Wolfsburg and Eintracht both primed for a strong Bundesliga finish
The first half of the Bundesliga season was characterized by a crowd atop the league table. Now, a couple weeks into the second go-round of the league we — inevitably — are seeing a few teams come back down to earth, with Schalke 04 and SC Freiburg as prime examples of ‘over-performers’ who simply cannot maintain their hot finishing streak any longer. But here at StatsBomb, we choose to value fun stuff above a grim come-down story. So, in that light, we examine the two Bundesliga teams that seem primed to turn things around in 2020.
Allow me to go full-on football hipster on you, and tip a squad that has picked up a paltry four points in the last seven weeks.
If we look at Wolfsburg's shot chart, it clearly shows they could put forth viable complaints in the luck department. They're running six goals behind their expected goals total.
Since former LASK Linz manager Oliver Glasner took over this summer, Die Wölfe boast one of the league’s best defences.
Glasner built a sturdy defensive side by implementing a rigid but beautiful pressing style, the same style that allowed his lowly LASK side to put up really impressive performances in the Austrian Bundesliga in recent seasons. But Glasner’s squad also has the personnel to drop back deeper at times, with physically strong, tall players like John-Anthony Brooks (6'4"), Josuha Guillavogui (6'3") and Marcel Tisserand (6'3") playing in the axis. Glasner has three decent wing-backs at his disposal on the flanks: summer-signee Kevin Mbabu, anonymous-but-good Brazilian William and, most importantly, French leftie Jérôme Roussilon, who, given his extremely specific dribbling skillset. seems set for a big club move next summer.
Judging by their January transfers — they replaced a mediocre centre back (Jeffrey Bruma, loaned to Mainz) with a much more promising one (Salzburg’s Marin Pongracic) — Wolfsburg won’t crash on defensively in the second half of the season.
The question is whether their attacking numbers will turn around. Certain offensive woes are down to squad management, but Wout Weghorst is a truly excellent target man, whose intense running suits Glasner’s pressing style perfectly.
But Wolfsburg has had real trouble providing Weghorst with much-needed creative talent. Glasner rotates five players through the two positions supporting the Dutch forward: João Victor (ex-LASK), the talented but inconsistent Josip Brekalo, Swiss players Admir Mehmedi and Renato Steffen, and utility man Felix Klaus, This fivesome currently boast a disappointing cumulative goal total of six strikes in nineteen Bundesliga matches played. Not good. Finding non-Weghorst goals will be key for a successful second half of the season for Wolfsburg. Hopefully Victor in particular, who is playing well behind his xG numbers, can come good
Football can be so weird, y’all. Remember the 5–1 shellacking Eintracht Frankfurt dealt to Bayern München? Well, that happened on November 2nd.
Frankfurt grabbed only one point in the remaining seven league games of 2019. The side's only hope during this horrid run of games was that their level of play — although not good, of course — never dropped to super worrisome depths.
And lo and behold! Frankfurt have stormed out of the gate in 2020. They re-opened their league campaign by beating Hoffenheim 2–1 on their turf, and followed that up with a 2–0 victory against league leaders RB Leipzig.
On paper, Eintracht manager Adi Hütter has opted for a much more defensive style than the one at which his team excelled last season. Since the winter break, Hütter has traded in the 3-4-1-2 system for a 4-4-1-1 setup, with Timothy Chandler and Filip Kostić — both wing-backs in the old system — as wingers, and the intense running of Mijat Gaćinović as the only support of central striker Bas Dost.
As is often the case, a team’s reality can differ wildly than what's on paper. Powerhouses Bayern and Leipzig, alongside fifth-placed Leverkusen, are the only teams to put up more shots on a per-game basis than Hütter’s heavy-pressing squad (a solid 15.89 per game average). Super impressive, if you take into account that Frankfurt sold their shiniest players — Sébastien Haller (West Ham), Luka Jović (Real Madrid) and Ante Rebić (AC Milan) — this summer, a three-headed offensive monster who accounted for a whopping 41 league goals in 2018–19.
The only star player on offense who stayed with Die Adler last summer, Serbian winger Kostić, has been sensational this season. After 19 match weeks, Frankfurt’s leftie is second in the league in key passes (46) and in successful dribbles (53), whilst only Robert Lewandowski and Timo Werner have put up more shots than Kostić (55) so far.
With Hütter seemingly settled on his favourite starting eleven for the coming months, Eintracht’s main concern is improving their set-piece defence. Before the winter break, only Mainz conceded more goals than Frankfurt from corners and free-kicks (8 in 17 games). With Frankfurt playing a free-roving style in open play, a somewhat acceptable goal balance from dead-ball moments is pretty crucial to avoid arcade-like scoring lines.
However, much more quietly than last season, Hütter has done well with Frankfurt this year, and their nine-point gap behind sixth-placed Schalke does not seem impossible to close in the remaining fifteen weeks.