- Wolfsburg to show tactical flexibility.
- New signing Malli expected to come straight in.
- Youngsters Ntep and Bazoer may have to wait.
It’s certainly been a busy winter period at VfL Wolfsburg with a number of departures and arrivals in the squad, but what does that mean for how they will line up for the resumption of the league campaign? bundesliga.com takes a look at how the Wolf pack may look in 2017.
Julian Draxler’s departure to Paris Saint-German has allowed Wolfsburg to open the purse strings and bring in new talent as they look to steer clear of a relegation dog-fight. The big question now for coach Valerien Ismael is, however, how does he fit his new signings into a team that won its last two Bundesliga games?
With new signings Paul-Georges Ntep and Riechedly Bazoer both being brought in from abroad, it can be assumed Ismael will take his time to allow the youngsters to settle and acclimatise to the Bundesliga, so there is little expectation this pair will start the first league fixture of the year against Hamburger SV. However, Yunus Malli has been brought in from 1. FSV Mainz 05 and possesses a wealth of German top-flight experience with 146 Bundesliga appearances and 32 goals despite being just 24 years old.
The Turkey international could come in as a straight replacement for Draxler in whatever formation the Wolves employ. The Wolves have mostly used a 4-2-3-1 formation but Ismael’s move to a 3-5-2 has borne fruits in recent times, and Malli could easily slot in alongside or behind Mario Gomez in attack, as he did in the Wolves’ friendly match against SC Heerenveen. He will, however, face competition from Daniel Didavi, who joined in the summer after scoring 13 goals last campaign for VfB Stuttgart, and has recently returned from a knee injury sustained earlier in this season.
Ismael has of course been using the team’s winter training camp in La Manga to test out these two formations for his squad, and we could see Wolfsburg employ the two distinct approaches this season based on opposition and personnel. As well as the now fashionable 3-5-2, VfL opted for the 4-2-3-1 in two short friendlies against FC Sion and FC Erzgebirge Aue. Both matches saw Ntep playing on the left of the attacking trio behind Gomez and alongside fellow new signing Malli. This has been his preferred position for Stade Rennais and would likely be so at his new home in the Bundesliga.
Wolfsburg’s capture from AFC Ajax, Bazoer, was also given playing time in defensive midfield as a substitute for Josuha Guilavogui. The 20-year-old, who made 71 first-team appearances for the Dutch record champions and already has six senior caps for the Netherlands to his name, would likely feature alongside either Guilavogui or the vastly experienced Luis Gustavo in any system. He could also come in as a replacement for central midfielders Paul Seguin or more likely for the currently injured Maximilian Arnold. However, as said, it could still be too soon for Bazoer to start and a midfield reshuffle would be the most probable decision taken by the coach to replace Arnold.
Ismael has a selection headache on his hands for the restart of the Bundesliga campaign, but it’s the sort that coaches like to have, with players battling for positions and looking to earn their places in the team. Will the Wolves’ coach decide to throw his new arrivals straight into the deep end in a relegation clash against northern rivals Hamburg? Or will he play it safe and allow them time from the bench?