VfL Wolfsburg – Match Report vs TSG Hoffenheim 08/11/20

This is a guest piece by Dave Cohen.

A fascinating clash between two sides that have had unspectacular starts to the season ended with Wolfsburg being propelled up to sixth in the table. The match was relatively open, with both sides creating 12 chances over the game. Wolfsburg were much stronger in the 1st half and allowed Hoffenheim much of the ball during the 2nd.  Wolfsburg set up with a 4-2-3-1  against Hoffenheim’s 3-5-2, with Wout Weghorst leading the line effectively. Munas Dabbur could have rescued a draw for a misfiring Hoffenheim team right at the death however Koen Casteels saved well to his bottom left to secure all 3 points for Wolfsburg.

Ratings:

  • A1 – Very good, could play higher
  • A2 – Strong potential to play higher
  • B1 – Good, strong player at level
  • B2 – Potential to be strong player at level
  • C – Average for the level, rewatch
  • D – below average in this match

Maxence Lacroix

  • Nationality: French
  • Age: 20
  • Date of birth: 06/04/2000
  • Current Club: Wolfsburg
  • Career: Sochaux, Wolfsburg
  • Position: Centre Back
  • Preferred foot: Right

Lacroix played as the right centre half in the back four. He was in possession of the ball frequently as Wolfsburg often played out from defence. His pass success of 77% was above the average of the Wolfsburg team, which is impressive considering 10 of his accurate passes were played into the opposition half. He often looked to play diagonal balls to the wings, which were generally accurate and affected the Wolfsburg play in a positive way. Under the press of Hoffenheim’s forwards he looked assured, with no major mistakes on the ball being made, and generally correct passes being made.

Standing at 6’3”, Lacroix was an imposing presence in the backline. He seemed rarely troubled by Ishak Belfodil’s strength up top, and often used his stature to bully attackers off the ball. His partner John Brooks had a poor game, and often Lacroix had to mop up behind. Lacroix had more duels won and significantly more recoveries than Brooks. The Frenchman also looked confident in the air, and his clearances were always safe, and never into a dangerous area. He has a fantastic mind that defies his years, with Lacroix cutting out many attacking through balls with ease. On occasion he stepped out of the line to press, and looked confident in doing so, and showed good pace in getting back into the line. He generally remained calm whenever the opponents breached the press, with Xaver Schlager’s work rate at getting back often helping.

His only real downside was with his agility. Just before half time Belfodil was slipped in and on the turn Lacroix looked slow, but this is expected considering his large frame. He was sometimes caught lacking when on the press out of the line. Overall, I was thoroughly impressed with the Frenchman’s performance. He was confident on the ball throughout, with a fantastic range of passing displayed. He rarely looked troubled in defence, and imposed himself effectively on the Hoffenheim attack throughout. His pace on the turn was slightly lacking, and his aerial ability is slightly below par considering his height. However for a 20 year old in his first season in a top 5 league, he was outstanding on the day.

Rating – A2

Xaver Schlager

  • Nationality: Austrian
  • Age: 23
  • Date of birth: 28/09/1997
  • Current Club: Wolfsburg
  • Career: Red Bull Salzburg, Wolfsburg
  • Position: Centre Midfield
  • Secondary Position: Defensive Midfield
  • Preferred foot: Left

Schlager lined up alongside Maximilian Arnold as part of the deeper midfield two in the 4-2-3-1 of Wolfsburg. He acted very much as a box-to-box midfielder throughout the game, popping up in defensive and attacking areas. His workrate was fantastic up to the 89th minute when he was replaced by Marin Pongracic. Defensively he was sound, having not only the most tackles in the match with 3 but also the most duels won with 9. He also won 100% of his aerials, which is impressive for someone standing only 5’9” in stature. He seemed to be a leading communicative figure on the pitch, and a clear link between defence and attack.

