Bundesliga Preview: Bayer Leverkusen – VfL Wolfsburg

What: Bundesliga Round 11
Who: Bayer Leverkusen (2nd) vs. VfL Wolfsburg (8th)
When: Friday 31st October 2008, 20:30 (CET)
Where: Bay Arena, Leverkusen

Bayer Leverkusen are in action for the second consecutive Friday with a home fixture against Felix Magath’s Wolfsburg.  Both sides had impressive wins in midweek and will want to gain another three points to kick of the round 11 action.  

All Eyes On The Prize

The season couldn’t really have started any better for Bayer Leverkusen under new trainer Bruno Labbadia.  With the season now almost a third of the way through, the Werkself find themselves in a head-to-head battle with surprise package Hoffenheim for the leadership of the table.  

Seven wins from their tem matches coupled with a 24 goals scored has seen the disappointment of last season’s slump forgotten as the talented, young Bayer squad look to challenge for the title.   

The new signings have all been an instant success and have quickly embedded themselves in to Leverkusen squad, which is a mixture of youth and experience.  Patrick Helmes has enjoyed a scoring start to the season with eight goals, while partner Stefan Kießling is also in good early form.  Theofanis Gekas is also available as an impact player from the bench.  

Renato Augusto has already shown what a quality player he is, while loan signing from Barcelona, Henrique has quickly slotted in at the back alongside Manuel Friedrich.  Michael Kadlec has impressed at left back and the Werkself have the ever-reliable Rene Adler in goal.  

The absence of European football this season, although not the ideal situation for a club of Bayer’s stature, it may actually prove to be a blessing in disguise as their squad will be spared the fatigue that playing twice in a week will ultimately cause.   

With respect to Friday’s game, trainer Bruno Labbadia is expecting the visitors to play a patient game when they arrive at the Bay-Arena.  “Wolfsburg are a team that is extremely disciplined and full of running. On top of that, they have a very strong line-up” he said.  

“Nevertheless, I was surprised when they qualified for Europe last season.  In terms of opposition, they are as strong as Bremen, but Wolfsburg do put greater emphasis on the defensive side of their game” he added.  

Hope Rather Than Expectation  

VfL Wolfsburg will make the journey to the Bay-Arena this Friday with hope rather than expectation as Leverkusen hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds for them in recent seasons.  The Wölfe haven’t won there in their last 11 matches and have come away with a defeat on eight of those occasions.   

That said Felix Magath has assembled a very good team this season and will have as good a chance as any of finally breaking the negative series of results that Wolfsburg enjoy at the Bay-Arena.   

Last season saw an excellent chance for them end the run, but they blew it.  Magath’s side took the lead twice only for a Ricardo Costa own-goal to cost them severely and they had to settle for a point.   

The Wölfe ended last season with a real surge and surprised many my qualifying for the Uefa Cup at Leverkusen’s and Stuttgart’s expense.  Many pundits were tipping them for a possible title challenge, but unlike Friday’s opponents Bayer, it hasn’t really ignited yet.   

They began the new campaign with a win at home to newly promoted Köln, but followed that up with three consecutive draws.  They impressively beat Hamburg, and held Schalke away, before a loss to a resurgent Bayern.  They have as yet not won on their travels, which does not augur well for their trip to the Bay-Arena.  

Many see this clash on Friday as a meeting of two ‘top’ teams in Germany, but Wolfsburg trainer Felix Magath doesn’t quite share that view.  “In comparison with us, Leverkusen have been at the top of the Bundesliga for years if not decades” he explained.  

“They have a developed team which in my opinion was strengthened well in the last transfer window.  At the end of the season they will be among the top five in the league.”  

Both sides are though two of the more attack-minded sides in the German top flight.  “The game will show just well the two sides can attack” Magath added.  “We will try to win the game and play our offensive game.”   

