Kovac has returned Wolfsburg to their former glory

After the first 5 matches of the 2022-23 Bundesliga season, VfL Wolfsburg did not know the smell of victory and only had 2 points. It’s somewhat reminiscent of their start to last season, under the brief management of Mark van Bommel, except that they actually won a game. Rather than parting ways with head coach Niko Kovac soon, which happened to Van Bommel after just 13 games, Wolfsburg sporting director Marcel Schafer says they remain attached to the former Bayern Munich and Eintracht Frankfurt manager.

This was followed by a 13-match period losing just two, including a streak of six wins and 22 goals, helping them get back into the fray for European spots. How has Kovac’s tactics evolved from the start of the season to now, and why does Wolfsburg look so much better than last season?

Untangling a flawed philosophy

The appointment of Van Bommel last season forced Wolfsburg to change their game with little time and structure to do so. The successes under Oliver Glasner’s predecessor were built on solid defenses, intensity and transformation – the pillars of his Red Bull coaching background – but they can still play with a Number style control the ball. However, Van Bommel’s ideas were based entirely on ball control, with a focus on slow movement of the ball.

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The Dutch manager had no previous experience to prepare him for such a drastic job. This resulted in an entire season in disarray, with the pre-season seen as wasted, players confused about their roles and Van Bommel’s replacement, Florian Kohfeldt, who shared a similar approach to control. ball control – struggles to pick up the pieces.

After two blunders in the selection of head coach and controversial director of football, Jorg Schmadtke, resigning, Wolfsburg can finally begin to correct their mistakes. The appointment of Kovac, whose philosophy more closely resembles that of Glasner, is a step in the right direction.

bumpy start

When Kovac arrived, he deployed a combination of 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formations with a clear focus on how the team played without possession. He started working on increasing the intensity of the team behind the ball so they could defend tight, medium-high press to force their opponents to move wide. As soon as they win the ball, they can capitalize on their quick players in quick transitions.

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While you can see improvement and more consistency, this early part of the season hasn’t been as successful as last season due to a number of smaller issues that disrupted the team. This includes an unbalanced build pattern, where Wolfsburg employs an asymmetrical back three and a transition period to get used to the required level of intensity.

Kovac told NDR of the players’ adaptation: “It definitely takes six to eight weeks for the body to react normally. “This is a process that has to evolve over several months or years. We’re at a good level, but there could be more.”

Overcoming the opposition

Despite the lack of victory and the familiar feeling of wretchedness around Lower Saxony, Kovac continued to work with confidence from the Wolfsburg board and, more importantly, the players. Wolfsburg’s opponents dominated them in the first games, which negatively affected their results. When Kovac’s side gained the edge in this particular stat, it aided his footballing style and translated into victory.

Now, they are at the top of the Bundesliga table in terms of sprints per game and intense runs, but why is this so important? Not by itself, but for a team with an intensity-based philosophy, it becomes important to execute tight defences, finish off passes (pass or pass helping the team switch sides). horizontal), pressing opponents individually, blocking passages, and defending in a way that disrupts your opponent. For now, those are all things that Wolfsburg do well, and the improvement in their results corresponds to the improvement in these metrics.

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However, all good streaks must come to an end, and their 10-match unbeaten streak came to an abrupt end with a 1-2 defeat to Werder Bremen last week. Sadly, in this loss, they were again beaten by Bremen by distance. It also highlights another area where Wolfsburg need to improve if they want to continue their race for the top 4: tactical control of the ball. Their slow ball rotation makes it possible for opponents to defend in the lower area if needed and it is difficult for them to create any numerical advantage to overload certain areas to create scoring opportunities. table.

Regardless of the issue, Kovac’s appointment has resolved a Wolfsburg team that has been lost in the wake of Glasner’s departure. With Kovac already DFB-Pokal and Bundesliga champions with Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayern Munich respectively, his tactics are enough to bring Wolfsburg closer to what they once were: in Europe.


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