So...who are Wolfsburg? Leading up to the Champions League draw, all we heard was that they’re the most desirable opponent for the quarters. But what do we know about Wolfsburg?
Wolfsburg is a city intrinsically linked to Volkswagen. In the 50’s, VW flourished and made Wolfsburg a hotbed for jobs and immigration. Nowadays, VW’s headquarters remain there, and they employ most of the citizens of Wolfsburg. The club’s stadium is named, unsurprisingly, Volkswagen Arena.
But while most German stadia are known to be packed houses with raucous fans, Wolfsburg is the odd exception. It’s speculated that it’s due to the fact that most locals who don’t work for VW move south and support other clubs. That said, they do pack the house for the big matches, and this will be no exception.
Okay, end history lesson, onto the football.
The two biggest surprises of the 2014-15 Bundesliga season were Borussia Dortmund’s months-long lease in the relegation zone, and Wolfsburg’s ascent into second place.
Kevin de Bruyne and Ricardo Rodríguez ran all over the right and left flanks, respectively, and when de Bruyne left for Manchester City, Wolfsburg’s dynamicism took a hit.
Call it a hangover, lack of talent, hard luck -- whatever, Wolfsburg’s 2015-16 season has been a disappointment. They sit in eighth place with a paltry plus-two goal difference, and have struggled to find the net the way they did a year ago.
Wolfsburg know they won’t be back in the UCL next year. That is, unless they win the bloody thing. To which I’ll say, I’ve seen crazier happen (looking at you, 2012 Chelsea).
Ergo, they’re not just happy to be here. Manager Dieter Hecking’s said last week that his team deserves to be in the quarterfinals.
"You have a chance in any match. We are big underdogs in this tie, but outsiders are there to be cheeky, and I would like to see my team doing that in both matches," Hecking told ESPNFC.
The additions of André Schürrle and Julian Draxler haven’t been as impactful as the loss of de Bruyne. Of the two, Draxler's the more dangerous play, as he’s shown an ability to create chances in the attacking midfield, but he hasn’t replaced de Bruyne’s production.
Plenty of eyes will be on Ricardo Rodríguez, who has been linked to Real Madrid. The Swiss Player of the Year has all the qualities you want in a left back: able to create chances with his speed and crossing, yet is tenacious in defense. Rodríguez is a fascinating player, and he must be marked for the entire match.
And while Real Madrid are still buzzing following the win at the Camp Nou on Saturday, Wolfsburg’s form has been rather poor lately. They have just two wins in their last eight games across all competitions, and recently lost to relegation-challenged Hoffenheim.
But Wolfsburg and Real Madrid have one thing in common: a disappointing domestic campaign has pushed all their chips into the Champions League basket. In a way, this match is the biggest match of the season yet for each club.
Kaylor Navas has yet to allow a single goal in the Champions League this year, leading Real Madrid to a 7-1-0 record in the competition. The lone draw came on the road against Paris Saint-Germain, a performance which many fans consider to be among Real’s best this year.
Real Madrid got the draw they wanted. They just need to take care of business now.
Real Madrid: Keylor Navas; Marcelo, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal; Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Luka Modrić; Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo
Wolfsburg: Benaglio; Ricardo Rodríguez, Dante, Knoche, Träsch; Guilavogui, Arnold; Schürrle, Draxler, Vieirinha; Kruse
Managing Madrid staff predictions:
Timm Higgins: Wolfsburg 1-3 Real Madrid
Nate Bauer: Wolfsburg 0-3 Real Madrid
Kiyan Sobhani: Wolfsburg 1-3 Real Madrid
Jared Allen: Wolfsburg 1-3 Real Madrid
Om Arvind: Wolfsburg 0-2 Real Madrid
Mike Platania: Wolfsburg 0-2 Real Madrid