Wolfsburg currently sit seventh in the Bundesliga table and look to be a revitalised side under Bruno Labbadia. A key part of Wolfsburg’s revival has been helped by their summer recruitment, most notably the signing of Wout Weghorst from AZ Alkmaar. Weghorst has registered the most goals and assists for Wolfsburg this season, and in this tactical analysis, I will show why he has been so successful at Wolfsburg and what makes him so different to strikers like him.
How Weghorst suits Wolfsburg
At 6″6 inches tall, it’s obvious Weghorst’s style is likely to involve his height. He sits fifth in the Bundesliga for both duels and aerial duels won and is physically dominant meaning he can often get on the end of crosses.
This benefits Wolfsburg as they are not a side who are excellent at playing out from the back, and particularly in the Bundesliga, can be caught out by the opposing side pressing them. The easiest way to bypass a press is to send the ball long, but teams don’t often use this, as the probability of winning the ball and combining with players higher up the pitch is low. Weghorst’s ability as a target man allows him to not only win aerial duels, but to also hold the ball up and allow for Wolfsburg players to push up in transition and combine with him.
We can see in the picture below how Weghorst can benefit Wolfsburg. Weghorst pins the defender and by pulling wide to receive the ball, creates space in the middle for midfielders to make runs into. Weghorst’s ability to hold the ball up also gives players time to make these central runs and improves Wolfsburg’s counter-attacking play, as they don’t then have to delay after Weghorst has played the first pass and allow the opposition to track back.
As well as offering Wolfsburg a way to beat team’s presses, Weghorst also deters teams from pressing high because if Wolfsburg do beat the press, situations like the one shown above can occur. This, therefore, limits teams options against Wolfsburg and means that because teams don’t press high, they are unlikely to expose an organised Wolfsburg side in transition, as they will simply not have enough players high up the pitch to do so.
We can see below in Wolfsburg’s game away at Mönchengladbach that Mönchengladbach are sat off Wolfsburg and are happy to allow Wolfsburg to build from the back, which ultimately caused them problems.
Weghorst positioned himself between the rigid diamond-like structure of Gladbach’s two holding midfielders and two centre backs, who are sat deep to limit the space Weghorst has to bring the ball down. Therefore because the midfield is sat so deep, only Hazard presses the ball and if Wolfsburg do lose the ball, Mönchengladbach have few players up front to lead attacks.
Weghorst’s unique skill set
Target men tend to be employed in teams that sit in a deep block and do little high pressing. This is because the characteristics of target men, in that they are physically strong but tend to be slow and less mobile than other strikers, mean that they don’t lend themselves to an ideal pressing player.
However, Weghorst’s pressing is impressive and his work rate is nothing short of astounding. Weghorst has completed the most intensive runs and sprints in the Bundesliga so far this season, and his work rate off the ball for Wolfsburg allows them to play a high pressing game and to regain possession and recycle the ball to players who are quicker in transition. In the picture below we can see Weghorst leading the high press. Weghorst presses from an angle, which simultaneously puts pressure on the defender and cuts the passing lane sideways to the opposite centre back. This then forces Düsseldorf to play into the central midfield player who is then pressed.
But if the ball goes past Weghorst, his pressing doesn’t stop there. Much like Roberto Firmino, Weghorst will press anything remotely close to him.
We can see an example of this below, where despite being one of the furthest Wolfsburg players from the ball, Weghorst still tracks back and presses the man from behind, not giving him time to work within the large space ahead. This work rate makes up for his lack of pace, as his pressing movements can often hinder a team’s build-up, in the same way, a pacy forward pressing a team can.
Weghorst is a unique talent who suits Wolfsburg perfectly. His qualities allow them to build attacks and beat the presses or prevent the presses of top teams and have been key in Wolfsburg’s impressive results over the likes of Mönchengladbach, Leipzig and Frankfurt. If Weghorst can continue his form, Wolfsburg should continue to be on the horizon of European football.
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