VfL Wolfsburg vs Schalke 04 Preview: Wolves look to halt slide

VfL Wolfsburg vs Schalke 04 Preview: Wolves look to halt slide

Valerien Ismäel's Wolfsburg will hunt for their second win in just as many games, when they face stiff opponents in Schalke.

Kaustubh Pandey

Bundesliga strugglers VfL Wolfsburg will lock horns with Markus Weinzerl's ever-improving Schalke 04 side at the Volkswagen Arena in a crucial tie on Saturday evening.

The massive 4-0 triumph over André Schubert's Borussia Mönchengladbach acted as a much-needed boost for the Royal Blues, who had failed to win a single game prior to that win at the Veltins Arena in early October. 

As far as the Wolves are concerned, the new season has been a rocky ride for them. After Dieter Hecking's axing a month ago, Wolfsburg have made little progress under new boss Valerien Ismäel, who has won a single game in three league appearances. That triumph was a 3-0 win over newly promoted SC Freiburg.

The same game had yielded two 3-0 results last season, one each in either sides' favor.

A bunch of problems for Wolfsburg

Currently as low as 14th in the table, Dieter Hecking's men underperformed significantly during his ill-fated reign this season as a single win in the league had left them floundering near the relegation places. The win over Augsburg on the opening day of the season did make sure that their campaign start off well, but three goalless draws and losses to RB Leipzig, Borussia Dortmund and Werder Bremen came as a death knell for Hecking.

While Ismäel has won one in three, apart from the 1-0 DFB Pokal win over 1. FC Heidenheim, Wolfsburg have pulled seven points clear of the dreaded relegation spot.
The win over Freiburg had snapped their eight-match winless run, as a Mario Gomez brace had inspired Ismael's men to win their first game under the new manager. Freiburg's Christian Günter saw red and left-back Ricardo Rodriguez had converted the spot-kick

Goals have been a major problem for Wolfsburg this season as they have racked up only nine goals this season, only more than the winless duo of Ingolstadt and Hamburg. Defensively, they have conceded 13 goals, making them the team with the third least goal-difference among the current top 15 in the league.

New signing Mario Gomez has failed to fire, much like the whole side. He has scored thrice in the Bundesliga and Daniel Didavi has grabbed two. Hecking's decision to offload the duo of Bas Dost and Max Kruse to Sporting Lisbon and Werder Bremen respectively, is costing them a majority of their goals.

Schalke improving in every game

As things stand, Wolfsburg can be deemed to be the exact opposite of Schalke, in terms of performance. A major difference that exists between the functioning of the club is that Schalke held onto Markus Weinzerl, while Hecking was axed by the Wolfsburg board. But Schalke had endured a start to the season, that was even worse than the one that Wolfsburg went through.

The bad run had started off right when the season flew back into action, as Weinzerl's Royal Blues had suffered a shock 1-0 defeat at the hands of Niko Kovac's Eintracht Frankfurt. The frustrating run came to a halt when Schalke had cruised to a surprising 4-0 win over Gladbach, who looked like a tired unit following their Champions League loss to Barcelona.

After that win, Schalke have remained unbeaten in all competitions, winning six out their seven games. And now, it seems as if it was only a case of getting the winning momentum going.

The goalscoring form of Nabil Bentaleb, who is currently on loan from Premier League giants Tottenham, has been a surprise for many. The Algerian has found the back of the net four times and has assisted twice in nine games. And Bentaleb's form has been crucial to Schalke's successes.

It was an impressive performance from Austrian winger Alexander Schöpf, which had propelled Die Knappen to a 3-1 win over Alexander Nouri's struggling Werder Bremen before the international break. And Schöpf, who has been used on the right of the midfield, has been a vital cog in Schalke's wheel this season.

Injury worries for both sides

While this game between two teams which are in stark contrast to each other, promises to be an engaging one, this game has lost the spark of having the capability to decide as to which team is a better contender for finishing inside the top four.

The biggest miss for Wolfsburg will be the absence of the dynamic Julian Draxler, who sustained a groin injury early this month and is expected to return only at the end of this month. Daniel Didavi and Robin Knoche are doubts for the game as the duo is still suffering from minor knee and hip injuries respectively. Bruno Henrique is expected to stay sidelined for the game, due to the knee injury he is currently nursing, while Portuguese full-back Vierinha too is a doubt for the crucial tie.

Schalke, on the other hand, can have the trio of Atsuto Uchida, Franco di Santo and former Bayer Leverkusen star Sidney Sam back in action, as they've resumed full training again. Coke, Breel Embolo and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar are still out of contention, while Sead Kolasinac and young Donis Avdijaj are big doubts for the game.

Predicted line-ups

VfL Wolfsburg: (4-2-3-1) Casteels; Träsch, Bruma, Wollscheid, Rodriguez; Gerhardt, Gustavo; Blaszczykowski, Arnold, Caliguiri; Gomez.

Schalke 04: (4-2-3-1) Fährmann; Höwedes , Naldo, Nastasic, Rahman Baba; Geis, Bentaleb; Schöpf, Goretzka, Choupo-Moting; Meyer.