For many England and Middlesboro fans, Steve McClaren is viewed as a joke, “Second choice Steve,” or the manager who just couldn’t get it done at Middlesboro or with England. His name occasionally is bandied about as new English managerial openings are announced.
Despite the mention, he is never given any real chance at getting those so-called prized EPL jobs. But after three years of winning football in Holland, where he lead FC Twente to the league title over much ballyhooed Martin Jol and his heavily favored Ajax, McClaren has taken his talents to the Bundesliga and Wolfsburg, becoming the first English manager in the German top flight.
For Wolfsburg fans, McClaren is not “Second choice Steve,” he is the only English manager to win a European league title in the 21st century and the only English manager to reach the finals of a major European tournament since 1984. Where exactly have Middlesboro gone since McClaren left? Oh, that’s right, they were relegated.
History aside, Steve McClaren is facing a tough first match in the Bundesliga, away to Bayern Munich. But Wolfsburg are not Middlesboro; they have a recent history of competing for the top spot having won the league only two seasons ago.
Wolfsburg’s side is not as flashy as Bayern’s, but there is quality at every position and the addition of German international defender Arne Friedrich will stabilize Wolfsburg’s defense and add much needed leadership.
In Bosnian international Edin Dzeko, McClaren has a proven 20-plus goal scorer in the Bundesliga. Dzeko tallied an impressive 28 goals in 42 appearances in all competitions last term, including four goals in six UEFA Champions League matches.
So how will McClaren and Friedrich make a difference at Wolfsburg? It’s simple, last term Wolfsburg were great away from home, where they actually grabbed more points and allowed half as many goals, and shite at home, where they let in 2.4 goals a match.
Obviously the side played far too aggressively at home, trying to impress the crowd, and thus they allowed in an astounding 39 goals in only 17 league matches!
McClaren’s cautious nature may see Dzeko score a few less goals, but the goals he gets will earn points rather than be wasted by a porous defense and poor tactical decisions brought on by the pressures of playing in front of your home crowd. McClaren is a stable, steady hand and it will show over time.
Now, to the match at hand, Bayern Munich vs Wolfsburg. Bayern have shown the ability to play as a unit already this season with their impressive defeat of Schalke in the Super Cup, where they stifled Schalke’s new boy, Raul, and capitalized on two counter-attacking opportunities to punish last term's runners-up.
I expect that those counter-attacking opportunities will be harder to come by against McClaren and Wolfsburg. McClaren will go into Allianz Arena knowing that a draw away to Bayern is a victory for Wolfsburg, and any points off last year’s champions will give his side some much needed confidence after a disappointing season last term, which saw the defending Champions fall to eighth in the Bundesliga tables.
Van Gaal knows what McClaren is all about, and he knows that coming out and playing into McClaren’s hands by waiting for opportunities on the break could see Bayern struggle to get on top. So we should see an open match from the onset with Bayern pushing to get on top quickly and then playing for counters once they nick an early goal.
But Bayern need to be leary of Dzeko, and Wolfsburg playing the long ball to him on the counter attack.
Bayern’s central defense will be tested by the giant Bosnian Dzeko, who at 6’4” is deadly both in the air and off set pieces. If Bayern concedes, there's little doubt it will be Dzeko who scores. If Wolfsburg can score first and have already mastered McClaren’s negative approach to defending football, they will be very difficult to beat.
This should be a great first test for both Bayern and McClaren’s new Wolfsburg side, and in the end I expect this match will show why the Bundesliga is the world’s most competitive league. Bayern should manage a hard-fought 3-2 or 2-1 victory, with Muller scoring a brace and Klose providing the extra class needed to secure Bayern Munich the points. But McClaren's side will be very hard to put to the sword, very hard indeed.