Robinho Lazaró’s exciting young VfL Wolfsburg side was more than holding its own with Germany’s big boys, sitting just two points off the top of Bundesliga heading into 2048.
But Robinho Lazaró was always looking to add more talent to his squad, especially if they were exciting Brazilians. And just such an opportunity arrived in wonderkid striker Juarez, who he’d been chasing for over a year. The Cuiabá forward was fresh from winning FIFA Best U21 Men’s Player, joined for £17 million and smashed Lazaró’s wage structure on £130,000-a-week to see off all of Europe’s top teams. And Lazaró was very excited about pairing him with the free-scoring Albert Mockel.
The winter break ended with a huge game as Wolfsburg entertained Dortmund. The visitors started brighter, so Lazaró quickly moved to a Balanced mentality, and that worked a treat as centre-back Edson Calisto headed home from a corner. Debutant Juarez then dropped deep to send Mockel through to double the lead, before Mockel won and converted a penalty early in the second half. But they weren’t done there as, after Dortmund had a player sent off, Juarez bagged a debut brace to wrap up a stunning 5-0 victory!
That was a great start to the year but Wolfsburg then lost six players, including Juarez, to the South American Olympics qualifiers for three weeks. And that showed as they wasted a host of chances to draw 0-0 with Frankfurt before a wondergoal from 18-year-old homegrown midfielder Haydar Ozturk inspired a 2-0 win over Stuttgart.
Most of those players weren’t back for a vital home clash with Bayern. But midfielder Anderson Robles was and that proved crucial as he scored and laid on the winner for Kevin Berrer after Bayern (obviously) scored their first shot. And that sent Wolfsburg top of the table for the first time this season!
Juarez returned to score two more plus an assist in his second game, a dominant 4-0 win at Hannover, and scored again in a 4-0 thumping of Mainz. That was nothing compared to a magnificent first-half hat-trick as Wolfsburg ran riot in a 7-1 thrashing of Freiburg. However, the star of the show yet again was Mockel, who scored four to move to 40 goals for the season in late February!
Wolfsburg were now in scintillating form with the attacking quartet of Robles, Darwin Dutra, Juarez and Mockel looking unstoppable on their day. That was proven by a 6-1 thumping of Schalke, which saw them break their own Bundesliga record by going 23 games unbeaten. And they extended that run further, including the sumptuously good Mockel scoring a Bundesliga record five in a 5-0 rout of Hoffenheim.
Europa League knockouts
The Europa League first knockout round saw Wolfsburg take on Dynamo Kyiv. A Mockel brace earned a 2-0 win in the home leg and a rotated side lost 2-1 in Ukraine to ease through. They then took on Roma, who offered Lazaró an interview back in December, and he showed them what they were missing in a 3-0 victory. And a 2-2 away draw saw them breeze through to the quarter-final. They then faced Sevilla and an injury-time Mockel strike nicked a 1-0 win in the away leg. Then Juarez and Mockel strikes earned them an easy 3-0 aggregate win.
That teed up a semi-final with Arsenal, in which Lazaró wasn’t totally sure what to expect. The home leg was up first and his side started well with Dutra finishing a lovely team move inside five minutes. Both sides missed chances but Wolfsburg held on for a narrow 1-0 win. But their luck ran out in England as Arsenal scored early in both halves and won 3-0 amid a shocking refereeing performance that saw two Wolfsburg players sent off. Arsenal went on to beat Bayern 1-0 in the Final.
Chasing the Bundesliga title
Wolfsburg’s stunning form had seen them establish an eight-point lead over Bayern with five games remaining. However, both sides had relatively tricky conclusions to the campaign and last year’s end-of-season demise was fresh in the memory.
Game 1 – Leipzig (7th, away): First up was last year’s runners-up Leipzig away, which Wolfsburg dominated but couldn’t score and drew 0-0. Bayern won to close the gap to six points.
Game 2 – Gladbach (4th, home): Wolfsburg’s strong home performances continued as they dominated fourth-place Gladbach. And they eventually made it count with Juarez’s 57th-minute header. Bayern lost 2-0 at home to Leipzig to move Wolfsburg nine clear with three to play, and all but champions.
Game 3 – Hertha (5th, away): A first chance to seal the title came at reigning champions Hertha. And they again dominated the game and took advantage with strikers Enrique Cafagna and Juarez sealing a 2-1 victory. That win alone was enough for the title but Bayern also drew at Gladbach.
VfL Wolfsburg were Champions of Germany for the first time in 39 years!!
The season rounded out with young striker Martin Eisenmenger bagging a hat-trick to defeat Augsburg 3-0 then Jaurez bagged a brace inside four minutes and created a late third for Berrer in a 3-1 win at Leverkusen.
Wolfsburg finished on 84 points, a huge 11 clear of Bayern. They only lost twice all season, won 26 and drew six. They also had the best attack and defence, scoring 87 and conceding just 16. And, after losing two of their first four games, they went 30 without defeat! And they bagged a cool £109 million for winning the league – why would you want to manage in any other league?!
Mockel was Bundesliga top scorer with 31 goals in 30 games, 13 more than nearest challenger Ritter at Herta. Dutra topped the assists chart with 14 followed by Mockel’s 11, while Juarez got a league-high 8.06 average rating followed by Mockel’s 7.69. And Bruno Bernardes kept a league record 20 clean sheets.
As a result, Mockel won German Football of the Year, with Robles in third, and German Players’ Player of the Year, ahead of Dutra and Calisto. He also won the European Golden Shoe, with eight points more than Juanjo of Spanish champions Real Madrid. While centre-back Yousseff Joly won German Players’ Newcomer of the Year, ahead of midfielders Arnaud Diomandé and Fernando Musarella, and eight Wolfsburg players made the Bundesliga Team of the Year and Players’ Team of the Year.
The star man, despite Lazaró’s coaches thinking he wasn’t good enough to start matches, was Mockel. The Belgian striker smashed the club record for most goals in a season, which had stood since Grafite scored 35 in 2008/09, scoring 51 in 43. And he unsurprisingly won the Wolfsburg fans’ player and young player of the season.
The outrageously good Juarez also impressed, scoring 15 and getting six assists in 17 games at an average rating of 7.76. Robles got 13 goals and 16 assists and Dutra scored eight and got 15 assists. Those four attackers were brilliant all season, but the performances of exciting talents like midfielder Arnaud Diomandé, centre-backs Calisto and Joly and right-back Gotze were critical as the season wore on.
The quality of young talent at the club was highlighted by having three players in the top six of the NxGN award. Diomandé came second, left-back Roman Petrík was third and midfielder Laurenz Wolf was sixth. Goalkeeper Reza Baghlani was 31st and Musarella was 43rd. While the squad now has 10 wonderkids!
And there’s plenty more to come from them as the Under 19s defended their league, German Youth Championship and UEFA Youth League titles, beating Barcelona in the final of the latter. While the youth ranks were further aided by an exciting youth intake containing Congolese midfielder Grace Kalala and striker Niklas Neelsen.
Away from the players, the Wolfsburg board announced plans to build a new stadium as they feel the club has outgrown the current base. They are now in the process of searching for possible sites and investors, having already significantly improved the club’s facilities over the last couple of years.
These are exciting times at Wolfsburg and Lazaró firmly intended to stick around to see his exciting youngsters flourish, defend his first European title and challenge for the Champions League at the club next season.
Join us next time to discover how Robinho Lazaró fares in his third season in Europe!