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Back Wolfsburg to beat RB Leipzig on Sunday. Leipzig are still finding their feet under Jesse Marsch, and while they will probably finish higher than Wolfsburg come the end of the campaign, the Wolves could edge this weekend’s contest.
|Wolfsburg vs RB Leipzig Information|
|Teams||Wolfsburg vs RB Leipzig|
|Location||Volkswagen Arena, Wolfsburg, Germany|
|Time||Sunday, 29 August 2021, 11.30 AM EDT|
|How to watch||ESPN|
Wolfsburg finished fourth in the Bundesliga last time out, holding off competition from Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayer Leverkusen to qualify for the Champions League. Their success was built on a mean defensive unit that shipped only 37 goals in 34 games, a record bettered by only their upcoming opponents RB Leipzig. Oliver Glasner’s team were particularly hard to beat at home, with Mainz the only side to triumph at the Volkswagen Arena other than Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.
Glasner has now departed for Frankfurt, and Wolfsburg, like several other Bundesliga clubs, are under new management. Mark van Bommel was installed as Glasner’s successor in June after a stint as the assistant manager of the United Arab Emirates, who are managed by his fellow Dutchman Bert van Marwijk. It was a questionable appointment: Van Bommel’s only previous managerial experience was an 18-month stint at PSV, where he failed to win a trophy.
Yet the former midfielder has got off to a fine start in his new job. No one should read too much into narrow wins over Bochum and Hertha Berlin, and stiffer tests lie ahead – starting with Sunday’s meeting with Leipzig. There is, however, cautious optimism at Wolfsburg that this could be another successful season. Van Bommel has solid foundations to build upon thanks to Glasner’s excellent work, and Wolfsburg have not parted with any key players this summer – including Wout Weghorst, one of the division’s most prolific goalscorers.
In fact, this squad is stronger than the one which finished fourth last season. Wolfsburg have added Aster Vranckx, Lukas Nmecha, Felix Nmecha, Luca Waldschmidt and Sebastiaan Bornauw to their roster this summer. Another victory this weekend would confirm Wolfsburg’s status as top-four challengers once more.
RB Leipzig are also under new management, although Jesse Marsch cannot really be called an outsider. The Wisconsin-born coach has been part of the Red Bull system for six years now, spending three seasons with New York Red Bulls, one as Leipzig’s assistant manager and two in charge of Red Bull Salzburg. He is well versed in the Red Bull soccer culture, both on and off the field.
Even so, this looks set to be a transitional season for Leipzig. Julian Nagelsmann is one of the brightest coaching minds in the world, and while Marsch has shown promise at Salzburg he is not as highly thought of as his predecessor just yet. Leipzig have also lost their French center-back duo Ibrahima Konate and Dayot Upamecano to Liverpool and Bayern Munich respectively. As mentioned above, Leipzig had the best defensive record in the Bundesliga last term but looked shaky on the opening weekend in a 1-0 defeat by Mainz.
Leipzig bounced back from that loss by thrashing Stuttgart 4-0 on matchday two. Dominik Szoboszlai was the star of the show and looks set to be a key player this season. Injury prevented him appearing in 2020/21 following his January switch from Red Bull Salzburg, but his presence will now strengthen an attack that also includes Andre Silva, Marcel Sabitzer and Emil Forsberg. The defensive part of this Leipzig team might be weaker this campaign, but the forward areas look stronger than ever.
Leipzig’s performance against Stuttgart suggests they should not be ruled out of the title conversation, but there could be further bumps in the road as the squad adapts to their new manager’s style. Moving from Nagelsmann to Marsch is not a major shift, of course, but the American has already spoken of his desire to implement a strategy built on Gegenpressing, something Nagelsmann had tried to move beyond. He has also restored a back four after his predecessor’s preference for a three-man backline.
Wolfsburg have undergone changes of their own, of course, and come the end of the season they will probably be below Leipzig in the table. The early weeks of the campaign could be kinder to the Wolves, though. This squad is stronger than last year’s and Van Bommel has not really changed much in terms of tactics just yet, instead of promoting continuity and gradual progress.
The Volkswagen Arena was a tough place to go for most of 2020/21, even though Wolfsburg’s home form collapsed towards the end of the season. With supporters permitted to attend matches again, the hosts will fancy their chances of making it three wins from three on Sunday, where a strategy based on soaking up pressure and counter-attacking could bear fruit. After their promising start, odds of +250 on a Wolfsburg win are too attractive to pass up.
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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