Preview: Wolfsburg vs. Schalke 04

Sports Mole previews Friday's Bundesliga clash between Wolfsburg and Schalke 04 at the Volkswagen Arena.

Wolfsburg and Schalke 04 will continue their respective Bundesliga campaigns with a clash at the Volkswagen Arena on Friday evening.

Both teams have collected four points from their first two matches of the new season, while each will enter the game off the back of 1-1 draws last time out.


Wolfsburg

Wolfsburg's Belgian midfielder Kevin De Bruyne celebrates scoring with his team-mates during the German Cup DFB Pokal final football match between BVB Borussia Dortmund and VfL Wolfsburg at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin on May 30, 2015© Getty Images

A brilliant 2014-15 Bundesliga season saw Wolfsburg finish in second position, having won 20 of their 34 matches and lost just five times, which was the same number as the champions Bayern Munich.

Improving on second place is a tough task for Dieter Hecking and their challenge this term might depend on whether they can keep hold of star player Kevin De Bruyne, who continues to be linked with a move to Manchester City. It has not exactly been the busiest of windows in terms of incomings, but Max Kruse, Carlos Ascues and Francisco Rodriguez have all arrived.

Wolfsburg opened their new Bundesliga season with a 2-1 win over Eintracht Frankfurt on August 16, but they needed a late strike from Nicklas Bendtner to secure a 1-1 draw at Koln last time out. As a result, they have collected four points from their first two fixtures and sit in sixth position.

Their impressive campaign last term also meant direct qualification for the group stages of the Champions League. They were fancied to go all the way in the Europa League last season, but were somewhat surprisingly beaten 6-3 on aggregate by Napoli in the quarter-finals.

They did beat Borussia Dortmund in the final of the DFB-Pokal last season, however, while they claimed the DFL-Supercup earlier this month by overcoming Bayern Munich on penalties. There is no question that they can now once again match the biggest teams in German football, but the new season has brought fresh challenges.

Incredibly, Wolfsburg did not lose a single league match at home last season – winning 13 of their 17 fixtures and conceding just 13 times. Indeed, Hecking's side have not lost on their own patch in German's top flight since March 2014, when they were thumped 6-1 by Bayern Munich.

Recent form: DWWDWD
Recent form (all competitions): LLWWWD


Schalke

:Schalkes players celebrate during the German Cup DFB Pokal first round football match between MSV Duisburg and Schalke 04 in Duisburg, western Germany on August 8, 2015.© Getty Images

Having finished third in the Bundesliga in the 2013-14 campaign, Schalke were expected to push on last season. That did not transpire, however, with Die Knappen ultimately finishing sixth in the table – 21 points behind their opponents here.

It has not been an overly busy transfer window for the club, but Johannes Geis, Matija Nastasic, Felipe Santana and Franco di Santo are among those that have arrived. Schalke have not finished higher than third in German's top flight since the 2009-10 season, however, and have not won the top prize since 1958.

Andre Breitenreiter, who replaced Roberto di Matteo at the helm this summer, is the individual tasked with leading Schalke this season and their Bundesliga campaign opened in impressive fashion as they won 3-0 at Werder Bremen. There was disappointment last time out, however, as they were held 1-1 at home by newly-promoted Darmstadt 98.

Despite winning on the road in their first league match of the new campaign, Schalke's away form towards the end of last season was extremely poor. They lost five of their last nine away league games last term, while scoring goals also proved a problem.

Much of their potential success this season could depend on whether they can keep hold of Julian Draxler, who continues to be linked with Juventus. Bayern will expect to win the title once again, but Wolfsburg and Schalke are among a clutch of teams that will fancy their chances of finishing as runners-up.

There will be no Champions League football this season following their sixth-place finish in the Bundesliga last term, but they gave Real Madrid an almighty scare in the knockout stage of the competition last season – winning 4-3 at the Bernabeu in the second leg and coming close to causing a shock.

Inconsistency has been a problem over the last few seasons, but with experience and a host of emerging talent, there is reason for the supporters to be optimistic.

Recent form: WLWLWD
Recent form (all competitions): WDDWWD


Team News

Schalke's midfielder Julian Draxler celebrates after scoring during the German first division Bundesliga football match against Eintracht Frankfurt on September 20, 2014© Getty Images

Wolfsburg boss Hecking has a decision to make over De Bruyne and is expected to assess the Belgian's state of mind before making a call on his potential involvement.

There are not expected to be too many changes from the team that faced Koln last time out, with last season's leading scorer Bas Dost once again leading the line. Andre Schurrle, however, is still unavailable due to a thigh problem.

Bendtner looks set to start on the bench once again, while Aaron Hunt is likely to operate in a central position alongside the experienced Brazilian Luiz Gustavo.

As for Schalke, Draxler is also expected to start despite speculation surrounding his future.

Nastasic and Benedikt Howedes are both still injured, however, which leaves the visitors with little room for change in central defence.

Further forward, Di Santo should keep his spot in the attack alongside the vice-captain Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who scored 14 times in 37 games last season, but 19-year-old attacker Leroy Sane is once again expected to start on the bench.

Wolfsburg possible starting lineup:
Casteels; Vierinha, Naldo, Klose, Rodriguez; Hunt, Gustavo; Kruse, De Bruyne, Perisic; Dost

Schalke possible starting lineup:
Fahrmann; Aogo, Neustadter, Matip, Caicara; Draxler, Geis, Hoger, Choupo-Moting; Di Santo, Huntelaar


Head To Head

In total, these two teams have met on 37 occasions. History shows that the pair have been well matched overall, with Schalke winning 12 of those games to Wolfsburg's 11 and the remaining 14 fixtures finishing with the spoils shared.

More recently, however, Schalke have enjoyed the best of it – winning five of the last seven games between the two teams in all competitions and losing just once.

Last season in the Bundesliga, the points were shared in a 1-1 draw at Wolfsburg, but Schalke were 3-2 winners on their own patch in November 2014.


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We say: Wolfsburg 2-1 Schalke

Schalke might have dominated the recent meetings between the two teams, but Wolfsburg's home record over the last 12 months has been outstanding. It should be a tight match between two teams that like to get the ball down and play, but we think that Wolfsburg will have just enough to claim all three points.


Who will triumph at the Volkswagen Arena on Friday?

Wolfsburg
Draw
Schalke
Wolfsburg
59.1%
Draw
18.7%
Schalke
22.2%
Wolfsburg's Belgian midfielder Kevin De Bruyne celebrates scoring with his team-mates during the German Cup DFB Pokal final football match between BVB Borussia Dortmund and VfL Wolfsburg at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin on May 30, 2015
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1Borussia DortmundDortmund86112351819
2Bayern Munich85212171417
3RB Leipzig85121510516
4Hoffenheim84311510515
5Borussia MonchengladbachBorussia M'bach84221212014
6Schalke 04Schalke8413109113
7Eintracht FrankfurtFrankfurt841387113
8Augsburg8332118312
9Hannover833286212
10Mainz 0583141013-310
11Stuttgart8314610-410
12Bayer LeverkusenB. Leverkusen8233151329
13Hertha Berlin8233810-29
14Wolfsburg8152811-38
15Hamburger SV8215614-87
16Freiburg8143516-117
17Werder Bremen804439-64
18FC Koln8017317-141
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