Bundesliga Matchday 34 Preview: Wolfsburg against Bayern
There are still two games left to play for Bayern in the domestic competitions. Of the two, only the DFB-Pokal final next weekend is really important. If Bayern manages to defeat Leverkusen, Hansi Flick will have won the double within nine months of being appointed head coach.
But three is reason for caution, because the match against VfL Wolfsburg will not be insignificant. On the final matchday of the Bundesliga, the focus is on morale, fitness, rhythm and an emotionally and psychologically good feeling before the crucial match next weekend. A look at the club’s recent history shows how important a good finish in the Bundesliga can be despite the title race already having been decided.
In 2018, Eintracht Frankfurt won the cup. Shortly before that, Bayern lost their last home game with Jupp Heynckes at the sidelines 1-4 against an ailing VfB Stuttgart. A result that might have hurt not just because of the scoreline, but especially because of the circumstances. In 2013, on the other hand, Bayern celebrated the greatest success in their club’s history: the treble after they narrowly edged out Borussia Mönchengladbach 3-4 in a very shaky affair on the last matchday.
At that time, the Champions League final took place before the DFB-Pokal final. In the moment the Henkelpott was won against Borussia Dortmund at Wembley, the team seemed to lose all tension and focus within the blink of an eye. In the week that followed, Jupp Heynckes and Peter Hermann had their hands full trying to salvage the team’s body language, attitude and focus during training. The result was a very wobbly performance ending in a tight 3-2 against VfB Stuttgart in Berlin. Goal achieved, but not quite in the confident manner hoped for.
Yet on the whole such examples are rather the exception than the norm in the history of FC Bayern. For this reason, and because the circumstances vary in every season, the significance of the examples mentioned should not be exaggerated. But they may serve as a timely reminder: If concentration levels drop too soon, as the examples have shown, accomplishing the ultimate goals of the season is at risk.
In a season like this, where the Champions League is most likely to be played in August, everything is different anyway. But Hansi Flick and his team should not find it too difficult to motivate their team for the match against Wolfsburg. There are still a few records left to play for for the team and club.
Take the 100-goal mark, for example: Bayern have scored 96 goals in the current season so far. Only once did a team manage to break this barrier. In the 1971/72 season, Bayern scored 101 goals. It seems unlikely that Flick’s team will score five goals against the defensively quite stable VfL Wolfsburg. But under Flick, this team is capable of anything.
In the case of Robert Lewandowski, who currently ranks first in the Bundesliga goal scorer ranking with 33 goals in the season, anything is possible. He is already the highest scoring foreign player in the history of the competition (having overtaken Aubameyang at 31 goals), but also the most successful scorer not named Müller in Bundesliga history. Only Dieter Müller (35 goals) and Gerd Müller (36, 38 and 40 goals) are currently still ahead of him. Particularly interesting: Wolfsburg is something like Lewandowski’s favourite opponent. The Pole has netted 20 goals in 18 Bundesliga games against the team from Lower Saxony. The average rate of 1.11 goals per game will not be enough this weekend. But let us imagine he repeats his unforgettable five goals in 9 minutes feat… All those who still feel a nostalgia for the Müller records should be wary.
Yet there is another record that a high victory would break. In the treble winning season, Bayern played the best second half in Bundesliga history so far: 16 wins and a draw with 54:11 goals. In the ongoing season, Bayern has collected 15 wins, one draw and 50:10 goals.
Hansi Flick thus seems to have all the arguments he needs to motivate his team one more time. After all, apart from all the records and cup considerations, it is also about maintaining the integrity of the competition. There is still a lot at stake for Wolfsburg on Saturday. If they win, they will finish in 6th place and qualify directly for the Europa League group stage. Any other result will give Hoffenheim, who are level on points with them and have to play against Dortmund, the chance to overtake them.
If Bayern play in a similar fashion as they have in every previous match under Hansi Flick, the encounter should become an interesting one, at least as far as tactics are concerned. Although any potential lessons drawn from the reverse fixture earlier this season have only limited relevance for today because of the personnel situation at the time, Wolfsburg showed how disciplined and well organized they can defend.
Before the season, there were quite a few experts who thought Wolfsburg capable of breaking into the top five. They did not quite manage that in the first season under Oliver Glasner. But with the qualification for the Europa League secured, they will participate in European competition for the second time in a row, after having been almost relegated twice.
42 goals conceded so far mark the best result for Wolfsburg since the runners-up season under Dieter Hecking 2014/15, and the biggest task for the coaching team in preparation for the coming season will be to improve the attacking game and involve striker Wout Weghorst into the game even more often. The Dutchman has great qualities with his physical presence, the power he brings to the game and his finishing quality. With 17 goals, he scored around 40 percent of all his team’s goals.
In addition to his involvement, however, it will also be a question of getting more players onto the scoring list. If Weghorst is not in the game, Wolfsburg have problems scoring. Glasner took over a team from Bruno Labbadia that at least had a solid foundation in terms of being able to keep the ball in possession for longer stretches. With Hertha BSC, Labbadia is currently showing that he has long been underestimated in the tactics department. This was also already evident at Wolfsburg. They only missed the last punch during his time there. Glasner could now be accused of something similar.
If Wolfsburg do not win their last game, the season might be regarded as a small step backwards from the last one. It remains to be seen how the club deals with this. Glasner should still have no reason to worry about his job. But it is also beyond doubt that it is the ambition of the closely connected Volkswagen works team to play for the Champions League places again in the future. Glasner will have to demonstrate in the next season that he can develop the team accordingly – especially in attack and in their ability to keep possession of the ball for longer periods. For the moment, however, satisfaction levels at Wolfsburg will be neither here nor there. Not emotionally, not playing-wise.