VfB Stuttgart climbed into fourth place in the table, at least for a day, as they kicked off Bundesliga MatchDay 8 Friday with a 2-0 win over Kaiserslautern at the Bentzenberg. Kaiserslautern remain on five points for the season, and could be surpassed this weekend by the three teams in the relegation zone, Hamburg SV, FC Augsburg and SC Freiburg, all one point behind the Red Devils.
The first 45 minutes of play offered little to recommend it, as both teams seemed organized defensively and lacking in attack. Time of possession was almost equal, with neither team showing enough shooting accuracy to get on the scoreboard. Danish defender Leon Jessen made several good tackles for the Red Devils in the half. Perhaps the highlight of the half was Kaiserslautern coach Marco Kurz’ cheekiness with a ball that rolled to him on the sidelines, which summoned a talking to by one of the officiating crew.
The first minutes of the second half provided the goal that the game needed. Seven minutes after play resumed, Dutch international Khalid Boulahrouz played a well-chosen low cross from the right flank into the box, where another Stuttgart veteran, Cacau, clinically placed his boot on the ball and scored from close range to give Stuttgart a 1-0 lead. Boulahrouz gave Stuttgart an unbreakable lead with 20 minutes left, as he hit a hard shot from the right and beat Red Devils’ goalkeeper Kevin Trapp after taking a slight deflection off of Jessen. Kaiserslautern kept pressing throughout the second half, but shot after shot was blocked or shot wide.
Sven Ulreich had another strong match in goal for Stuttgart. The quality of the young goalkeepers currently working in the Bundesliga is amazing, and the 23 year-old German is another whose abilities belie his youth. Although only called to make three saves, his dominance in the box on set pieces along with his cat-like reactions made it impossible for Kaiserslautern to get on the scoreboard in front of their home fans. With the organized support and shot-blocking skills from his backline of Maza, Artur Boka, Serdar Tasci and Boulahrouz, Ulreich turned in his third clean sheet of the regular season.
Bruno Labbadia’s Stuttgart side are a bit of a puzzle. They seem to have the talent to secure a European berth for next season, but their inability to string wins together is disconcerting. They have shutdown Schalke and Hannover already this season, and drew with the impressive Gladbach side, but have lost to Hertha Berlin and allowed Hamburg their first win of 2011-2012 last weekend. Still, considering the team’s performance in Hinrunde’s of the recent past, Stuttgart fans have to be reasonably pleased with the club’s performance thus far.
Kaiserslautern, on the other hand, are in trouble. The defending is decent, and Kevin Trapp is, at the very least, an adequate goalkeeper, but the attacking is woeful and the team’s tendency to draw bookings (second most yellow cards drawn this season by a Bundesliga club) means that Kurz will find himself missing players on an already thin squad as card-accumulation suspensions take effect as the season wears on.
Despite the consistent quality of Christian Tiffert’s set-piece efforts, his threatening kicks into the box are wasted time after time. It’s telling that Tiffert, who led the Bundesliga with 17 assists last season, has none through almost a quarter of the campaign. Itay Shechter leads the team with only two goals, and although the young Israeli has shown that he can play in a top league, he hasn’t demonstrated the finishing ability to be the focal point of an attack. Last year’s team boasted a reasonably effective attack (especially for a team just promoted), but the loss of Srjdan Lakic, Jan Moravek, Ivo Ilicevic and Erwin Hoffer, and the inability to find quality replacements, is telling. Presently Shechter and fellow frontliner Dorge Kouemaha don’t scare anyone. Today the duo combined for eight shots, with only one on frame. With Adam Nemec sidelined with injury, Kurz has few attacking alternatives …..Greek teenager Konstantinos “Kostas” Fortounis provided some boost when he entered Friday’s match, but youngster Richard SukutaPasu and substitute Gil Vermouth were unable to create much at the Fritz-Walter Stadion against Stuttgart.
While Kaiserslautern displayed energy and pressured Stuttgart in the second half, this isn’t the same squad that displayed the form that took them to the seventh spot in last year’s table. If one of their new attackers is unable to step up, the team will have to seek out attacking help during the winter transfer window or they are doomed to relegation.
Kaiserslautern: Trapp – Dick, Amedick, Rodnei, Jessen – Kirch (Vermouth 78′), Petsos (Fortounis 61′) – Sukuta-Pasu, Tiffert – Kouenaha – Schechter
Stuttgart: Ulreich – Boulahrouz, Tasci, Maza, Boka – Kvist, Hajnal (Gentner 89′) – Harnik, Okazaki (Gebhart 72′) – Pogrebnyak, Cacau (Traore 90′)