VfL Wolfsburg had a brilliant start to the Bundesliga campaign this season; going unbeaten in nine games and finding themself only two points from the top of the table. Even though they have slowly dropped off, VfL Wolfsburg are still battling with multiple other teams for the Europa League spots.
As he was last season, Wout Weghorst has been one of Wolfsburg’s star players this campaign. Even though he is currently slightly underperforming his xG of 11.30, he still has 11 goals in the Bundesliga so far; perhaps showing how many good positions the striker has been able to find.
This tactical analysis will be in the form of a scout report will be assessing the Dutchman’s performance this season. It will use analysis to determine the strengths and weaknesses of Weghorst and what sets him apart from many strikers.
Weghorst operates as the number nine, usually in a 3-4-3. He stands just under 6’5″ and many would assume he is a typical target man who solely operates against the last line of defence. This could not be further from the truth, with Weghorst often dropping in and helping with the progression of the ball, as well as being great in the defensive side of his game; both of these assets will be assessed later in the scout report.
Weghorst’s heatmap above shows that he is active nearly everywhere in the opposition half. Although, he still mainly operates in the opposition box; as that is where every single one of his goals has come in the last calendar year.
In successful teams, the striker will be the first line of defence; Weghorst is a clear example of this sort of striker. While being very tall; Weghorst can intelligently press the opposition when they are in transition to try and force a turnover in play; he does not press pointlessly as many other forward players do.
The image above shows an example of Weghorst knowing when to press the opposition. As his left-sided teammates begin to press the ball carrier on the left, he plays the ball to his centre back as they look to play out of pressure by switching the play. Weghorst, however, reads this play and can apply pressure to the defender, while covering the passes across to the oppositions left side. This pressure forces the player to play long down the line, where Wolfsburg can retrieve the ball.
This image above is another example of Weghorst’s intelligence when pressuring the opposition. He is originally marking the centre-midfielder but when the centre-back begins to progress the ball Weghorst pounces. He makes a brilliant curved run towards the ball carrier and this allows him to continue to have the centre-midfielder he was marking originally, in his cover shadow, as well as the other centre-back. This meant that the ball carriers only option was to play an ambitious long pass to the centre-forward. This was unsuccessful and ended in Wolfsburg possession.
This time, the image above shows an example of Weghorst coming into his own third to help defensively. The striker spots the run of the oncoming midfielder and is able to track his run. This meant that the wide-man could not play the simple through pass and create a crossing opportunity; instead, the opposition had to recycle possession.
Weghorst’s defensive contribution to Wolfsburg is large, on average, he pressures his opponents 26.9 times per 90 this season; with an impressive success rate of 27.5%. To compare, Roberto Firmino who is known for his defensive contribution for Liverpool, averages 22.4 pressures, with a 29.7% success rate.
As said before, all of Weghorst’s goals in the last calendar year have come from inside the area; here is an image of his shot map from that time.
It is clear to see that the majority of the striker’s joy comes inside the penalty area. Weghorst averages 4.22 touches inside the area per 90 this season. He is able to find spaces inside the area well and often looks to position himself behind the centre-backs or between them, so that he can operate on his markers blindside.
The above image shows a typical position that Weghorst finds himself in inside the area. He has moved between two of the centre-backs and this means he is on the blindside of the central centre-back. When the cross is played, the central centre-back does not know where Weghorst is and this allows him to be able to attack the ball freely. Even though in this image he does not connect with the ball; the movement to create space for himself in the box is what makes Weghorst a successful striker inside the box.
Yet again, this image above shows Weghorst positioned on the blindside of the centre-back but goalside of the right-back. This allows him to make a darting run to the front post without being properly tracked. He then expertly heads past the keeper to score, however, the more impressive part of the move is Weghorst’s initial positioning and movement. If he was in the sight of the centre-back, they could’ve potentially blocked his run but as he was on their blindside, they couldn’t react to his sharp movement.
This image instead shows how Weghorst can find space behind the centre-backs in the area. Weghorst starts his run diagonally, going towards the middle of the six-yard-box. This attracts the left-centre-back; who starts moving more centrally to block the run. This is when Weghorst changes the direction of his run towards the back post; leaving him open for the cross. The keeper was able to make a great stop from the header, though, the movement to lose his marker is still impressive.
