Bundesliga Season Preview. VfB Stuttgart: Can the Swabians Groove Again?

Last season couldn’t have started worse for Stuttgart – and outside of its run in the DFB Pokal, the club never really recovered. Stuttgart didn’t win its first league match until Matchday 6 against Nürnberg and were goalless in three of their first 5 matches, including a humbling 6-1 defeat to away to Bayern München.

As the season progressed, the team gained confidence and by Matchday 16 the club was in 6th place. However, a 5-match losing streak saw the club tumble down the table to 14th, eventually  finishing in 12th place at the season’s end. The club also played in Europe, reaching the final 16 of the Europa League before losing 5-1 on aggregate to Lazio. Despite their relatively low finish in the Bundesliga, they will return to Europe, since they qualified by making the DFB Pokal final (losing to the Bayern juggernaut 3-2). To make matters worse, the club just reported that loss of 9.7m€ in 2012, which is a club record.

Ins & Outs

One explanation for the club’s struggles was the lack of depth and very little rotation to rest players. This problem was evidenced by the fact that 8 players made over 40 appearances in all competitions. To combat this problem, Bruno Labbadia has brought in 8 new players since the opening of the transfer window. Of these players, Gotoku Sakai’s loan move last season was made permanent for just over 1m€ from Albirex Niigata. Sakai made 41 appearances for Stuttgart last season including 10 Europa League matches.

Others who are joining the club with experience from last season in the Bundesliga are midfielder Moritz Leitner from Borussia Dortmund on a 2-year loan that will only set the Swabians back 500,000€, defender Daniel Schwaab of Bayer Leverkusen who was out of contract, midfielder Konstantin Rausch from Hannover also out of contract, winger Sercan Sararer from Greuther Fürth, and striker Mohammed Abdellaoue from Hannover 96 for 3.5m€. Abdellaoue is probably the best piece of business, signing for a fee well below his current valuation. The Norwegian scored 8 times in 26 matches last season, but only made 12 starts for Hannover, so expecting double-digit goals from him seems quite reasonable.

The club also brought in keeper Thorsten Kirschbaum on a free transfer from Energie Cottbus to backup Sven Ulreich. Marco Rojas has been signed from Australia’s Melbourne Victory and while he has broken a metatarsal bone in his foot, the club is hopeful that he will be back in early September. It may take him some time to acclimate to a new culture and club, but the so-called “Kiwi Messi” could provide a creative spark for the club. Only Sakai and Abdellaoue’s transfers cost the club any money, so those worried that the club is drifting further into the red shouldn’t have major concerns.

The club didn’t lose many players as well. Austrian midfielders Raphael Holzhauser and Kevin Stöger were loaned out for the season to Augsburg and Kaiserslautern respectively. Backup goalkeepers Marc Ziegler retired and André Weis moved to Ingolstadt in the 2. Bundesliga. Guinean midfielder Mamadou Bah was not brought back, whilst Japanese winger Shinji Okazaki was sold to FSV Mainz 05 for 1.5m€.  Together, these six players made a combined 47 appearances last season for Stuttgart, with Holzhauser accounting for 21 of those and Okazaki another 25.

One departure that didn’t materialise was the manager’s position, where Bruno Labbadia was brought back for a fourth season despite last season being the worst under his management. He’ll certainly be under pressure to rally a club that has not risen to the challenge of staying near the top of the Bundesliga.

The Schedule

The season begins at the end of July with Stuttgart entering the Third Qualifying Round of the Europa League, facing the winner between Zrinjski Mostar of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Botev Plovdiv of Bulgaria. They then get an opening round game of the DFB Pokal against Berliner FC Dynamo, the successor to East German powers Dynamo Berlin, who are currently in the 5th Division Oberliga. Stuttgart will then open their Bundesliga campaign with a trip to Mainz on August 11th before the first home game of the season, which will be a visit from Bayer Leverkusen 6 days later.

The schedule indicates a potentially strong start for the Swabians, as they face Augsburg  away on Matchday 3 and Hoffenheim at home on Matchday 4, clubs who finished in 15th and 16th last year. On top of these fixtures, two of their three following matches will be away to the newly-promoted clubs, Hertha Berlin and Eintracht Braunschweig. While these teams will certainly be eager to show that they belong in this league again, these match ups are much better prospects for Stuttgart than facing a murderer’s row of top teams so early in the campaign.

Murderer’s row could easily describe Stuttgart’s end of season schedule, which lines up like this:

  • Matchday 28: Borussia Dortmund (Home)
  • Matchday 29: SC Freiburg (Home)
  • Matchday 30: Borussia Mönchengladbach (Away)
  • Matchday 31: Schalke 04 (Home)
  • Matchday 32: Hannover 96 (Away)
  • Matchday 33: VfL Wolfsburg (Home)
  • Matchday 34: Bayern Munich (Away)

However, with potential European matches for all of these opponents during this stretch, results could be unpredictable and play in Stuttgart’s favour, especially against the Champions League teams.

The Prediction

The club did a fine amount of business this summer, adding key players to help the club try to fight in three competitions. It’s very possible that Stuttgart could make a deep run in the Europa League tournament, so not getting through the group stages would probably be a disappointment for club and fans. Another long DFB Pokal run would be a nice bonus, but might not be enough for fans if the club’s Bundesliga play is similar to last season. There is hope that the club will improve its position in the league, simply because it’s inconceivable that they can be so bad again. Their 37 goals was 3rd worst in the league and the 55 goals they conceded was 6th worst in the Bundesliga. Correcting either of these issues will help the team move up the table. Despite their struggles, Stuttgart finished just 8 points shy of the Europa League positions, so with the new offensive players the club should be expected to climb further up the table in 2013/14.

Another factor that could help Stuttgart this coming season is that both Freiburg and Eintracht Frankfurt overachieved in the league last season, meaning they could in for a hangover this upcoming season. Unfortunately, the end of season schedule could potentially prevent Stuttgart  from qualifying for Europe, so I envision the club finishing in 7th place with 52 points.

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Andrew Smith

Born in Indiana, Andrew is a 27-year-old Social Studies teacher who has traveled to Germany on multiple occasions. He enjoys learning more of the tactical side of the game and can be followed on Twitter at andsmith_46.

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