In what was perhaps the UEFA Champions League game of the season so far, Wolfsburg knocked mighty Manchester United out into the bowels of the Europe League with a 3-2 victory.
We, the general public, should be surprised. MU are worth 391 million Euros, more than double that of VFL Wolfsburg. They are supposed to have the bigger stars (Rooney, Mata, Schweini, Memphis, Mata, De Gea), the “more European experience” (as my match commentators, Darren Fletcher and Owen Hargreaves, both former MU players, pointed out every 5 minutes). They have Louis van Gaal, a tactical genius, who got to spend over a 100 million pounds this offseason. They were in a very “easy” group with CSKA Moscow, PSV Eindhoven and the VW boys. What could go wrong?
There is just one problem, the other team in green.
If you have been paying attention, you should NOT be surprised at the performance of Wolfsburg. Here are some statistics to show you just how good they have been.
- They just lost at home, over the weekend to Borussia Dortmund on a last minute winner by Shinji Kagawa – it was their first Volkswagen Arena loss in 18 months!
- They are 3rd in the Bundesliga in possession with 58.7%, behind BVB and Bayern.
- In 15 games, they conceded the 3rd fewest goals with 17.
- With 83.7% die Wölfe are second in pass accuracy
- They are 2nd only to Dortmund in aerial duels won
- They are 3rd in Team rating with 6.96.
In retrospect, the signs for a VFL victory were there. What was only a pleasant surprise in their 2-1 loss at Old Trafford, a game Wolfsburg dominated in the first half with goals like this, hit me like a ton of bricks sometime in the early moments of Tuesday’s game:
WOLFSBURG are more TALENTED than United.
The excellent folks over at http://www.goalimpact.com/are in agreeement, with their numbers
FAVORING Wolfsburg 139.1 to 134.6.
If you don’t like numbers, I present to you their second goal from Tuesday by Vieirinha
What Julian Draxler does to none other than Bastian Schweinsteiger (one of the best midfielders of the last 10 years) should not be legal.
If Barcelona had scored that goal, Youtube, Twitter and all other social media would have exploded.
After the explosion, let’s quickly give some more praise to VFL with a 3 part positional breakdown.
Diego Benaglio was blameless for the 2 goals, as his defense hung him out to dry on the 1st one, and outright headed the ball over him for the second. Otherwise, the former Swiss international made 2-3 brilliant point blank saves to deny Fellaini and Martial at least two sure goals.
The back four, despite conceding 2 goals, a bevy of chances and 16 shots actually played fairly well. Losing the excellent left back Ricardo Rodriguez only 14 minutes in hurt, but his replacement Schafer did well, while Trasch was his usual workmanlike self at right back. In the center, Dante was great in distribution (leading the team with 61 passes) and had 5 clearances. The man of the match was the fellow member of the over 30 Brazilian centerback club Naldo, who had 2 goals from two set pieces, putting strikers to shame with his 1st goal. Naldo also had 8(!) clearances, 4 interceptions, 3 blocked shots and won 71% of his duels, including 75% in the air. They did lose Martial badly for the 1st MU goal and the Frenchman’s pace was giving the Brazilian duo all kinds of headaches all evening.
In midfield, Guilavogui, the goat in Saturday’s game vs BVB (for allowing Mkhitaryan to dispossess him 25 yards from goal and directly conceding) scored an almost disastrous own goal that gave MU some hope. Julian Draxler was wizardlike in creating the 2nd goal, Arnold and Vieirinha were constantly troubling MU with their speed, passing and overall creativity. Facing the 100 million quartet (according to transfermarkt) of Mata, Fellaini, Memphis and Schweinsteiger the Wolfsburg trio (worth 42 million) was dominant for much of the match.
Up top, Max Kruse was ever dangerous, as he occupied the MU defense with his menacing runs. His partner, the WC winner André Schürrle had his quintessential Schürrle game – missing a glorious chance in the opening minutes, yet creating many other opportunities and wreaking havoc with his physicality and aggression. It’s scary to imagine what Wolfsburg would look like if he learned to finish consistently.
Overall, a wonderful display from the Wolves, as despite some late game desperate efforts by United, they earned all 3 points and proved that they were the best team of the group.
Finally, while I don’t want to be the 457th person to lament on the elimination of Manchester United, there are other excellent sites for that (as few nations are capable of reaching the heights of self-flagellation like the English), but here are 4 quick points.
- Louis van Gaal got outcoached by Kicker magazine’s coach of the year, Dieter Hecking. Sure, the Dutchman and MU fans can complain about the squad being decimated by injuries (perhaps they should have spent those millions a bit more wisely?), but the German side lost world-class midfielder Kevin De Bruyne (to MU’s crosstown rivals) and Ivan Perisic (to Inter) over the summer and are actually somehow better.
- United’s “experienced” players are actually semi-washed up (looking at you Basti, and of course Rooney), and/or not the answer (you really expect Michael Carrick to “pull the strings” in a 2015 game?)
- As others have noted, Fellaini is an absolute monster in the air, but that’s a 20 minute/gm player, not one who should be going 90 minutes. Oh by the way, he was dispossessed 6 times yesterday, no other player had 3.
- From those 2 previous points, it’s painfully obvious, that MU, for all the 250 million pounds spent over Van Gaal’s 18 months in charge, don’t have a quality box-to-box midfielder in the squad! (perhaps the injured Schneiderlin is the closest thing)