Wolfsburg begin life after Edin Dzeko with a challenge against Bayern and a fit-again Arjen Robben…
After months and months of speculation, Edin Dzeko finally left Wolfsburg last week. While much media focus has been over how the brilliant striker will fit in at Manchester City, in Germany, the questions have been raised as to how Wolfsburg will manage without their departed captain and historical top scorer.
On Monday, coach Steve McClaren took some positives from the transfer:
“I have already seen other payers take on more responsibility,” he told Bild am Sonntag. “The players no longer need to hide in Edin’s shadow.”
Stepping to the forefront will be 2009 scoring champion Grafite and summer signing Mario Mandzukic, the latter of whom will have an extra burden on his shoulders following a luckless fall campaign.
Heading into the second half of the season, Wolfsburg can only have limited expectations. Having drawn their last six matches before the winter break, the 2009 champions are 13th in the Bundesliga standings, with just 19 points from 17 matches.
Sporting director Dieter Hoeness has labeled this time as a transition period for his side, but has refused to write off the season:
“The sale of Edin is surely a sign of a break,” he told the official Wolfsburg website. “We are rebuilding a team, and we need sporting success that we can bring in every single game. Victories will encourage further development.”
Bayern Aim For Success With “New Signing” Robben
Many among the Bayern faithful will recall Arjen Robben’s first match for die Roten. Just days after signing from Real Madrid, the Dutchman came on as a second half substitute and scored a fine brace to cap off a 3-0 victory away to Wolfsburg.
Now, after missing spending six months on the sidelines with a hamstring tear, Robben returns to Bayern as a “new signing” of sorts. And now, he plays his first game of the season against none other than Wolfsburg at the Volkswagen Arena.
While he has yet to play a moment this season, Robben has been called “unstoppable” in training, and along with fellow wing wizard Franck Ribery, is looking fully fit once more.
Bayern begin the spring campaign a distant fifth in the Bundesliga table, 14 points behind leaders Dortmund. While a repeat of the Bundesliga title now appears to be no more than a pipe dream, Louis van Gaal’s men have targeted a second place finish domestically, victory in the DFB Pokal, and success in the Champions League.
Current top scorer Mario Gomez, who has netted 20 goals in all competitions thus far, believes that the second half of the campaign will be no cakewalk:
“We know we have a huge amount of ground to catch up, but we also know it’s not impossible. And why shouldn’t we believe in ourselves? The second half of the season will be hard, but as always, we have total belief in ourselves.”
Bayern’s long and difficut campaign begins in Wolfsburg for a match that Gomez sees as pivotal: “The first three or four matches will tell us where we’re heading,” he said. “We need to get off to a good start and put pressure on the other teams right away.”
Makoto Hasebe is on international duty at the Asian Cup, and Karim Ziani and Caiuby are both suspended. On the plus side, none among Steve McClaren's side is injured. Most notably, fit-again centre half Arne Friedrich is expected to make his first start since joining Wolfsburg in the summer.
Probable Starting XI: Benaglio – Riether, Kjaer, Friedrich, Schaefer - Josue, Cicero - Dejagah, Diego, Mandzukic - Grafite
Arjen Robben is back in contention to play, but is unlikely to appear until the second half. In his place, Hamit Altintop is tipped to start on the right flank. New signing Luiz Gustavo is expected to start on the bench, although the Brazilian could start ahead of left back Diego Contento. Edson Braafheid will miss out on the match with illness, and Toni Kroos and Ivica Olic are also sidelined due to injuries.
Probable Starting XI: Kraft – Lahm, Breno, Badstuber, Contento - Van Bommel, Schweinsteiger - Altintop, Mueller, Ribery - Gomez
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