What can the Turkish playmaker bring to faltering Wolfsburg?
Position: Attacking Midfield
Nationality: Turkish (9 caps/0 goals)
Club: Wolfsburg (transferred from Mainz – Jan ‘17 for €10m)
As the curtains opened on the latest installment of the January transfer window, German clubs quietly started their business. Before rumours began to circulate that the Chinese Super League’s new found mega riches could be luring away Europe’s best talent, the ink was already dry on a deal that would see Yunus Malli swap Mainz for Wolfsburg for a fee of just €10m, a fee €2m euros less than his release clause.
Malli, a diminutive playmaker and clinical finisher, is an unkept secret in Bundesliga circles and almost rejoined his former manager Thomas Tuchel when Borussia Dortmund met his release clause in the previous January transfer window. But having recently opted to represent Turkey, the German youth international was wary over the lack of playing time that may have affected his chances of being in Fatih Terim’s plans for Euro 2016, and decided to stay at Mainz.
A blistering start to the current campaign saw Malli finish the hinrunde with six goals and six assists from 15 starts, continuing the form that has seen him establish himself as one of the Bundesliga’s most consistent creative performers. Being from Turkish descent, comparisons were made with Mesut Ozil, but as Malli thrives in the role behind a central striker effortlessly linking midfield and attack to create a wealth of goalscoring chances; it’s his technical attributes that warrant a close comparison with the World Cup winning playmaker.
With his appreciation of tight spaces and natural ability to create opportunities out of thin air, Malli relies on an instinctive first touch to manipulate the tiny pockets of space between the midfield and defensive lines. His close control enables him to beat opposition players convincingly from standing positions which is a skill that Ozil, and many other world class dribblers, attribute to learning their trade in street football.
A playmaker is at his best when his technical ability allows him to have an arsenal of passing options to create chances and push his team forward. From quick first time layoffs to long, raking crossfield passes to switch play as well as eye of the needle through balls that penetrate defences, Malli’s passing range is a joy to behold and has been key in stabilising his position as one of the Bundesliga’s consistent creative influences.
His transfer to Wolfsburg has come at a key time for Valerian Ismael’s faltering side. Having replaced Dieter Hecking after a poor start to the season saw Die Wölfe fall way below their pre-season ambitions of regaining Champions League football, the Frenchman has failed to turn round their fortunes as they continue to languish perilously close to the wrong end of the league table.
The arrivals of Julian Draxler, and Daniel Didavi, from Schalke and Stuttgart respectively, looked like Wolfsburg were prepared for life after Kevin De Bruyne but neither were capable of filling the Belgian’s boots. Hecking and Ismael have both tried to rectify their leaking defence by sacrificing a central attacking midfielder but the added defensive stability has come at a price with Wolfsburg struggling to score goals.
With only bottom of the table Darmstadt having scored less, Ismael will be looking to Malli for the inspiration needed to drag Wolfsburg back up the table. Despite a 1-0 win against ten-man Hamburg on his debut, Malli’s arrival has yet to see an upturn in Wolfsburg’s fortunes. A victory against high-flying Hoffenheim aside, losses to Augsburg and Köln were followed by elimination from the DfB Pokal at the hands of Bayern Munich and a crushing 3-0 defeat to Borussia Dortmund.
Whilst one view of Malli’s success at Mainz was that he enjoyed being the star player, a big fish in a small pond, it will be interesting to see whether he can continue performing consistently as an attacking playmaker, at a time when the traditional number ten is being slowly phased out in favour of a central midfield three.
Hopefully Valerian Ismael is brave enough to forgo his defensive mentality in order to rely on Malli’s attacking talents. Whilst it’s unrealistic to expect Malli’s impact to be as immediate or impressive as Kevin De Bruyne, the Turkey international certainly possesses the requisite attributes to make Die Wölfe dangerous again.
Jack Dowell (Football Analyst)
All Player to Watch articles are formed on analyst’s opinion rather than in-house statistics.
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