Bundesliga Focus – Wolves howling loudest in Champions League

Sat 7 Nov 2009 – It seems there are no limits to what Wolfsburg can achieve. Having won the Bundesliga title for the first time in their history last season, the Wolves entered their inaugural Champions League campaign as an interesting outsider with little hope of making it past the group stage. So it should come as no surprise to see that, out of the three German representatives, Wolfsburg are on the verge of qualification from their group while the more fancied Stuttgart and Bayern Munich are falling by the wayside. It is just typical of how the Wolves are doing things in recent times. Wait for people to write them off and then sneak in undetected and take all the spoils for themselves – football’s equivalent of the perfect predator.

Wolfsburg may not be flying high domestically right now, but in Europe they are showing the same killer instinct that took them to the Bundesliga crown back in May. Sitting in seventh place with 18 points from 11 Bundesliga games hardly gives them the look of champions, but looking at Germany’s Champions League trio this season makes Wolfsburg seem vastly superior. With the least European experience of the three and arguably the toughest group, the Wolves have catapulted themselves to within a whisker of surprise qualification while Bayern and Stuttgart fumble around, desperately trying to sneak through. If you didn’t watch the Bundesliga regularly, you could be mistaken for thinking Wolfsburg were the multi-time champions – not Bayern.

However, regular Bundesliga viewers will know that come the end of the season, normality will more than likely be restored. The key to Wolfsburg’s success is the unknown quantity tag that they have so embraced wearing. Last season’s title came from a good run of results after the winter break and nothing more. When the league became bunched up, Wolfsburg simply came powering down the home straight uncontested while the favourites battled each other, seemingly dismissing the outsiders. This season, with the league a similarly tight affair, Armin Veh’s side have been recognised as a genuine threat and thus, have found teams playing with more caution against them. However, the same can’t be said about the Champions League, where their more experienced rivals have allowed them ample opportunity to show their attacking flair.

Players such as Edin Dzeko and Grafite have proved deadly when given even the slightest opening, while Zvjezdan Misimovic can run a team ragged when given time and space to play. The Bundesliga found this out the hard way last season but have smartened up to the game plan this term, making it harder for the Wolves to break teams down. Although, the Champions League has given Wolfsburg the chance to revisit previous form and even the likes of Manchester United have been caught out by their all out attacking style. The Red Devils were outplayed for large periods of their home tie against the German champions and considered themselves fortunate to overturn a 1-0 deficit to win 2-1. That has been Wolfsburg’s only defeat so far in the Champions League and with United still to visit the Volkswagen Arena, Armin Veh will have his sights on not just qualifying – but winning the group.

This season, Europe seems more suited to Wolfsburg’s style than the Bundesliga. They based last season’s triumphs around an element of surprise and an awesome attacking display that pummelled their opponents into submission before they could catch their breath. That same style has won them their seven points from their first four games (a total that could easily have been bigger) and is likely to take them into the last 16. Whether they will be back next season is still up for debate. Their detractors will say that they are simply not as effective now they have to play as favourites week-in, week-out, but their supporters will say they are simply waiting for the opportunity to strike again – with a close title race benefiting the chasing Wolves. Either way, it seems certain they will leave their mark on Europe and few would bet against them going a long way in the Champions League.

On a different note, it appears there will be no reconciliation between Schalke striker Kevin Kuranyi and Germany boss Joachim Low. The pair had an epic falling out before Germany’s 2-1 World Cup qualifying victory against Russia in October last year that resulted in Kuranyi storming out of the ground at half-time after been left out of the starting line-up. Kuranyi subsequently apologised for his petulance but in a recent interview on German television, Low seemed adamant that Kuranyi won’t return. When the interviewer mentioned the Schalke striker’s name in relation to the upcoming friendlies, a clearly irked Low barked, “In my time, there will be no recall for Kuranyi. I hope this question, which emerges on a regular basis, will have been asked for the last time.”

Elsewhere, Werder Bremen striker Aaron Hunt has moved to dismiss speculation that he is ready to snub the chance to play for Germany in favour of representing England. The in-form striker, born in Germany to an English mother, has already played for Germany at U-21 level, but new rules mean he could switch elegance. It is rumoured in the German press that Stuart Pearce has been tracking the 23-year-old’s progress on behalf of Fabio Capello, but it seems Hunt has given the green light for his possible inclusion in Joachim Low’s squad for the games against Chile and Ivory Coast next week. He said, “When I was 16 and 17 I spent a lot of time thinking about this, but then I decided fully in favour of Germany.”

Bundesliga Focus

Bayern’s big weekend – October 17
Pressure mounting on Babbel – October 24
Big trouble at Schalke – October 31
Wolves howling loudest in Champions League – November 7

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