When delving into his movement, it is clear to see why all of his goals have come from inside of the box this campaign. He is a great aerial threat but his movement inside of the box is what really makes him an impressive striker. He priorities being on the blindside of a defender and can then attack spaces in the box.
Weghorst is very unselfish as a forward; he often looks for teammates in better positions before striking, as well as involving himself in the build-up play. The striker averages 3.13 passes into the final third per 90, this is considerably high considering his position. Whether this is ultimately beneficial for the striker can be debated though.
This image above is a perfect scenario where Weghorst helps his side progress the ball in a deeper area. Initially, he tracks back and wins the ball back for his side. Then, Weghorst pulls out to the left side to be a passing option and is able to play a first-time pass to the advancing midfielder who can dribble into forward space.
This time, the image above shows an example of the unselfishness in Weghorst’s attacking style. As he is played through, Weghorst assesses the situation and realises taking a shot will be difficult due to having two defenders in close proximity. He decides to turn back and set up his oncoming teammate for a shot. This is solid team play but on the other hand, perhaps taking more shots in low xG positions, like where he was in the image above, could lead to a higher amount of goals scored.
Despite having 11 Bundesliga goals and being the joint-fifth top scorer in the league, Weghorst is the only player in the top five who has underperformed against their xG (11.31), reasons for this could potentially be because of his unselfishness and while he drops deeper this can mean he misses out on opportunities to score on the counter-attack.
While Weghorst is great at helping in the build-up, the image above shows why it can lead to less chance of scoring goals for the Dutch striker. In the image, Wolfsburg has initiated a counter-attack but because of his deep position, Weghorst is 15 yards behind the play and isn’t in a position to have a chance of a shot at goal.
At Wolfsburg, Weghorst has scored 32% of the teams Bundesliga goals and only Renato Steffen  has more than thee goals. His selflessness and contribution in deeper phases of play may be more beneficial in a side with higher goal contributions from the wide-forwards.
Hold-up play and aerial ability
While he loves to drop in and contribute in deeper areas, it is clear that his hold-up and aerial ability are going to be assets of Weghorst’s game. He has a brilliant 54% win rate in aerial duels, although for a striker of his size; you would perhaps expect more than 7.24 aerial duels per 90, however, it is still a solid amount. The striker only competes in 9.77 offensive duals per game though, this shows how his preference is to instead link-up with his midfielders in slightly deeper areas. Weghorst is still very effective in the air and holding the ball up.
The image above shows how Weghorst can offer his side a direct transition option because of his hold-up play. The ball is played long from the Wolfsburg goalkeeper towards Weghorst and the striker is able to hold off the defender, then cushions a pass first time to his striking partner and the team can then play forward.
Again, the image above shows Wolfsburg using a long ball in transition. This time the goalkeeper plays long and Weghorst is able to win his aerial duel because of his jump and height advantage against the opponent. He does not only win the aerial duel but he heads the ball into a great area, where his teammate is running into.
Both his aerial ability and hold-up play can help Wolfsburg in their transition. Considering the tactics implemented by Oliver Glasner, long balls are a strategy often used in the transition phase; they average the fourth most long balls per 90 in the Bundesliga at 49.09.
Sometimes though, the striker doesn’t enter aerial duels and will peel off, this can be because he is looking to win the second ball or maybe doesn’t think he can win the duel. This ultimately makes it easier for the opposition team to keep possession after the win in the air.
In the image above, the ball is played long towards Weghorst. Instead of battling in the air against the RB Leipzig defender, Weghorst drops off. This means the header can easily be sent back towards the Wolfsburg half; whereas if Weghorst at least pressured the centre-back and involved himself in the duel, the header wouldn’t have been so easy and Weghorst could’ve potentially won the ball for his side.
Even though he does compete in just under 10 aerial duels per 90, his height would suggest he could involve himself more in the air. However, the striker still is very successful in the air as well as when holding the ball up for his teammates.
This scout report has been able to show that Weghorst is not the typical target man that you’d assume and the analysis has highlighted that he has strengths in the build-up, while also having great movement in the final-third; resulting in him having 11 goals so far this Bundesliga campaign.
The Dutch striker has been key in Wofsburgs’s offensive play this season and even though he has areas where he needs improvement, like ensuring he is involved in counter-attacks, Wout Weghorst is clearly a great striker for Wolfsburg. At 27 years of age, a potential move would not be off the cards for the Dutchman after two successful years in the Bundesliga.