Armin Veh returned to Stuttgart, where he unexpectedly won the Bundesliga title in 2007, with his Eintracht Frankfurt side flying high in third after Schalke’s win against Nürnberg on Saturday. No promoted side has started a Bundesliga season better than Frankfurt have this year, and they were hoping to stay on Bayern’s tail with three points against a VfB side who were yet to win at home this season. However, after a poor start, Stuttgart had taken seven points from their last three matches to relieve some of the pressure on boss Bruno Labbadia.
VfB Stuttgart were unchanged from Thursday’s draw with FC Copenhagen in the Europa League, Cristian Molinaro in for the injured Arthur Boka the only alteration to their last Bundesliga starting 11. Despite scoring in last week’s victory over Hannover, Karim Matmour was replaced up front in the Eintracht Frankfurt side by the returning Olivier Occean, and Martin Lanig came in for the injured Pirmin Schwegler in central midfield.
The home side got off to the perfect start, Christian Gentner putting Stuttgart one up with the first real chance of the game after just five minutes. Good work down the right flank by Gōtoku Sakai and then Ibrahima Traoré led to a dangerous cross that Bamba Anderson could only flick on to the lurking Gentner, who volleyed the ball past Kevin Trapp at his near post.
Stuttgart were happy to slow the tempo of the play after going ahead so early, and their composed passing allowed them to control the game for much of the first half. Most of their promising moves continued to take place down the right, with Traoré and Martin Harnik interchanging positions and preventing Bastian Oczipka from getting forward as often as he usually has this season, which has allowed him to contribute five assists. Frankfurt have impressed in this campaign with their flowing passing moves and have the second-highest possession quota in the league after the imperious Bayern, but today they struggled to get into their rhythm. The change in midfield personnel may have been a factor, but credit must also go to Stuttgart, who closed down spaces well throughout the first period.
The first of four disallowed goals in the match came for Stuttgart in the 33rd minute – a marginal decision but probably correct, as was the rejected penalty shout for Frankfurt shortly after when the ball struck the arm of Molinaro in the box. Both teams were battling hard but the defences were coming out on top – VfB went into the break with the lead, but neither goalkeeper had made a save.
Armin Veh brought on Matmour for the ineffective Takashi Inui at half time to try to turn things around, but again it was the hosts who started brighter, with Harnik hitting the post just 30 seconds into the second period. Thereafter however, Frankfurt did work their way into the game. Stefano Celozzi came on for Lanig after an hour to drive forward from right back, with Sebastian Jung moving into midfield, and it was Jung who brought Sven Ulreich into action on 61 minutes with a shot that he saved comfortably. Moments before, Stefan Aigner had also tested the keeper with a strike from the edge of the box. By this point the game had really opened up, and Serdar Tasci forced a great reaction stop from Trapp at the other end soon after.
But in the end it was Frankfurt who were next on the scoresheet. Aigner laid the ball off to Alex Meier, and he curled a beautiful strike from the left-hand corner of the box to the top right of the goal to leave Ulreich helpless and level the scores. The visitors were unable to capitalise after the equalizer, however, and ceded control back to Stuttgart. Harnik was wrongly flagged offside in a dangerous area, then Vedad Ibišević had a goal rightly ruled out when he headed in after a corner from a offside position. Another chance was to come for the Bosnian however, and he sealed the three points with six minutes remaining. A powerful run through midfield from Traoré gave Harnik possession with time to cross from the left, and his perfectly placed centre was expertly headed home by Ibišević for his fifth league goal of the season and tenth in all competitions. The drama was not quite over however, as Ulreich was forced to make an excellent stop in the very last second to keep out Matmour’s goal-bound header and secure a deserved victory for the home side.
Bruno Labbadia will be hugely relieved to chalk up Stuttgart’s first home win of the season, and with his team now on a four-match unbeaten run, hopes of a European place have been revived. The team has benefitted from a change in tactics: William Kvist is assured enough in defensive midfield to protect the defence on his own and is more comfortable without the responsibility of having to regularly take part in attacking moves, and with four midfielders ahead of him looking to attack where possible there is far more fluidity going forward. Labaddia’s team also has the advantage of a lethal frontman in Vedad Ibišević. He had by far the fewest touches of any Stuttgart player in this match (28), but he only needed one to net the winning goal. Frankfurt, in contrast, had more possession, more shots, played more passes and won more challenges, and yet they still weren’t the dominant side. This comes down to the fact that they didn’t link up well enough to get the ball into dangerous areas: the three players who operated at full back, Oczipka, Jung and Celozzi, only put in seven crosses in total – in Eintracht’s last away match (against Mönchengladbach), Oczipka alone managed nine. Of course, this result doesn’t alter the fact that Frankfurt have started the season better than they could have hoped, but their recent form reads DWLWL, and Armin Veh will be desperate to regain some consistency. That run of alternating letters may well continue however, as eminently winnable upcoming home matches against Fürth and Augsburg are followed by difficult trips to Bayern Munich and Schalke 04 respectively.
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