FORM GUIDE  

Bayer Leverkusen

28/10/08  v Werder Bremen (a)  WON 0-2  (Bundesliga)

24/10/08  v 1.FC Köln (h)  WON 2-0  (Bundesliga)

18/10/08  v Eintracht Frankfurt (a)  WON 0-2  (Bundesliga)

04/10/08  v Hertha Berlin (h)  LOST 0-1  (Bundesliga)

27/09/08  v VfL Bochum (a)  WON 2-3  (Bundesliga)

23/09/08  v FC Augsburg (a)  WON 0-2  (DFB Pokal)  

Wolfsburg

28/10/08  v Bor.Mönchengladbach  (h)  WON 3-0  (Bundesliga)

25/10/08  v Bayern Munich (a)  LOST 4-2  (Bundesliga)

18/10/08  v Arminia Bielefeld (h)  WON 4-1  (Bundesliga)

05/10/08  v Schalke (a)  DREW 2-2  (Bundesliga)

02/10/08  v Rapid Bucharest (a)  DREW 1-1  (Uefa Cup)

28/09/08  v Karlsruhe (a)  LOST 2-1  (Bundesliga)  

Head to head record in Leverkusen:

27/04/08  Bayer Leverkusen 2 Wolfsburg 2

26/08/06  Bayer Leverkusen 1 Wolfsburg 1

08/02/06  Bayer Leverkusen 4 Wolfsburg 0

04/12/04  Bayer Leverkusen 2 Wolfsburg 1

13/03/04  Bayer Leverkusen 4 Wolfsburg 2  

TEAM NEWS  

Bayer Leverkusen

Trainer Bruno Labbadia has just one selection dilemma.  Tranquillo Barnetta is now fit again and he must decide whether to bring him back in place of Pirmin Schwegler.  Schwegler got the nod against Werder, with Barnetta coming on as a substitute. 

“Firstly, I was delighted that Pirmin had a great game.  Barnetta was fit for the Bremen game but Pirmin deserved to keep his place and also we had the benefit of using Barnetta’s dynamism from the bench.  We’ve got two very good alternatives and I have yet to make a decision” Labbadia explained.  

Probable starting XI: Adler, Castro, Friedrich, Henrique, Kadlec, Rolfes, Vidal, Renato Augusto, Schwegler, Kießling, Helmes  

Wolfsburg

The Wolfsburg squad have come through the busy midweek fixtures without picking up any injuries, so Felix Magath is likely to send out the same side that beat Mönchengladbach.  

Probable starting XI: Benaglio, Riether, Madlung, Barzagli, Schäfer, Josué, Hasebe, Gentner, Misimovic, Grafite, Dzeko  

PLAYERS TO WATCH  

Bayer Leverkusen- Renato Augusto  

Bayer Leverkusen have a fine history of Brazilian players with the likes of Franca, Jorginho, Zé Roberto, Emerson, Lucio and Juan delighting the Bay-Arena fans down the years.  They now look to have unearthed another real gem in the form of Renato Augusto.  Signed from Flamengo, the midfielder has been an ever-present so far this season and has arguably been the side’s best player.  The ‘Kicker’ ratings have him as the best midfielder in the Bundesliga right now.    

Wolfsburg- Grafite  

The Brazilian scored 11 goals in 24 appearances last season to confirm himself as the number striker at the Volkswagen Arena.  The death of his father recently caused him to return to South America, but to his credit he has scored three goals in his last three games giving him 5 goals in 7 games so far this season.  The Bayer defence will have to keep a watchful eye on the powerful forward on Friday.  

PREDICTION

Wolfsburg’s recent record in the Bay-Arena isn’t good and their away form this season doesn’t suggest that it will change on Friday.  Leverkusen are on a high at the moment following consecutive wins against Köln and Werder Bremen.  The Werkself will want to cap a fine period with a win with the prize potentially being the number one spot in the table.     

Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Wolfsburg  

Mathew Burt