He dropped deep to collect the ball from the defence often, and looked confident and composed on the ball. His touches were positive and always looked to play forward passes. His balls split the lines often, and he fed a fantastic ball into Renato Steffen before Weghorst’s goal on the 26th minute. Similarly, he showed good work rate to win the ball and then win the penalty before Weghorst’s miss in the 82nd minute. The Austrian often stepped up into the attacking line, looking to run beyond the defender, however this did leave Wolfsburg vulnerable on the counter occasionally. 

His dribbling was solid throughout, drawing 3 fouls during the game. He also showcased reasonable agility on the ball. However on occasion he was dispossessed whilst trying forward dribbles, when perhaps he could have retained possession. Overall a good performance from Schlager, with his work rate and tenacity being his main qualities. He does lack slightly in the pace department, but his passing range and aggression in the tackle more than make up for it.

Rating – A2

Bote Baku

  • Nationality: German
  • Age: 22
  • Date of birth: 08/04/1998
  • Current Club: Wolfsburg
  • Career: Mainz, Wolfsburg
  • Position: Right Back
  • Secondary Position: Defensive Midfield
  • Preferred foot: Right

Baku lined up at right centre back in the back four of Wolfsburg. He was confident on the ball throughout the game, showing calmness that defied his relatively young age. He was on the ball a lot more than his left sided counterpart Roussillon, however his passes sometimes lacked accuracy, with a 72% pass success rate throughout the game. however, he recovered well for the most part, with 7 recoveries over the course of the game, and showed good pace and strength to regain possession. His touches were for the most part positive, and he had good energy on the ball throughout the game.

He was physical throughout the game, and easily bullied Ryan Sessegnon opposite him, who had little success down the channel. The German had little to do in the air, however his small stature did let him down on occasions when getting on the end of long balls in more advanced positions. He worked well in tandem with right attacking midfield Renato Steffen, with Baku often getting space on the overlap because of neat one-two’s. his final product was lacking this game, with all 3 crosses attempted failing.

Overall a confident and asserted performance from Baku, I was impressed with his energy and pace throughout the game. His defence was strong, and he rarely looked troubled standing up to Sessegnon. He also was a confident dribbler, with a bit of natural flair showcased with backheels as early as the second minute. His willingness to run down the line created space for Steffen throughout the game, who was arguably the best player on the pitch. His passing really hindered his game – a more ruthless team would have capitalised more on some of his errant passes. I feel if his passing ability was to be improved he would be a better player.

Rating – B1

Josip Brekalo

  • Nationality: Croatian
  • Age: 22
  • Date of birth: 23/06/1998
  • Current Club: Wolfsburg
  • Career: Dinamo Zagreb, Wolfsburg, VfB Stuttgart (L)
  • Position: Left Wing
  • Secondary Position/s: Right Wing
  • Preferred foot: Right

Josip Brekalo lined up on the left hand side of an attacking midfield 3, but fairly often drifted inwards to be more of a central attacking presence. He got involved early, showing good movement to get on a cutback, however his finish on the 3rd minute was poor in what was a clear chance. He displayed good pace and dribbling throughout, and showed good work rate in the build up to the first goal, making a tackle in his own box then feeding Philipp in who then set up Steffen’s goal. Operating as an inside forward, his running was direct and he cut in often, however occasionally did dwell on the ball too long. He seemed to lack final product in this particular game, with 2 of his 3 shots either going wayward or being blocked easily. His link up play with Roussillon was not the best, with the left back rarely overlapping well, and perhaps a few moves failed due to a breakdown in communication. when compared to the success fared on the righthand side. However Brekalo proved more than willing tracking backwards to defend up to his substitution on the 70th minute.

The Croatian is a real handful and a fantastic talent for the future, but does need to improve on his passing and finishing. The Hoffenheim right hand side of Rudy and Bogarde struggled to contain him at times, and with better delivery he could have affected the game in a more positive way. I’m almost positive that this was just a slightly below par game for Brekalo, and he will pick up form over the season.

Rating – B2

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