For our next article in the Bundesliga Fantasy team preview series, we take a look at one of the established mid-table Bundesliga teams: VfL Wolfsburg. Die Wölfe (The Wolves, in English) will be heading into the 2021/22 campaign with high hopes, coming off the back of a strong season that saw them finish in 4th place, securing qualification for the UEFA Champions League.
Once just a facet of a multi-sports club for Volkswagen workers living in Wolfsburg, the team has risen to become a stalwart in Germany’s top football division (since 1997), even claiming their first Bundesliga title in the 2008/09 season, under Felix Magath. They also finished as runners-up in the 2014/15 season, in which they won the domestic cup (DFB-Pokal) – a large part of their success during this time could be attributed to a certain well-known attacking midfielder: Kevin de Bruyne.
Fun Fact: VfL Wolfsburg also has a very successful women’s team, who have finished in the top two places in each of the last 10 Frauen-Bundesliga seasons (6x titles, 4x runners-up).
A Return to Top-Level European Football
After several years of inconsistency, Wolfsburg’s 2020/21 season saw the end of a six-year wait for qualification for the UEFA Champions League; the first time since their impressive 2014/15 campaign. While not boasting a particularly strong attack (see below), they achieved this success primarily by making themselves hard to beat, putting in solid defensive performances that limited their losses to a joint third-best in the league (7, tied with RB Leipzig and behind only Bayern and Frankfurt). The Wolves had a slow start in their first five games (4 draws, 1 win), but all but secured their Champions League spot with a brilliant run of 9 wins, 1 draw and only 1 loss in MD 17-27. Finishing only 4 pts behind 2nd placed RB Leipzig, the potential of a runners-up finish was a frustratingly close prospect, especially with their 10 league draws, and thus Wolfsburg fans should be looking ahead positively.
However, there are a couple of things to be aware of, in this sense, for the upcoming season. Former manager Oliver Glasner, who led The Wolves to this success, has now moved on to manage mid-table rivals Eintracht Frankfurt. He has been replaced by Mark van Bommel, who in his only previous head managerial role was sacked by PSV just 18 months into a three-year contract, following a poor run of two wins in eight games (2018/19). Their form in their six pre-season games also leaves much to be desired, notching five losses and only one win. It remains to be seen how they will fare in the league under the relatively inexperienced van Bommel, whose only other managerial roles have been as an assistant for both the Australian and UAE national teams.
Furthermore, while Wolfsburg have a good enough squad to manage some level of rotation, it is hard to say how they will deal with the extra burden presented by the Champions League games. Wolfsburg’s seventh-place finish in the 2019/20 season did allow them to see some European football last year, in the form of the qualifying rounds for the UEFA Europa League. However, despite fielding a fairly strong side, they failed to qualify for the Europa League proper at the final hurdle, losing 2-1 to AEK Athens. Given the strength of the sides they will face in the Champions League, this suggests that any complications that might be introduced by their European involvement could well be short-lived.
The Wolves ranked third best for home wins last season (with 10) and joint fourth best for away wins (with 7), and gained 34 pts and 27 pts at and away from home, respectively. This relatively even split shows that the venue tends to affect them little – they were only behind the current “big three” of Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig for away wins/points.
Attack – The Wolves’ Claws
While boasting arguably the second strongest defence in the league, behind RB Leipzig, Wolfsburg are fairly “middle-of-the-road” when it comes to attacking potential. Last season, they scored 57 goals from 162 shots on target, 48 of which were deemed to be assisted. These represented the 5th, 6th and 4th best numbers in the league, respectively, more or less in line with their final league position. However, in terms of xG, they placed only 9th, behind the likes of Hoffenheim and Mainz 05, who finished 11th and 12th, respectively. This suggests that The Wolves’ claws are not too sharp (let me off, it’s my first article), and that they were seen through by a combination of shooting efficiency and luck.
A large part of this is likely because, in attack, Wolfsburg tend to rely heavily on their talismanic striker Wout Weghorst (14M; FWD). The clinical Weghorst was by far their top goalscorer during the previous campaign, netting 20 times from a total xG of only 17.9. The big man was also the top assister, with 8, and is responsible for the penalty kicks – note that Wolfsburg were joint second-last for PKs earned, however, and only 2 of his 20 goals were penalties.
