Dortmund - It may be a tad premature to be talking of a new dawn breaking for VfL Wolfsburg, but there's no doubt the Wolves have been showing altogether more bite again of late.
"A power of good"
Saturday's dramatic 3-2 win at Borussia Dortmund still leaves the 2009 German champions in a relatively lowly 14th position but, as goalkeeper Diego Benaglio confirmed to bundesliga.com, the result in the champions' own backyard "shows that we're heading in the right direction".
Indeed, after a three-game mini-streak without a win, VfL pulled off the surprise of Matchday 16 to take Lorenz-Günther Köstner's tally up to 14 points from his eight games at the helm – still, officially, in an interim capacity. For Benaglio, the success at the Signal Iduna Park was the temporary culmination of "an ongoing process from the games before, where we were regaining our stability and self-confidence. We came from behind against Bremen and Hamburg, even if we didn't manage to beat them [both games finished 1-1, ed.]. That's another reason why the win at Dortmund has done us a power of good."
Under former reserve team coach Köstner, the Wolves have also upgraded their goals-per-game average from a miserable 0.25 to just under two – still not spectacular, but an obvious improvement, although Benaglio stressed that he was "not interested in comparing the work of [former Wolfsburg coach] Felix Magath and Lorenz-Günther Köstner".
"At some point early on in the season we got into a downward spiral that we weren't coming back out of," he continued. "We just weren't having any joy. The match at Düsseldorf was exactly the right medicine. After four games without scoring we finally hit the net again – and won. I'm looking at that not as the result of a change of coach, but as that the moment we turned it around. Since then, things have been steadily improving."
Diego to the fore again
On an individual level, that applies to no-one more than Diego. After a season on loan at Atletico Madrid, the gifted Brazilian playmaker is getting back to his best for VfL and turned in a match-winning performance at Dortmund, scoring from the spot and laying on the two other goals.
"It's functioning very well all-round in our team at the moment," said Benaglio. "The fact that Diego brings an added quality into the mix is beyond dispute. He's putting himself completely at the service of the team - running hard and getting stuck in man-on-man. It's great to see him popping up in our box and putting in a sliding tackle."
"First impression excellent"
Staying on the subject of team spirit, the 48-time Swiss international shot-stopper "felt all along that in terms of character we're a very well-matched bunch. There's the right mix in the team and as far as that goes, we never had any problems. We just couldn't find our game the way we'd hoped for at the start of the season. Things are going better now, but we have to keep hard at it."
Another major development at Wolfsburg has been the arrival of Klaus Allofs as sporting director from Werder Bremen. While that has "not particularly influenced our daily routine", Benaglio says, "we're all delighted that he's on board at the club now. First impressions have been excellent. Obviously in the run-up, we were talking to the players who already know him from Bremen, like Diego and Naldo – and the feedback there was very, very positive".
Assault in 2013
All-in-all, then, the signs are there that this could be a serious Wolfsburg revival in the making. So on the back of that potentially defining victory at the Signal-Iduna-Park, what is Benaglio expecting from the final league outing of 2012 at Eintracht Frankfurt - and the DFB Cup clash with Bayer Leverkusen as a follow-up?
"Two very difficult games," for starters. "Frankfurt have already demonstrated plenty of times this season that they're a well-balanced team who play really good football. That will be our first big hurdle, but obviously we'll be looking to come away from there with something again, given that we're looking to get moving back up the table after the winter break. As far as the cup goes, Leverkusen are an absolute top team, and that's about all you need to know. Still, we'll be trying to carry the momentum from Dortmund over into both those matches. And after that, we can chill out beside the Christmas tree."
Interview: Dietmar Nolte/adaptation: Angus Davison