Everton travel to Germany to take on VfL Wolfsburg on Thursday for a game that will directly affect the top of Group H. We had the pleasure of talking with SB Nation Soccer Features Editor Kirsten Schlewitz, who told us a little bit about the Wolves' fortunes since the last time the Toffees played them.
Everton at Wolfsburg: Q&A with Kirsten Schlewitz
We had a chat with a special guest.
RBM - After Wolfsburg lost to Everton 4-1 at Goodison Park, the German side has been on a tear, currently sitting in 2nd place in the Bundesliga. Was that score not representative of the quality of the team?
KS - That game seemed to trigger some sort of shift for Wolfsburg. It's not that Dieter Hecking has moved away from his favored 4-2-3-1, or even that he's made significant changes to the teams he's fielding. But from that match in mid-September to this weekend's loss to Schalke, Wolfsburg had lost just once across all competitions -- and drawn just once as well. Everton fans might be pleased to know that in those last nine Bundesliga games, they've faced four of the league's bottom five, so perhaps their current position is simply a result of an easy schedule.
RBM - VfL lost to Schalke in a close game over the weekend. How did they look? Who are their form players currently?
KS - Well, Nicklas Bendtner scored against Schalke, so that might say something about the quality of both sides. Honestly, though, that result might've gone either way. Goalkeeper Diego Benaglio had a bad, bad day (seriously, look up what was essentially an own-goal, putting Schalke up 3-0). Wolfsburg came back from 3-0 down in the 25th to a 3-2 loss, but Naldo hit the post and Aaron Hunt very nearly grabbed the equalizer.
It's rather impossible to talk about Wolfsburg this season without mentioning Kevin De Bruyne. The former Chelsea man had a whole two starts in the Premier League before heading back to the Bundesliga, where he's putting on masterful displays. He's not scoring goals -- he has just one in twelve games -- but he's certainly creating them, with nine assists already. De Bruyne is the Wolfsburg conductor and he'll be looking for ways to both make and exploit space, so Everton need to be sure to keep an eye on the 23-year-old.
RBM - Are Wolfsburg going to be active in the transfer market come January? Who (or what positions) will they be targeting?
KS - I would think the Wolves' greater worry is who might be targeting them, particularly if they remain near the top of the Bundesliga. Left-back Ricardo Rodríguez has been linked with every top Premier League club suffering a defensive crisis -- yes, all of them -- as well as Serie A sides. Napoli are keen on winger Ivan Perišić.
But Wolfsburg, backed by Volkswagen, aren't exactly hurting for cash. Last season their wages totaled €50m, behind just Schalke, Dortmund, and of course Bayern. They've got a rather small squad, so if they're going to aim for a Champions League place, expect to see them hunting for another forward come January. After all, what self-respecting Champions League dreamer relies on Bendtner for late goals?
RBM - Germany has a proud tradition in the European competitions. What kind of reception can Everton expect at the Volkswagen Arena on Thursday? Have VfL been selling out the stadium?
KS - Well, Wolfsburg are one of the Werksvereine, or company-sponsored clubs, which often attract disdain. Yet they're not scorned like new money sides, for example Hoffenheim, are. Volkswagen Arena only has a 30,000 capacity -- I think it's less for European competition -- so you're not going to see the same sort of enormous displays as BVB's infamous Yellow Wall. But their stadium is still pretty much full for league games, so don't expect a lot of empty seats, and it's likely the fans there will be making some noise.
RBM - Finally, can you give us a score prediction for Thursday, and how you see the game turning out?
KS - I really don't do score predictions (just ask my betting account). If Everton are able to exploit the space between Wolfsburg's midfield and backline, like Schalke were at the weekend, they should come away with an easy win. Just remember, Schalke beat Wolfsburg and then went on to lost to Chelsea 5-0, so clearly that means Everton can beat Wolfsburg. But try not to remember how many goals Chelsea have put past Everton because that might wreck things.