Kovac leads Wolves out of the woods amid chaos at Hertha Berlin

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Wolves are built to thrive in a harsh winter, so with the champions still struggling to defrost the windscreen and get the engine running, who better to take on Bayern’s role for now? In a freezing Olympiastadion in Berlin on Tuesday, Wolfsburg fired up hosts Hertha 5-0 to claim two wins, 11 goals scored and none conceded. They remain seventh but just three points off third place and now with a better goal difference and defensive record than any team other than Bayern.

They are imperious. Was Die Wolfit’s their sixth consecutive league win and five have kept clean sheets. Niko Kovac’s side have not lost since their defeat at Union in mid-September and it hasn’t looked for a minute as if the Köpenickersneighbors tipping over Hertha had the skills to turn that around.

“The first half was the worst thing I’ve seen this season,” a disgusted Hertha sporting director Fredi Bobic told Sky. “Even the players know it.” With less than 30,000 crowds cramming around the colossal bowl and hardcore Kurve finally giving his own side the cold shoulder, Kovac showed genuine sadness for his hometown club, for whom he played 148 games of Bundesliga 2 in the 1990s, and that they were keen to bring him back as manager in the summer before the eventual appointment of Sandro Schwarz. “I really hope they get out of this [the relegation zone]”, he said in his post-game press conference. “My heart is tied to Hertha.”

The big screen of the Olympiastadion at the end of the match. Photography: Maja Hitij/Getty Images

The chaos that Wolfsburg simply leapfrogged may have underlined how Kovac made the right call, but it also highlighted how much he could have helped, having faced his share of problems an hour down the road in Lower Saxony. Little has gone easy for Kovac in his coaching career but, nonetheless, it has been an inauspicious start to his latest job. Wolfsburg have won just one of their first seven Bundesliga matches, losing four. There were requests for his head.

Furthermore, he had to contend with Max Kruse, who returned from Union with a not inconsiderable expense to steer the team away from last year’s slump, but perceived by Kovac, who prides himself on having extremely fit and well-trained squads of players . players – like dead weight. Despite Kruse’s periodic public banter, the manager managed to extricate him from the team with little fuss, no mean feat. It seems that the striker’s next stop will be MLS, perhaps even this month.

A more recent situation was that of Josuha Guilavogui, who applied to be admitted to VfB Stuttgart with his contract running out. While Guilavogui is a little less brash than Kruse, it’s potentially a more complex situation. The 32-year-old has been a good servant and should be treated with tact and respect. The feeling is that Kovac, supported by a capable sporting director (and club legend) like Marcel Schäfer, is firm but correct.

Augsburg 1-0 Mönchengladbach, Freiburg 1-1 Eintracht Frankfurt 1, Leverkusen 2-0 VfL Bochum, Werder Bremen 1-2 Union Berlin, Mainz 1-2 Dortmund, Bayern 1-1 Cologne, Hertha Berlin 0-5 Wolfsburg, Hoffenheim 2 – 2 Stuttgart, Schalke 1-6 RB Leipzig

“If a player has a certain wish, then we listen to it,” Schäfer insisted after the match in Berlin, “but that doesn’t mean we will all fulfill it. I also want many things, but not all of them are possible. One can understand exactly why Kovac would want to hang on to the French midfielder, slotting him into the capital in the second half to see things through while Kevin-Prince Boateng stepped in front of the Hertha bench to try and get his side going, eliciting at least one reaction. “You can see how much we need [Guilavogui]”, referred to Schäfer. “As soon as things get a little rough, her experience and his presence becomes incredibly important.”

Because Wolfsburg has been where Hertha is, throwing money away with little plan or strategy. They perform best when sensible and stable rather than flashy, which affects their determination to keep Guilavogui for the season. He is one of three players in the club’s all-time top 10, alongside goalkeeper Koen Casteels and the irrepressible Maxi Arnold, who is approaching the club record of 381 set by Olaf Ansorge in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Maxi Arnold celebrates after scoring from the penalty spot.

Maxi Arnold celebrates after scoring from the penalty spot. Photography: Maja Hitij/Getty Images

There is also young blood. Patrick Wimmer, who kicked off the post-Christmas celebration with a first-minute goal against Freiburg at the weekend, returned to his specialty here, banking on others, setting up Matthias Svanberg for the opener. As Kicker’s Thomas Hiete noted, the Austrian’s teammates had already gleefully brought up the Opta statistic over lunch that only three players in Europe’s top five leagues deliver more than one key pass per game. Ex-Wolfsburger Kevin De Bruyne, inevitably, leads the way, with Lionel Messi in third place, making it a Wimmer sandwich. “I noticed,” he smiled shyly. “It’s good to be there.”

The 21-year-old’s five assist bag in the Bundesliga would look more abundant if there was a consistent goalscorer in the Kovac fog. Unlike last time victorious side Wolfsburg, there is no Wout Weghorst to act as the focal point. Manchester City academy product Lukas Nmecha was promising in that direction but has had his ups and downs this season before suffering the ankle injury which has kept him out since November, destroying his cup hopes of the world. In Nmecha’s absence (his younger brother Felix is ​​also at the club), goals were distributed, with Yannick Gerhardt, Arnold, Ridle Baku and now Jonas Wind all contributing, as they did again on the last three on Tuesday.

Wolfsburg has already been in the running. They built their only Bundesliga title win, in 2009, on a 10-game winning streak in the spring, including the famous 5-1 over Bayern in which Edin Dzeko and Grafite gone mad. It’s unlikely we’ll see anything as dramatic from this generation, but their nod to the past has certainly helped the Bundesliga kick off 2023 in style.

Talking points

• Bayern remain top by four points but needed Joshua Kimmich lightning last minute to save a draw at home against a determined Köln team, who led for most of the game. “We lacked attitude and focus,” lamented Kimmich, while sporting director, Hasan Salihamidzic, heavily criticized Serge Gnabry (who went off at half-time) for being “amateurish” in going to fashion week of Paris rather than resting after the draw with Leipzig.

• Another day for Dortmund, another lame display… but also another late win for substitute Gio Reyna, this time at Mainz. “We know we still have a lot of work to do,” admitted Edin Terzic. Sébastien Haller once again had an impact off the bench, nodding to Reyna for his goal, but it seems BVB’s current trajectory leaves them playing with fire in such a competitive Champions League run.

• Elsewhere, Union with flying colors, runners-up ahead of Saturday’s Berlin derby following a 2-1 win at Werder Bremen, and third-placed Leipzig, who bested Schalke 6-1, with the ‘last match marked by small clashes between ultra groups.







Bayern Monaco


Berlin Union


RB Leipzig


Eintracht Frankfurt


Borussia Dortmund






Bayer Leverkusen


Borussia M’gladbach




Werder Bremen










VfL Bochum


Hertha Berlin


Schalke 04

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