Champions League 2015/16 profiles: Wolfsburg
Wolfsburg enter the Champions League for only the second time, and once again find themselves paired with Manchester United and CSKA Moscow in Group B, with PSV Eindhoven completing their pool.
Coral think Die Wolfe can dance with these established European competitors, offering odds of 5/2 for them to come top of the pile and making them 8/15 second-favourites to qualify for the knockout phase, despite losing their best and brightest.
Domestic league: Bundesliga
How they qualified: Wolfsburg were best of the rest behind Bayern Munich in last term’s German top-flight, but they will be looking to end the Allianz Arena outfit’s dominance of that division, as well as giving a decent account of themselves in Europe.
Best Champions League era performance: Die Wolfe have graced the Champions League group stage before in 2009/10 where they were also drawn with Man Utd and CSKA. They finished third in that pool, completed by Besiktas, and thus dropped into the old UEFA Cup, but will be targeting better this time around.
Coach: Dieter Hecking has been in charge of Wolfsburg for almost three years now, steering them to DFB Pokal glory last term and that runners-up spot in the Bundesliga. He has the perfect opportunity to enhance his CV further with a run in Europe, after previously coaching Nuremberg and Hannover.
Ins and outs: The price for Die Wolfe’s success has meant bigger clubs poaching their best players. Belgium midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, who was their star performer last term, joined Manchester City for £55m and Inter Milan moved for Croatia winger Ivan Perisic.
Fellow attacker Aaron Hunt’s exit to Hamburg completes the outbound summer transfers. New faces at the Volkswagen Arena are Germany striker Max Kruse, ex-Brazil defender Dante from Bayern Munich and prized Schalke asset Julian Draxler – signed to cushion the blow of losing De Bruyne.
Familiar faces: Former Arsenal and Chelsea fringe players Nicklas Bendtner and Andre Schurrle are well-known to English audiences; the former for his high opinion of himself and latter as being a useful impact sub.
Key players: With De Bruyne gone, all eyes will be on Wolfsburg’s leading scorer from last term in Dutch hitman Bas Dost and whether he can replicate his exploits in front of goal. An important source of supply comes from Switzerland left back Ricardo Rodriguez, who is handy with dead balls.
Ones to watch: Now that left-footed attacking midfielder Draxler has finally left Gelsenkirchen, albeit for a move within German football, many will follow his career at Die Wolfe with close interest. In the spine of the side, meanwhile, are ex-Bayern pair Dante and Luiz Gustavo.
Why were Munich so willing to offload both players to a domestic rival? Anchorman Gustavo was widely panned in the British press for lacking ambition and rejecting Arsenal’s overtures when he chose Wolfsburg in 2013, but his and Dante’s big match experience – not to mention willingness to do the less glamourous work – should not go unnoticed.
Emerging talents: If the Brazilian boys aren’t cutting it, then watch out for new signing, set-piece threat and Peru centre back Carlos Ascues. Atletico Madrid loanee Joshua Guilavogui, meanwhile, may play instead of or alongside Gustavo, and must impress to squeeze into host nation France’s Euro 2016 squad.
CL group and fixtures: Group B
v CSKA Moscow (home), September 15th
v Man Utd (away), September 30th
v PSV Eindhoven (home), October 21st
v PSV Eindhoven (away), November 3rd
v CSKA Moscow (away), November 25th
v Man Utd (home), December 8th