Wolfsburg - Luiz Gustavo has perhaps epitomised VfL Wolfsburg’s season so far.
The Brazilian international enjoyed an excellent debut in a 4-0 hammering at home to FC Schalke 04, but has since been sent off twice, with the Wolves losing four of their last six games. Following such a promising start, both he and his team-mates are in danger of spending another season under-achieving.
Gustavo was dismissed in disappointing defeats at Bayer 04 Leverkusen and 1. FSV Mainz 05, but the nadir for the Lower Saxon club came against Eintracht Braunschweig on Matchday 8, his error allowing Karim Bellarabi to score the first in an embarrassing 2-0 derby defeat. The loss turned the spotlight on a group of Wolves players who, despite possessing talent in abundance, have only combined for nine goals in eight games, a meagre return for the likes of former Brazil international Diego, who himself has found the net just once in 820 minutes of action.
Of those nine strikes, four came against Schalke, highlighting the Wolves’ obvious difficulties in front of goal. Ivica Olic has contributed well with four goals, but at 34 years of age the veteran Croatian can't be expected to shoulder the scoring burden on his own. And it's not only a lack of goals that has been a problem this season. Wolfsburg haven't always looked convincing at the other end, particularly against Braunschweig, who scored both goals by catching Dieter Hecking's men on the break.
Possession but no penetration
Although the Auto City Club have dominated possession in seven of their eight games thus far, they have been caught out on the counter-attack by Hannover 96, Mainz and Leverkusen, as well as most recently by Braunschweig. Quite simply, an improvement is needed from experienced defenders Naldo, Ricardo Rodriguez and Christian Träsch, who have all played every minute of the season so far, and have therefore had ample time to form an understanding.
The reverse against the Lions was, admittedly, the first home encounter they hadn't won this season. However, it's on the road where the 2009 Bundesliga champions are currently struggling the most. Four straight away defeats is the worst return in the league and, although they battled well against FC Bayern München (1-0) and Leverkusen (3-1), such performances cannot disguise the fact that important points were dropped in Mainz and Hanover.
Back to Gustavo, who received the first of his two red cards against the Karnevalverein. Head coach Hecking recently said of his prize summer acquisition that “he’s lacking confidence in his tackles,” adding, “Luiz is unsure whether or not he should go to the man”. It is a worrying assessment of a holding midfielder who has made his reputation as one of the Bundesliga's most biting tacklers.
Gustavo is symbolic of the club's current travails, but he will be expected to help his team-mates regain some of that confidence quickly. On Matchday 9 the Wolves face an FC Augsburg side suffering their own mini-slump of one point from their last three outings. Hecking, Gustavo and Co. are starting to crave a victory. The one problem? They face Augsburg away from home.
Check out what Gustavo's team-mates made of his Wolfsburg debut on the official Bundesliga YouTube channel: