Goal.com looks ahead to Pierre Littbarski's first game in charge of Wolfsburg as he takes on a former Woelfe coach in Armin Veh...
Wolfsburg have finally done it. They've dispensed with the services of the Bundesliga's first English head coach in Steve McClaren with manager Dieter Hoeness admitting that it was a mistake to hire the former Middlesbrough gaffer in the first place. McClaren, who often did his best to disguise the fact that he is actually Anglophone, never came to terms with some temperamental characters at a club who are still recovering from their shock Bundesliga triumph in 2008-09.
McClaren's replacement for the time being is Pierre Littbarski, known affectionately as Litti. An outstanding player in his day, he is one of FC Koeln's greats, scoring 116 Bundesliga goals as both a striker and attacking midfielder. The 50-year old is Wolfsburg's fourth head coach since Magath left for Schalke, although his appointment is on an interim basis until the end of the season. Huub Stevens, Martin Jol and Ralf Rangnick have all been mentioned as long-term successors as well and should Littbarski struggle to make an early impact, Hans Meyer could come in as a firefighter.
Littbarski has already overturned the €100k fine imposed on Diego by McClaren in one of his last acts as coach, deciding that a one-game ban is enough. The Brazilian playmaker defied orders from above to take and subsequently miss a penalty in last week's derby against Hannover ; McClaren had entrusted new signing Patrick Helmes with the responsibility from twelve yards. Littbarski, who moves up from assistant coach, refused to take any shots at his old boss:
"The players don't need to call me Herr Litbarski - a simple 'Trainer' is enough. Basically, I value a mix of creative freedom and discipline but that does not imply that we previously had problems with discipline. There are no grounds for criticising the work of Steve McClaren, whom I phoned yesterday. It was important for me to talk with him. We discussed a few things and wished each other good luck."
Nice To Be Back Playing
It is two weeks since Hamburg last stepped onto the pitch in the Bundesliga. Of course this is not down to a quirk of the fixture list or an enforced international break but largely of the club's own doing. The decision to lay a new surface proved to be a sporting and PR disaster for die Rothosen as it was unable to cope with the heavy rain in Hamburg a week ago. As such, the Hamburger Stadtderby against St Pauli, which had been greatly anticipated, quite literally turned out to be a damp squib. Thankfully, there is not too long to wait for the fixture to be fulfilled - it will be played next Wednesday although there are those, with some justification, who believe that HSV should have been docked three points.
With six points since the resumption of the league in mid-January, Hamburg have not done too badly although such a statistic is deceptive for two victories over Schalke and Eintracht Frankfurt were followed by a defeat to Nuernberg. The next few fixtures are most definitely winnable for Armin Veh's men and they need to embark upon a good run if they are to make a sustained challenge for the European spots, as the former Wolfsburg coach himself acknowledged:
"In order to meet our objective of finishing in the first five, we must be successful in this game. It is difficult for us to analyse Wolfsburg. You are not exactly sure how they will play and how much they will look to change."
Veh, who struggled to lift Wolfsburg after title-winning coach Felix Magath's departure, still has a point to prove to his critics. He has not helped himself with his public statements of a lack of long-term desire to continue as a head coach but in the short-term, he has grounds for optimism. Hamburg produced one of their best performances of the campaign in the reverse fixture - a 4-2 win in the Imtech Arena - and Joris Mathijsen was impressive in his 45 minutes for the Netherlands in midweek.
"It is important for us to be mentally sharp. It is a very important week and we have to be on our game. Should we play like we did (in the reverse game) then we will also win this one."
Problems, scandal and crisis are never too far away at Germany's second biggest club in terms of revenue, according to the recently released Deloitte Money League. Although Ruud van Nistelrooy has made his peace, Dennis Aogo has hit out at the lack of planning by the club for its future. All things considered, it will be a welcome relief for HSV just to be back playing again.
The most high-profile absentee for die Woelfe is Diego, who is serving a one game ban imposed by the club after his antics against Hannover. Sascha Riether is out with a twisted knee, Mario Mandzukic with a broken toe and Tolga Cigerci with a metatarsal injury. In Diego's absence, a 4-4-2 is likely. Josue and Grafite are doubts but at least one should make the starting line-up ; if not then Makoto Hasebe and Dieumerci Mbokani are ready to step in. There is still no place for Koo Ja-Cheol in the squad.
Probable Starting XI: Benaglio - Pekarik, Kjaer, Friedrich, Schaefer - Dejagah, Hasebe, Polak, Tuncay - Grafite, Helmes
Die Rothosen are preparing a selection surprise of their own with reports suggesting that Ruud van Nistelrooy will be benched in favour of a Mladen Petric - Anis Ben-Hatira strikeforce. Gojko Kacar is still out through suspension as are injured quartet Dennis Diekmeier, Collin Benjamin, Heung-Min Son and Romeo Castelen. Despite his impressive showing for the Dutch in midweek, it appears that Eljero Elia will be on the bench, with Marcell Jansen being preferred down the left flank.
Probable Starting XI: Rost - Demel, Westermann, Mathijsen, Aogo - Pitroipa, Jarolim, Ze Roberto, Jansen - Petric, Ben-Hatira