Van Bommel’s Wolfsburg stuck in reverse gear in Germany

DÜSSELDORF, Germany (AP) — Wolfsburg is Germany’s auto-making capital. Its soccer team is stuck in reverse gear.

Wolfsburg started the season with four consecutive wins to go to the top of the Bundesliga. After that, it slowed to a dead stop. It’s been seven games without a win since Sept. 14 in Germany and the Champions League, and new coach Mark van Bommel’s honeymoon period is well and truly over.

Losing to Salzburg 3-1 in the Champions League on Wednesday showed how far Wolfsburg has unraveled since beating the odds to qualify for the Champions League last season under Van Bommel’s predecessor, Oliver Glasner.

Glasner’s team was built on a bulletproof defense allowing a physically imposing but somewhat limited attack to grind out one-goal wins. Wolfsburg still doesn’t score many goals — averaging one per game this season — but that once-imposing defense is leaking goals, with eight conceded in the last three games alone.

When Van Bommel was hired in the summer, his fearsome reputation from his time as a midfielder with Bayern Munich overshadowed any particular coaching achievement. His only previous head coach job at Dutch club PSV Eindhoven lasted barely a year and included a group-stage exit in the Europa League. He also had assistant roles when his father-in-law Bert van Marwijk coached Saudi Arabia and Australia.

His next chance to turn things around comes on Saturday when Wolfsburg hosts high-flying Freiburg in the Bundesliga.

Half of the Bundesliga’s 16 teams started the season with new coaches, but most clubs are seeing little benefit.

The big outlier, as usual, is Bayern Munich, where Julian Nagelsmann’s team is top of the league and set to qualify easily from its Champions League group. Nagelsmann likely won’t be able to take physical charge of Saturday’s game against Hoffenheim after testing positive for the coronavirus.

Second-placed Borussia Dortmund and third-placed Bayer Leverkusen have new coaches, too, but their ambitions have been tempered by recent heavy defeats. Marco Rose’s Dortmund was crushed by Ajax 4-0 on Tuesday but has an easier game at Arminia Bielefeld on Saturday. Gerardo Seoane’s Leverkusen takes on Cologne on Sunday, looking for a lift after last week’s 5-1 defeat to Bayern.

Jesse Marsch is facing a frustrating rebuild at Leipzig after signing to replace Nagelsmann. Losing to Paris Saint-Germain 3-2 in the Champions League was the latest in a string of brave but futile defeats in Europe. Hosting promoted Greuther Fürth on Saturday should offer some respite.

Other new coaches are sinking fast.

Borussia Mönchengladbach was a Champions League team last season but is 10th in the Bundesliga under Adi Hütter. The team Hütter quit for Gladbach, Eintracht Frankfurt, is a dismal 14th under ex-Wolfsburg man Glasner with the bizarre accomplishment of having beaten Bayern without winning any other league games.

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