Why Kevin De Bruyne Is the Wolfsburg Player Bayern Munich Must Stop

Stefan BienkowskiFeatured ColumnistJanuary 28, 2015

Wolfburg's Kevin De Bruyne, left, reacts after his teammate Wolfburg's Rodriguez scores during their Europa League Group H soccer match between Vfl Wolfsburg and Lille at the Lille Metropole stadium in Villeneuve d'Ascq, northern France, Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)
Michel Spingler/Associated Press

On Friday, the Bundesliga will return to our screens with a top-of-the-table clash between first-placed Bayern Munich and second-placed Wolfsburg at the Volkswagen Arena in Lower Saxony. 

There, the absolute might of Pep Guardiola's consecutive title challenge will descend upon the only side who look anywhere near close enough to challenge the giants from Munich. 

Led by Dieter Hecking, Wolfsburg have pleasantly surprised us all with performances that have seen them pull away from the usual, chasing pack and open up a six-point gap between themselves and Bayer Leverkusen in third.

In Borussia Dortmund's stead, the Wolves have taken up the title of "Bayern Hunter" and have a fantastic opportunity to knock Guardiola's team on their side in the first week back. 

To do this, Hecking will be reliant on all his players performing at their absolute best, but none is more important than attacking midfielder and playmaker extraordinaire Kevin De Bruyne, Wolfsburg's best player and the man Bayern will have to try to stop on Friday. 

De Bruyne has scored only three goals in the Bundesliga this season, but one of those came against Borussia Dortmund when Wolfsburg held the former champions to a 2-2 draw. Couple that with 10 assists, according to Transfermarkt, against the likes of Bayer Leverkusen, Frankfurt and Cologne, and you have a player who doesn't shy away from the big game. 

In fact, according to WhoScored.com, the Belgian international has more assists in the German top division than any other player, with four more goalscoring passes than the next-best player, Hoffenheim's Roberto Firmino. 

When it comes to jumping between the lines and picking that final pass, no player in Germany does it better than De Bruyne, which is exactly what Hecking will be hoping for on Friday and what Guardiola will fear the most. 

Frank Augstein/Associated Press

The Catalonian manager will fancy his own side's chances in this top-of-the-table clash, but he will be wary of who he can use to try to stop the Wolfsburg danger man. 

Bayern currently play in something akin to a 4-3-3 or a 4-1-4-1, which has Xabi Alonso playing as the deepest midfielder with David Alaba and Philipp Lahm often pushing forward to help in the attacking play. This all seems well and good, but Guardiola will be aware of deficiencies in Alonso's defensive play this season. 

The former Spanish international is excellent in possession and has a passing ability that is second to none, but as we saw against Manchester City in the Champions League most recently, the midfielder can struggle to properly cover his own back line. 

This is where Wolfsburg will strike. Ivan Perisic and Vieirinha offer a notable but diminishing threat on either wing, so if the title-contending hopefuls want to hurt Bayern, they'll have to go through the centre of the park with De Bruyne, via Alonso. 

The Bavarian side have also looked prone to counter-attacking football with Guardiola's uber-pressing forcing the defensive line to push up to the point of essentially parking on the halfway line and hoping goalkeeper-turned-sweeper Manuel Neuer comes to the rescue each time. 

Should Bayern stick Alaba or Lahm in their back four or back three on the day, we may see a side more capable of covering a high line, but should Mehdi Benatia or Dante accompany Jerome Boateng, then Wolfsburg will hope to use speed and their naturally counter-attacking play to overcome their opponents. 

Such a ploy will require De Bruyne at his absolute best but will undoubtedly have him at the heart of any attempt as he plays his usual role of the club's No. 10. From the attacking midfield position, De Bruyne will be in the ideal spot to launch plays in front or even behind the high Bayern line. 

 

@sbienkowski