Wolfsburg - The term 'fall from grace' does not quite cover VfL Wolfsburg's descent from being Bundesliga champions in 2009 to the side that laboured to perform throughout much of the 2012/13 season.
Perhaps it should not have come as much of a surprise given the considerable changes in personnel last summer. Felix Magath brought in eight new players, ten returned from loan spells, including playmaker , while 28 members of the squad were shown the door, FC Bayern bound among them.
The upheaval took its toll and after seven games the Wolves were second bottom with just five points. Diego was made the scapegoat, just as he had been during the relegation battle in 2011, and was dropped for the next match against SC Freiburg. Magath's gamble backfired and after a 2-0 defeat that left Wolfsburg at the foot of the table (with just two goals scored) the coach-come-sporting director's second stint at the club came to an end.
U-23 coach Lorenz-Günther Köstner took over on an interim basis and steered the Wolfsburg ship to calmer waters and out of the relegation zone, collecting an additional 14 points prior to the winter break. He also gave the club a much-needed boost with a 2-1 victory over Bayer 04 Leverkusen to reach the quarter-finals of the .
It was the start of a new era for the Wolves, as coach Dieter Hecking joined freshly-arrived sporting director Klaus Allofs in a new-look management team. The duo hit the ground running and, with Diego now firing on all cylinders, Wolfsburg were the sixth best side in the second half of the season, picking up 24 points from 17 games.
Despite a ten-game unbeaten run, it was still not enough to reach the promised land of European competition. Hecking cited "too many draws and poor home form" as the side's principle shortcomings, and he is backed up by the statistics. No other team recorded as many as Wolfsburg's 13 stalemates, while only relegated Greuther Fürth won fewer games on home turf.
Hecking viewed the DFB Cup as "the shortest way into Europe", but there they had the misfortune of being drawn against eventual champions FC Bayern and were eliminated in the semi-finals following a .
Reaching the Europa League is the target for next term, but with 13 players returning to the Volkswagen Arena following loan spells, the squad's numbers will swell to 45. Hecking's biggest challenge, it seems, will be to succeed where Magath could not and trim that figure down before leading an assault on the Bundesliga and Europe.