Schalke v Wolfsburg, Bundesliga, September 18, 2009
The pre-match hype between the meeting of third-placed Schalke and tenth-placed Wolfsburg centres almost entirely on Felix Magath.
Having masterminded the Wolves unlikely Bundesliga success last season, Magath controversially announced his departure to Schalke several weeks before the end of last season, almost derailing his team’s championship success in the process. Wolfsburg managed to hold on but since then have fallen on tougher times in the German top flight, while Schalke’s fortunes have turned in completely the opposite direction.
Since moving to Gelsenkirchen Magath’s impact has been instant. Schalke have been one of the surprises of the Bundesliga in the first five matches of the season, collecting ten points in the process. Not even threats of a looming financial crisis in which some of Schalke’s top players being said to be up for sale appears to have dampened spirits in the opening weeks of the new campaign.
Much of Schalke’s success is born out of their rock-solid backline which has conceded just three goals through five games. Between the sticks is highly-rated German keeper Manuel Neuer, while Rafinha is arguably the best right-back in the Bundesliga at large. 21-year-old centre-half Benedikt Howedes and German international Heiko Westermann help form one of the stingiest rearguards in the division.
With a solid base to build from, Schalke then field a host of youngsters in the middle of the park with 18-year-old Levan Kenia, 19-year-old Christoph Moritz and 21-year-old Ivan Rakitic all likely to get the start against the Wolves. And balancing out a youthful midfield short of experience is a hugely talented and seasoned strike-force with Jefferson Farafn, Halil Altintop and Kevin Kuranyi all available for selection.
Wolfsburg will be hoping that their terrific 3-1 home win in the Champions League over CSKA Moscow midweek will translate back into the Bundesliga, where they need a pick-me-up.
After successfully holding onto their much-praised attacking triumvirate of Edin Dzeko, Grafte and Zvjezdan Misimovic over the summer, and even adding former Newcastle forward Obafemi Martins to the attack, the Wolves started the year on the front foot with back-to-back wins over Stuttgart and Cologne in the opening weeks of the season. Since then though its been a downward spiral of defeat as Hamburg, Bayern Munich and Leverkusen all claimed the scalp of the reigning champs.
Those early season cobwebs appear to have been blown away on Tuesday night as Grafite, last season’s top goalscorer, netted a hat-trick after a clinical display against the Russian visitors. However Wolfsburg coach Armin Veh has to deal with a case of half full, half empty as his number one keeper, Diego Benaglio, is suspended for the match with Schalke after being sent off against Bayer.
101predicts: Schalke 2 – Wolfsburg 1 (15/2)
Full match odds here.