While their next highest scorer was Josip Brekalo (10M; MID), with a comparatively meagre 7 goals (+ 3 assists), the next most important player in terms of goal involvements was Ridle Baku (11M; MID), who racked up 6 goals and 7 assists in 32 games (31 starts). Baku is arguably the brightest talent in the team, and his ability to play anywhere from full-back to forward makes him one of the surest starters when fully fit. Other semi-regular contributors included winger Renato Steffen (9M; MID; 5 goals, 4 assists) and set-piece taker Maximilian Arnold (12M; MID; 3 goals, 6 assists). Coupled with his duel-winning capabilities, the latter fact means that Arnold has many routes through which he can rack up the points, and he can provide a high points floor as a result.
⚽ Goals: 61 (5th)
🅰️ Assists: 48 (4th)
💡 Big Chances Created: 61 (6th)
❎ Big Chances Missed: 47 (8th)
🚀 Total Shots: 475 (4th)
🎯 Shots on Target: 162 (6th)
📈 xG: 49.9 (9th)
📊 xG Per Game: 1.57 (6th)
The top 8 players in attacking involvement for the team
|Player||Position||Matches Played (Subs)||Goals||Assists||SpG||KeyP|
|Wout Weghorst||FWD||33 (1)||20||8||2.7||1.3|
|Ridle Baku||MID||31 (1)||6||6||1.1||1.4|
|Josip Brekalo||MID||22 (7)||7||3||1.6||1.3|
|Renato Steffen||MID||19 (2)||5||4||1.4||1|
|Maximilian Phillip||FWD||13 (11)||6||2||1.3||0.5|
|Xaver Schlager||MID||30 (2)||2||4||1.5||0.8|
|Yannick Gerhardt||MID||21 (8)||2||4||1.1||0.9|
KeyP = Key Passes Per Game
As mentioned, Wolfsburg’s success last year was founded principally in their solid defensive performances, with them conceding only 37 goals (second-fewest behind RB Leipzig’s 32) and accumulating 14 clean sheets (again just behind RB Leipzig, with 15) in the league season. While they only placed 6th for xGA, goalkeeper Koen Casteels (11M) was reliable when called upon, having one of the highest save percentages in the league at 70.4%. This may make Casteels seem like a top fantasy choice, but an 11M price tag is hard to justify for a keeper that only made an average of 2.4 saves per game (16th out of last season’s 18 regular keepers!) – because of the scoring structure, a large number of saves is vital for Bundesliga Fantasy keepers.
Much better fantasy value is presented in Wolfsburg’s defenders, and all of the regular backline players warrant their given price tags. The two forward-thinking fullbacks, Paulo Otávio (11M) and Kevin Mbabu (10M) are perhaps the best options, having the highest xG + xA per 90 mins of the four (0.13 and 0.10). However, the now regular centre-back pairing of talented youngster Maxence Lacroix (11M), who was previously a cut-price gem, and John Brooks (10M), also provide promising routes to points through duels won. The latter pair also marked two-goal involvements each during the 2020/21 campaign – one goal and one assist for Lacroix, and two goals for Brooks.
The following stats from the 2020/21 season highlight the team’s past defensive prowess:
🥅 Goals Conceded: 37 (2nd)
🚫 Clean Sheets: 14 (2nd)
🧤 Penalties Conceded: 5 (15th)
🚀 Total Shots Conceded: 356 (18th)
🎯 Shots on Target Conceded: 115 (16th)
📈 Total xGA: 55.3 (15th)
📊 xGA (Expected Goals Against Per Game): 1.29 (13th)
Tipsters Tip: Otávio is set to miss the start of the current season through injury. Jérôme Roussillon (7m), who is expected to deputise, actually had a higher xG + xA per 90 mins last season than all of the preferred back four (0.16) and picked up 2 assists in 20 games (14 starts). He could therefore present a great value option for the start of the season.
Wolfsburg’s Pre-season Results
vs FC Erzgebirge Aue 2-1 (W)
Goal(s): Busch, Meier
Assist(s): Stefaniak (2)
vs FC Hansa Rostock 0-3 (L)
vs KSV Holstein 0-1 (L)
vs Olympique Lyon 1-4 (L)
vs AS Monaco 1-2 (L)
vs Atlético Madrid 1-2 (L)
Players with attacking returns for Wolfsburg in pre-season
Note: This list is accurate as of 4th August. You can find the updated list and match reports on DNL Fantasy’s website.
