After a disastrous campaign in which Wolfsburg endured their worst Bundesliga finish in a number of years, as well as heavy defeats to Bayern, Dortmund and Schalke, Andries Jonker’s side shockingly must now face an Eintracht Braunschweig who finished third in the 2.Bundesliga. Braunschweig have looked very impressive at times throughout the season, playing many matches at such a high intensity that opponent’s often simply cannot cope. Despite this, The Lions ended their season on a low, even getting thumped 6-0 from a nearly relegated Armenia Bielfield. In this relegation/promotion play-off, neither side can afford to get it wrong.
Koen Casteels was the chosen GK. He was protected by Christian Trasch, Knoche, Wollscheid and Yannick Gerdhart. As a double-pivot in front of that backline was Josh Guilavogui and Luis Gustavo. Malli, Didavi and Paul-Georges Ntep played as an attacking trio behind Mario Gomez.
Braunschweig used a 4-4-2. Fejzic,Sauer,Decarli, Valsvik and Reichel were the back five(including GK). Omladic, Boland, Moll and Hochscheidt played as a very flat midfield four behind the two strikers, Hernandez and Nyman.
Lack of Vertical Compactness and Manipulation
Pressing in a horizontally compact 4-4-2 shape focused around limiting Wolfsburg’s access through the middle into progressional possession, Braunschweig also experienced a number of issues in their pressing scheme.
Hernandez and Nyman, on the frontline, were focused on blocking passes through the centre, particularly to Didavi, or if one of the pivots stepped forward to receive higher. The central-midfielders Boland and Moll though had to remain close to the back four with few metres between the lines, as Didavi and Gomez could make good dropping movements to receive here. This left a significant space between the frontline and midfield all across the width of the field. This was a space Wolfsburg’s pivots would position themselves in, as if an angle or lane opened up from centre-back or Casteels, it was easy access to receiving in front of a Braunschweig line.
It wasn’t always disastrous for Braunschweig in pressing though, as they sometimes found a good balance between preventing Wolfsburg access through a rigid, position-oriented system and increasing the pressure on the backline slightly, with some man-orientations. This forced Wolfsburg to search for new solutions to create and utilise space in the early phases, or be forced to constantly play long balls to Gomez. One solution Wolfsburg’s pivots commonly went to was to peel out into a halfspace position to the side of the CB’s and opposition ST’s.
This manipulated the press and forced the distance the strikers had to cover to be greater. Yannick Gerdhart’s dropping movements from left-back to deep in left-halfspace was used for similar reasons.
Often being forced to resort to long balls due to a lack of access to central spaces, Mario Gomez was primarily used as a target man in situations where Wolfsburg required quick verticality in a situation. Due to a number reasons though, this method wasn’t often successful.
Due to Didavi playing in role from 10 which was focused more on making connections from deep areas to the wingers, the ex-Stuttgart man made far more dropping movements than vertical ones onto the last line. Left winger Georges Ntep often remained high on the left touchline to occupy the wing, as Gerdhart, the LB, remained in deep positions. Malli would either be high on the right touchline or drop deeper into the right halfspace. This saw Mario Gomez lack any support on the last line, meaning not only was it more difficult for him to win as many aerial battles, his successful flick-ons or knock-downs would rarely be received by a teammate as they were not local to the ball.
This saw Gomez become isolated centrally on the last line, and even when Wolfsburg’s long balls to him were initially successful, the second balls were an issue as they could not be received by a local runner, nor could they be counterpressed quickly enough as there wasn’t local compactness. This allowed for Braunschweig to mop up these long balls simply, which they encouraged from the front line.
Though the performance was rather underwhelming, the relative control Wolfsburg appeared to have all throughout the match is promising for them in this relegation play-off. Struggling to establish effective methods in breaking the final lines to create dangerous situations consistently, was rather disappointing consider their simple control of the game, though boss Jonker would surely accept a similar performance in the away leg, versus a Braunschweig side who to date, pose only a small threat to Wolfsburg.