Monday 23 May 2016, 08:45

Kellermann: Lyon are the reference point

It might be tempting to think that Ralf Kellermann has a special penchant for the number three. This, after all, is the man who led Wolfsburg to a famous treble in 2013, winning the women's Bundesliga, German Cup and UEFA Women's Champions League. He also picked up his third German Cup title on Saturday, following that initial triumph three years ago and a second in 2015. And if Die Wölfinnen defeat Lyon in Thursday's Champions League final, he will become the first ever coach to win the prestigious competition three times. Appearances, however, can be deceptive.

"It doesn't mean anything to me," explained the German coach, speaking to in the build-up to the showpiece event. "If we win, I'll undoubtedly feel the same happiness I did the first time. What matters more to me is that we're about to contest ours third final in four years. We've only lost once in the semi-finals. When I think that Bayern Munich went out in the first round despite dominating in the Bundesliga … You can't afford to make a mistake at this level. So no, the number three doesn't have any particular significance for me. If we win, we'll do everything we can next year to add a fourth title to our collection."

Kellermann's side will go into the final high on confidence following their German Cup victory at the weekend. Wolfsburg edged Sand 2-1 to lift the trophy, but the 2014 FIFA World Coach of the Year for Women's Football was less than thrilled to contest such an important game just five days before tackling Lyon.

"It's a bit of a handicap," he said. "Everyone in the coaching staff would've preferred a few extra days to really prepare for our meeting with Lyon. On Saturday, we were focused on our match and on Sunday we had to recover. In practice, that barely leaves us Monday and Tuesday to work on tactics. A full week would have been ideal. Nevertheless, we're only talking about a few subtle changes to our tactical approach – not a complete overhaul. We have our routines now. We just would have liked a little more time, but the alternative was to not be in the German Cup final at all, so I'm fine with how it's turned out." Formidable opponents Kellermann and his charges also know Thursday's opponents well, having faced them in the 2013 final, when Martina Muller's 73rd-minute goal sealed a 1-0 win for the German club. "Since then, Lyon's team has changed a little," the coach explained. "If we had to talk about their strengths, we'd be here a long time. For me, Lyon are the absolute reference point at club level.

"They're a team operating at a very high standard technically, tactically and physically. Lyon's players are very talented and they also have the advantage of having played together for a long time, with one or two exceptions. They have a real understanding on the pitch and it's incredible to observe. Since their 7-0 win against Paris Saint-Germain, they've been playing with total confidence."

This time around, the 47-year-old will not be able to rely on Muller to make the difference, as the prolific forward retired at the end of the 2014/15 campaign. He will also need to cope without Nadine Kessler, the 2014 FIFA Women's World Player of the Year having recently ended her career aged 28 due to a serious knee problem. "It's tough to see a young player leave the game forever at her age and at the height of her powers, after just receiving the greatest individual accolade of all," he noted.

"I don't know a single team that could make do without Nadine in top form. Unfortunately, over the last two years she managed just 30 minutes, in September 2014, so we've had to learn to play without her for two seasons. As a result, things have changed a little. The hierarchy within the squad has evolved, and a certain number of players have taken on more responsibility. I don't think there's any one player capable of replacing her, so we've tried to share the task around several different starters, with Nilla Fischer and Alexandra Popp being called upon more than most."

Different mentalities They may have lost key personnel, but Wolfsburg have also profited from the addition of new faces. Thanks to an ambitious transfer policy, they have recruited the likes of Switzerland's Lara Dickenmann and France's Elise Bussaglia – both snapped up from Lyon. So has Kellermann been grilling the duo to get a little inside information?

"Obviously they know how our opponents work and think," he explained, recalling recent discussions with a smile. "When we said that Lyon weren't really prepared to take us on in 2013, they said: 'That's right.' And when I said Lyon didn't know how to handle the situation when the score was goalless at half-time, because they weren't used to being tested in their league, they answered: 'Yes, that's true as well.' Those conversations are interesting because they reveal a very different mentality. But either way it's nice to be able to discuss all that."

Dickenmann and Bussaglia will get to have their say on the tactical front too. "My assistants and I are putting together specific preparations for Lyon. We've been to observe them several times and we have a number of videos at our disposal. Once we've finished our analysis, we'll discuss it quickly with both of them. Naturally there are always things to add, but in general we oversee that side of things ourselves."

Judging by the impressive collection of titles Wolfsburg have assembled in the last few years, Kellermann and his colleagues have become masters of the art. But the coach and his players would do well to bear one thing in mind: compared to last time, Lyon will surely be a whole lot better prepared.