A derby win for Gladbach confirmed the Foals as European contenders, despite shocking early-season form. Dieter Hecking can take a lot of credit for that and Wolfsburg should regret firing him, says Matt Pearson.
"For me it was a brilliant derby day and a great win for the club," Dieter Hecking said, after masterminding the 3-2 derby win at the home of Rhine rivals Cologne that took his side to within two points of sixth on Saturday.
Meanwhile, an hour's drive north in Gelsenkirchen, the club that sacked the 52-year-old in mid-October were being comprehensively picked apart by Schalke, who won 4-1. "The first twenty minutes were basically dreadful," admitted Andries Jonker, the man who replaced the man who replaced Hecking, Valerien Ismael.
It's not the first time the Wolves have been dreadful this term. The club are still in genuine danger of having to face a relegation play-off, a humiliating prospect for a side who were beating Real Madrid in the Champions League just over a year ago.
Pedigree over punts
While Ismael's five month reign was as disastrous as had always seemed likely when such an unknown quantity took the reigns, Hecking hadn't exactly been pulling up trees before that - Wolfsburg were in a similar position to the one they're in now when he was sacked, albeit after seven games. But what Hecking has, that neither Ismael or Jonker has, is the experience to turn sticky situations around, as his spell at his new club has already shown.
Like Wolfsburg, Gladbach are a side with European pedigree who struggled badly early in the season. When Hecking took over, the Foals had 16 points from 16 games and had kept just three clean sheets (a 1-0 win over Mainz and 0-0 home draws with Eintracht Frankfurt and Hamburg).
Since his first game in charge after the winter break, Hecking has taken 23 points from his 12 Bundesliga matches - extrapolated over the season, that would put them comfortably in second and hot on Bayern Munich's heels.
Simple changes aid recovery
What the former Hannover boss has done hasn't exactly been revolutionary but it has been effective. With the winter break coming before his first game, Gladbach instantly looked much better drilled than they had under his predecessor Andre Schubert.
The result has been six clean sheets in the league already under Hecking. The solid base provided by Mahmoud Dahoud and Tobias Strobl in midfield has allowed the fullbacks to add genuine width to the side and give the likes of Lars Stindl, Thorgan Hazard and Raffael the license to play. Stindl in particular has thrived - after just 2 goals in his first 15 league games, he's now got 5 in his last 8.
With a home tie against freefalling Frankfurt in the German Cup semifinal on the horizon, Europe won't be the only prize on Hecking's mind. Two years ago, he lifted the trophy to cap a memorable season in which Wolfsburg also finished second and he'll no doubt be desperate to repeat the trick in Berlin in May.
There's a decent chance his old club will be in Berlin comewhat May too but if they are, they'll be playing Union Berlin in the relegation playoff. Whether they go down or not, the muddled thinking that has seen Wolfsburg lose their decorated boss and their best player in the same season has to stop if the club have any aspirations to get back to where they were as recently as two years ago.