Munich - Not since 2009, when they surprised the nation by emerging as one of the most unexpected of Bundesliga champions, have VfL Wolfsburg been on such a menacing prowl as they are now.
Champions League ambition
A 2-1 win over Borussia Dortmund underlined the fact that the Wolves mean business. For the first time since the end of the 2009/10 season, they have won four games in a row, and they are now up to fifth in the standings, providing enough substance to suggest their pre-season desire to return to Europe next season will be satisfied.
Having last dropped a point since a 2-0 home defeat to Eintracht Braunschweig on Matchday 8, the Wolves have catapulted their way into a group of clubs eyeing the Bundesliga's fourth UEFA Champions League berth for next season. Competing at the highest level of European club football is now the firm desire, and something which striker Ivica Olic is no stranger to.
The hard-working striker was on the losing side for FC Bayern München in the 2010 final in Madrid, finishing with seven goals in the competition, just behind FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi. He also lost with the Bavarians in the 2012 final against Chelsea FC, before moving to Wolfsburg later that summer.
That double disappointment is now behind him and the Croatian striker seems to be maturing like a fine wine. At the age of 34, he is finding the back of the net with the regularity which first convinced Bayern to recruit him from Hamburger SV in 2009. Six goals in 12 Bundesliga appearances, including his amazing strike to down Dortmund last weekend, vouch for a resurgence which, like that of his team, started after that grim derby disappointment. "It was no coincidence," said Olic to bundesliga.com. "I've practiced it a lot, but it was nice to see it go in. I'm really glad it got us the three points and now we're right where we want to be"
Olic's future was even cast in doubt by coach Dieter Hecking, who in seeking reasons for the club's most painful defeat in recent years, questioned whether he even had a future at the club. "We've got to consider long and hard whether we extend the contracts of Olic and Diego," he said. "We've got to see if they still fit in with our style."
New style delivering
The answer was to adapt that style to Olic, not the other way around. With the 87-time Croatian international, scorer of 13 league goals in 2013, leading the line, Hecking's men are heading in the right direction. "Wolfsburg are a side who can challenge for a place in the Champions League this season," said Dortmund's CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke after his side learnt that the hard way. Bottom-placed 1. FC Nürnberg are their next opponents, with northern rivals Hamburg set to arrive at the Volkswagen Arena a week later.
Olic and Co then have games against SC Freiburg and VfB Stuttgart to come, before a trip to fellow Champions League hopefuls Borussia Mönchengladbach, current occupiers of fourth place, brings an end to the year 2013. With their present confidence levels, all of those games seem winnable, and if they can keep their excellent run of form going until the winter break, the groundwork may well have already been laid for that all-important top-four finish.