A strong start to Robinho Lazaró’s first full season in Europe saw his young VfL Wolfsburg leading the way in Bundesliga heading into 2047. But could they convert their strong start into a title challenge?
Lazaró’s focus on signing exciting young talent continued by purchasing a fellow Colombian in wonderkid Anderson Robles for £6 million from Vélez. More South Americans arrived on January deadline day in centre-back Edson Calisto for £5 million from Bragantino and exciting striker Enrique Cafagna for £6.5 million from River (and note the skin change!). While a sign of how far into the future we are was hiring his former Alianza Lima midfielder Jack Aliaga, who’s now 38, as Under 19s manager!
Wolfsburg went into the winter break in poor away form, which continued as they lost at 11th-place Hamburg, eighth-place Hoffenheim and 12th-place Freiburg. That saw Leipzig jump to the top of the league and Wolfsburg slipped down to third, only six points clear of a recovering Bayern in sixth.
Luckily they remained very good at home, as proven by a 5-1 thumping of Nurnberg, in which Cafagna scored off the bench on his debut, and a 4-0 win over Stuttgart as Robles scored his first for the club.
The latter victory had seen Lazaró try to address the team’s poor away form by switching to a 4-3-3, which moved Kevin Berrer to the right and Robles onto the left. That was put to the ultimate test with a trip to Bayern in late February. And it worked superbly as Berrer laid on both goals for Robles in a brilliant 2-1 win, which ended a run of seven away games without a win!
That gave them the confidence to beat Hertha 2-0 through Berrer and Mockel strikes, which was totally wiped out by losing 3-0 in Leverkusen! But a Becke goal edged a 1-0 win over St. Pauli the day before Leipzig lost at Frankfurt, which moved Wolfsburg two points clear before a trip to the Red Bull Arena.
Leipzig went ahead early on with their first and only first-half shot. But Wolfsburg put in an inspired performance to lead 4-1 at the break led by a brace from striker Albert Mockel. Leipzig got back into it with two goals just after the break but Berrer scored twice late on to wrap up his hat-trick and make it comfortable. A huge 6-3 win was a new league record for most goals in a game and set up an exciting Bundesliga title race.
Exciting title race
The conspicuous absence of Bayern in the title race had created an exciting four-way battle with five games remaining. Wolfsburg led the way, two points clear of Dortmund and Hertha with Leipzig a further three points back. And the battle would start with a huge game and the only clash between top five sides as Wolfsburg – who’d won 14 out of 14 at home! – hosted Dortmund.
Game 1 – Dortmund (2nd, home): Lazaró tinkered with a few player roles heading into the big game with BVB, which immediately worked as midfielder Juan Pablo Zanellati created the opener for Berrer. Wolfsburg just about edged a cagey game and Mockel ensured they took all three points as he won and converted a penalty just before the hour mark. Hertha also won to keep the gap at two points.
Game 2 – Gladbach (13th, away): The away form reared its ugly head again with a shocking performance to lose 1-0 and create nothing at Gladbach. Leipzig hammered Mainz, Hertha thrashed Hamburg and Dortmund lost at Frankfurt, which took Hertha top of the league by a point.
Game 3 – Mainz (15th, home): Surprisingly, Mainz had the best of the first half, racking up 12 shots. But there was an unlikely hero as 17-year-old midfielder Laurenz Wolf scored the opener just before half-time then created two goals for Mockel and Zanellati after it to inspire a 3-1 victory. Hertha beat Hannover 4-0, Dortmund thrashed Gladbach 5-1 and Leipzig beat Union Berlin 1-0, so no change at the top.
Game 4 – Union Berlin (18th, away): Wolfsburg had been rubbish away bar the Leipzig win, but surely they had to beat already-relegated Union, who definitely wouldn’t want Hertha winning the league? Well, yes, just about. Wolfsburg absolutely dominated the game and made it count as Mockel struck after 37 minutes. The striker then missed a penalty on the verge of half-time and nothing happened after the break so they won 1-0. Elsewhere, Hertha drew 2-2 at Hoffenheim, Leipzig won 2-0 at Koln and Dortmund drew at Mainz. That sent Wolfsburg top, one point clear of Hertha, who were one point ahead of Leipzig!
Game 5 – Koln (9th, home): Wolfsburg went into the final day of the season knowing that if they won they’d complete a 100% home record and win just their second Bundesliga ever. Hertha entertained relegated Nurnberg and Leipzig were at home to Hamburg. Wolfsburg started really poorly and conceded from a corner after half an hour, but dominated the game and eventually got level as Robles also headed home from a corner. Hertha were hammering Nurnberg but Wolfsburg couldn’t make their chances count and only drew 1-1. So Hertha became champions for the first time since 1931 and Leipzig scored an injury-time winner to climb into second.
Lazaró was a little disappointed with his side’s final day efforts but he had to be delighted with the team’s performance over the entire season. Hertha went unbeaten in their last nine games and Leipzig won their last six to overtake them. But Lazaró had his side’s shocking away form to blame, as they lost eight away compared to none at home! On the plus side, they did bag £89.2 million in prize money!
Berrer had the highest average rating in Bundesliga of 7.50, but no other Wolfsburg players were among the league’s top performers. But that won Berrer the German Players’ Player of the Year award, while midfielder Darwin Dutra won German Players’ Newcomer of the Year award, with goalkeeper Bruno Bernardes and centre-back Otavio in second and third.
Mockel was Wolfsburg’s star man again this season, scoring 22 goals and getting 10 assists in 29 appearances. Berrer got 15 goals and eight assists and Pape Thiam got seven goals but struggled at the end of the season. While Dutra got the most assists with 11, Zanellati got seven and Wolf got six.
Berrer won fans’ player of the season and goal of the season, Mockel was young player of the season, and Dutra won signing of the season.
Wolfsburg’s achievements are pretty impressive considering the starting 11 has an average age of 23, while none of the subs and backup players are over 21. Wolfsburg also had four players in the NxGn 2047 list – Robles 8th, Petrik 11th, goalkeeper Reza Baghlani 21st and Cafagna 27th – and the Under 19s won the league and cup double, which confirms the exciting project Lazaró is building.
The Wolfsburg board recognised Lazaró’s efforts with a new £40,000-per-week contract until 2050, then announced plans to expand the stadium by 7,500 seats to take it to a 37,500 capacity and boosted youth recruitment to Excellent.
While the season conclusion was disappointing, there’s plenty to look forward to. So join us next time to discover how Robinho Lazaró goes about strengthening his Wolfsburg squad for his first-ever taste of the Champions League!