It doesn't happen too often in a career."

'Not too often' is an understatement. In fact, Glasner is the first Wolves' boss who can boast of such an achievement. That sort of success was certainly not something Wolfsburg supporters thought would come when Glasner - a relative unknown - was handed his first coaching job outside his native Austria last summer having taken Linz to runners-up spot behind RB Salzburg last season.

"I got a WhatsApp message from a friend who wrote, 'It's just like in Austria - Rose ahead of Glasner,'" noted the Wolfsburg boss, bettered only in this season by the man who beat him to the title over the border in the last, Borussia Mönchengladbach boss Marco Rose.

Glasner claims "the table has no meaning for us" at the moment, though for those Wolfsburg fans who remember the terrifying brush with relegation of the 2017/18 season, they are probably snipping the current standings out of newspapers or printing it out from computers and framing it on home and office walls across VW-Stadt. Glasner does enjoy one statistic though: no side has conceded fewer than the four Bundesliga goals his team have let in this season.

Watch: Wout Weghorst produced the magic to beat Union last time out!

"For a defender, it's especially nice," said Robin Knoche, who - along with Jeffrey Bruma and Marcel Tisserand - has been part of a watertight back three, a Glasner-introduced innovation that has given the side a solid platform.

It is all the more impressive given the injury-enforced absences of John Brooks and first-choice goalkeeper Koen Casteels. The Belgian is on his way back to full fitness, but he and his excellent understudy, Pavao Pervan - Glasner's former charge at Linz - can expect to be under-employed all season long.

"We often train without a goalkeeper. We want to defend in a way so that we barely need them," the Wolfsburg boss explained. "I'm really happy with the way the team has taken to it. Above all, I'm happy that we have certain defensive stability for the moment."

Even with Koen Casteels injured, Pavao Pervan has stepped-up to keep the Wolfsburg defence locked down. - 2019 DFL

Glasner's clear message - "Everyone knows how we play and defend," says captain Josuha Guilavogui - has been understood by a squad whose coach demands they "give everything". The statistics show Wolfsburg have, and they feature in the top five in all of the running categories this season, while they place second in terms of challenges won.

Guilavogui, who patrols menacingly in front of the defensive trio, adds a further line of security, that means each of the ten goals Wolfsburg have scored this season - just one more than bottom side Paderborn - have been made to count.

"We have the confidence to keep it tight at the back while knowing that we can score a goal up front," said Knoche. That faith is well justified when you have Wout Weghorst in
your side. The Netherlands international scored 17 times last season, including a final day hat-trick in the stunning 8-1 defeat of Augsburg that propelled his club to UEFA Europa League qualification just before the 2018/19 season curtain came down.

Josip Brekalo (l.) and Wout Weghorst (r.) have been the inspiration in the Wolfsburg attack. - imago images / Kirchner-Media

While sweat and application of their coach's methods would have taken them so far - undoubtedly enough to avoid the perils of 2017/18 - it is the cutting edge the Dutchman provides that has turned Wolfsburg into top-four contenders. His four goals this season mean he has netted 15 times in the Bundesliga in 2019, a tally bettered only by Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski. Need we say more?

"Wout is really good. I like the way he plays. He reminds me of Edin," said Grafite,
Torjägerkanone in the 2008/09 title-winning side after he established a Bundesliga record goalscoring duo with Edin Dzeko. "He's not yet at Edin's level, but he's on the way to becoming a great striker. He's very focussed, has technique and power, I like that."

Wolfsburg fans and Glasner - "Wout has unbelievable finishing qualities in the penalty box," gushes the coach - like it too while Weghorst has been won over by his new boss.

Wout Weghorst (l.) and Oliver Glasner (r.) have been a match made in heaven so far in the Bundesliga. - imago images/Contrast

"He's almost always right in what he says to us," said the 6'5" forward, who was signed from AZ Alkmaar in summer 2018, and has been ably assisted by Josip Brekalo this season. "We see that it gives us a lot."

That contribution has mostly come on the training pitch. Methods have been altered since Glasner succeeded Bruno Labbadia with 'Vier gewinnt' - 'Four wins' - a game played on a pitch divided into 40 small squares, another of the coach's successful innovations. There has been no return to the physically punishing sessions that served 2008/09 boss Felix Magath so well, though it has been testing on Glasner: "I have a flat which I'm only at to sleep in at the moment."

His lack of rest has meant peaceful nights for the club's fans and reaped dividends for a side that has maintained the momentum built in the second half of last season. Some argue a clement fixture list has been a major factor in Wolfsburg's start, and that encounters with RB Leipzig, Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Eintracht Frankfurt in the next five weeks will reveal the true worth of Glasner's men and their new boss' methods.

It is a justified argument, but momentum and the confidence bred by success is now coursing through the squad, and will serve them well in the litmus test of their abilities that is fast approaching.

"Being second in the table is cool. There's nothing better than being unbeaten," said midfielder Maximilian Arnold. "It gives you self-confidence. And out of that self-belief, we can win games to stay at the top of the table."

"The way things are going is great for the team," added Guilavogui. "We have to enjoy it and it must give us confidence for the big games to come."

Ian Holyman