DFL-Supercup offers Wolfsburg or Bayern to deliver huge statement
The sideshow around Kevin De Bruyne's future threatens to derail Wolfsburg's preparations ahead of Saturday's unofficial "season opener" known as the German DFL-Supercup against Bayern Munich (live, FOX Soccer Plus, streamed live via FOX Sports GO on FOXSoccer.com, 2:30 p.m. ET).
Germany's Player of the Season -- as voted by more than 800 sports journalists this week -- wasn't exactly rushing to commit his future to the club when asked about the transfer. "I have no idea [about my future]," the attacking-midfielder said. "We'll see what happens between the clubs."
"Currently, there are no offers," added head coach Dieter Hecking who picked up the top coaching award. "The situation is the same. We don't want to sell him," said sporting director -- and chief decision-maker -- Klaus Allofs.
However, the mere prospect of losing such a valued talent has dominated the headlines when talk idealistically should be of Wolfsburg preparing to launch a cohesive attempt to de-throne Bayern Munich this season.
Wolfsburg has picked up the mantel from Borussia Dortmund as Germany's second club, and closest challengers to champions Bayern Munich. Hecking's team racked up 72 points last season and even still managed to drop points in matches against lower opposition -- Paderborn and Mainz, just two examples.
The Wolves began the second half of the season at a blistering speed -- the apogee a 4-1 thrashing of Bayern Munich to open proceedings for 2015. Bas Dost hit 11 goals in the first six games of the New Year, prospering from the burgeoning understanding between him and chief architect De Bruyne. The added contributions of resurgent Croatian Ivan Perisic and Daniel Caligiuri meant Wolfsburg were largely unstoppable for most Bundesliga outfits.
Going one step further and forcing a serious championship challenge is reliant on the short-term future of De Bruyne, however. Replacing him should he join Manchester City is unrealistic at this point in the transfer window. Although contracted until the summer of 2019, Allofs has previously stated it is Wolfsburg's intention to cash in within the next 12 months.
De Bruyne won't leave before the weekend, but he did miss Thursday's training session with a back problem. Hecking is meanwhile waiting until the last minute to decide upon the fitness of Ivan Perisic, Dost and former Bayern midfielder Luiz Gustavo after they picked up nagging injuries in preseason.
In pursuit of the treble
Winning the treble -- Bundesliga, German Cup and UEFA Champions League -- is the staple expectation of Bayern Munich. The biggest prize of them all, the Champions League, which has evaded them since 2013, remains the single-minded obsession of the current German champions and their Spanish coach Josep Guardiola.
As prominent as domestic success can, it doesn't quite stack up against the famous European Cup when it becomes a familiar process for the team that is routinely expected to win. Bayern has come close in his two previous attempts in the Champions League -- reaching the semifinal stages, only to lose to both winners of the respective tournaments: Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Guardiola, who is in the last year of his contract, has sought to iron out the one-or-two creases that are still noticeable in his side. Certainly, Bayern's transfer business this summer indicates that he perhaps isn't quite satisfied with how the team has functioned in recent seasons.
The Bavarians have acquired real box-to-box dynamism in Arturo Vidal from Juventus. He probably won't threaten the role of crafty ball-players like Thiago Alcantara, but his profoundly all-powerful presence offers a more ruthless method of playing.
Elsewhere, Douglas Costa has signed from Shakhtar Donestk to bring the off-the-cuff intuition that has been solely the task of Dutchman Arjen Robben. Costa has seamlessly filled the role of Franck Ribery on the left wing, showing flashes of individual brilliance in some of Bayern's preseason fixtures.
It has been Bayern's tremendous wing-play over the last few seasons that has truly powered this team, but filling the absence of Ribery has been problematic. Equally, Philipp Lahm's experimental slot in central-midfield has had an adverse effect on Bayern's play.
What Guardiola does in attack is just as fascinating. The partnership of Robert Lewandowski and Thomas MÃ¼ller was impressive when the pair functioned as duo, yet the latter's antiquated characteristics have been at conflict with Guardiola's demands.
While the season is long and arduous, meaning things can change on a whim, learning what works early in the campaign is paramount to delivering at the tail-end of the year -- a point in which Guardiola and Bayern have fallen short at when it really matters.
Whenever his inevitable departure comes around, Guardiola will naturally be eager to finish it off with a flourish. Claiming the German DFL-Supercup-- a prize that Guardiola has yet to win in Germany -- and marking their territory would be a promising start.