The Best of the Pack – Players to Watch Out for in Bundesliga Fantasy
Wout Weghorst (FWD, 14M)
Wolfsburg’s best overall asset is definitely talismanic frontman Wout Weghorst (14M). With the big man being the focal point of the attack, the penalty kick taker, and the player with much the highest xG + xA per 90 mins of the regular starters (0.70), he has by far the highest ceiling in the team. Die Wölfe are heavily reliant on him in attack, and so his high expected goal involvement is not a surprise. He will also be riding on a high after a well-earned, personally meaningful recall to the Dutch national team for the recent Euros tournament, where he even bagged himself a goal against Ukraine.
Paulo Otávio (DEF, 11M) | Maxence Lacroix (DEF, 11M)
Should Wolfsburg’s previous defensive solidity continue into the new season, their defenders will also represent great fantasy value. When fit, Paulo Otávio (11M) is probably the safest bet for points in this sense, given his ability to accumulate both duel and attacking based points. However, breakout star Maxence Lacroix (11M) also proved his potential for racking up high points tallies through duels won former last season. The pair were first and third in the team for tackles + interceptions in the last campaign, which highlights their defensive importance.
Ridle Baku (MID, 11m)
In midfield, the attack-minded Ridle Baku is a very exciting Bundesliga fantasy asset to own. Regardless of where he plays, the ex-Mainz player is a constant attacking threat, and often racks up points for aspects such as shots and passes to shots even when these don’t translate to goals. Because of this, it’s no surprise that he was Wolfsburg’s second top goal contributor last season, with six goals and seven assists.
‘Budget’ Differential: Renato Steffen (MID, 9M)
Winger Renato Steffen can also provide a good, slightly cheaper differential attacking option when in form. He notched five goals and four assists last season, marking him the fourth-highest goal contributor. He also had the second-highest xG + xA per 90 mins behind Weghorst, so his potential for attacking returns is clear. In a particularly favourable fixture or strong form, he could provide a great-value route into the Wolfsburg attack.
Other honourable mentions include Maximilian Arnold (MID, 12M), who can provide a steady route to points through set pieces and duels won. Josip Brekalo (MID, 10M) is definitely a hot prospect but has been eyeing up a move away all summer. Maximilian Philipp (FWD, 8M) is another one to keep an eye on as a differential since he tends to be a top attacking performer when he gets his chance in the team (6 goals and 2 assists in only 26 games/13 starts last season). New signing Lukas Nmecha (FWD, 8M) could also provide a great value given his unknown potential. However, the latter two would require the use of one of BL Fantasy’s precious forward spots, which you’ll find are usually occupied by some of the most consistent top point scorers in the game (Lewandowski, Haaland, Silva, to name just a few).
With a solid defence and a talismanic striker, The Wolves can be likened to… well… the Wolves of the Premier League, from seasons gone by. Expect them to line up 4-2-3-1 (see predicted lineup below), with the only consistent rotation being in the three playing behind Wout Weghorst.
The Wolfsburg assets are usually consistent in Bundesliga Fantasy performance, and I loved owning them last season for the confidence of a decent points floor. As the focal point of the attack, the penalty kick taker, and the player with by far the highest xG + xA per 90 mins, Weghorst has the highest ceiling in the team. However, should Wolfsburg’s strong defence persist into the new season, you won’t go too far wrong picking any of the playing back four, and they will often get you high point scores in favourable fixtures through duels won or attacking exploits. If you have the money available, Arnold also usually provides a steady source of points.
Casteels is probably the only regular player in the team that I’d advise avoiding because he is expensive, and The Wolves defence simply doesn’t allow enough shots for him to rack up the required save points.
Focusing on the first 3 fixtures only (since we will have our first Wildcard after this point), you would expect Wolfsburg to convincingly win their first two matches against newly-promoted VfL Bochum and last year’s 14th placed Hertha Berlin. These games are heavy mismatches in both attacking and defensive senses, and I’d probably recommend loading up on at least a couple of Wolfsburg players as a result. The third game against RB Leipzig, on the other hand, will be a particularly tough test. RB Leipzig doesn’t allow their opponents many attempts on goal, so this may be a good time to drop any Wolfsburg attacking assets you may have. Leipzig will also keep The Wolves defenders busy, but this can actually work in your favour in Bundesliga Fantasy if you have strong duel winners like Maxence Lacroix, so dropping their defensive assets is less of a priority.
So, don’t expect attacking fireworks, but Wolfsburg are a strong, established Bundesliga side that have many viable fantasy assets – for the strength of the pack, if not for the sharpness of the claws!
Wolfsburg Expected Lineup for the 21/22 Season
You can find Bundesliga Fantasy resources for the 21/22 season here.
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Articles written on Bundesliga Fantasy and UCL Fantasy.