Taking a look back at VfB Stuttgart’s last Bundesliga season, the campaign can definitely be described as poor. The Swabian club finished 12th and are only playing in Europe because they reached the DFB-Pokal final. Their season would have been a lot worse if they hadn’t been able to rely on their hitman up-front, Vedad Ibišević. The Bosnian striker scored 15 goals in 37 league appearances, which is more than 40% of the matches. Those 15 goals made him the 4th best Bundesliga scorer together with Bayern’s Mario Mandžukić and right behind the big dogs Stefan Kießling, Robert Lewandowski and Alexander Meier. Counting all competitions that the Swabians took part in last season, Ibišević scored 24 times in 47 matches.
The dependency on the Bosnian striker stands out even more as Martin Harnik and Christian Gentner were the club’s second best scorers with only five goals each in the Bundesliga. After the long-term injury to Cacau, Stuttgart only had Manchester United loanee Federico Macheda as a replacement for Ibišević, but the Italian striker wasn’t much help as he wasn’t able to score a single goal during his loan spell. This dependency is a big problem for Stuttgart as this makes their style of play very predictable. Basically, if the opponent found a way to take Ibišević out of the game, Stuttgart weren’t able to produce anything countable. As a matter of fact, they only won four games in last season’s Bundesliga in which the Bosnian striker didn’t score.
Another big problem for Stuttgart has been the lack of creativity and the bad crosses delivered from their midfield. With better deliveries, the target man could have scored even more goals than he already did. Looking back at the 2008/2009 season where Ibišević played at Hoffenheim in their first Bundesliga season, he scored 18 goals in just 17 games and made seven assists before his serious injury in December. At Hoffenheim he had players like Carlos Eduardo, Sejad Salihović and Luiz Gustavo, who were able to feed him with intelligent passes. At Stuttgart there is only Alexandru Maxim who can provide magic but there aren’t any quality deliveries coming from the wings.
To counter this problem, Stuttgart’s sporting director Fredi Bobic brought in another striker in, as Mohammed Abdellaoue made the move from Hannover 96. While Bobic signed most of Stuttgart’s summer reinforcements on a free, he paid 3.5m€ for the Norwegian striker. Alongside the recovered Cacau and young talent Timo Werner, the Swabians now have four options upfront, with Werner coming into the team from the club’s U19 squad. The 17-year-old is a highly talented striker and was just recently awarded with the Fritz Walter youth gold-medal in his age group. The youngster regularly scored more than a goal a game in the matches he played for both the VfB Stuttgart U19 squad and the U17 German National team. While he definitely has what it takes to be one of the top strikers of the Bundesliga in the near future, the club brought him into the first team early so he can get used to the physical level of the German top-flight. He will probably get his minutes every now and again but there will be no pressure on the lad.
The task of lowering the scoring burden from Ibišević’s shoulders falls on both Cacau and Abdellaoue. With those three players, new VfB coach Thomas Schneider has plenty of options to choose from. Ex-coach Bruno Labbadia mostly played a 4-2-3-1 formation with Ibišević alone up front, but players like Cacau are more used to playing behind another striker. VfB Stuttgart’s supporters saw the best version of Cacau,when he played behind Mario Gomez in the 2006/2007 season in a 4-4-2 formation. The former German National team player likes to drop deep in midfield and run towards the goal when the team regains possession. His long-distance shots are also dangerous but he is lost when he has to play alone up front and hold up the ball. Abdellaoue is a different type of striker; his favourite position is inside the box like Ibišević but he is more successful when he plays next to another striker and the whole focus on the opponents’ defence isn’t solely on him.
Still, Cacau and Abdellaoue are not natural goalscorers. Both of them can provide 8-10 goals a season but they are far away from being a 20+ goals striker, which is what Ibišević is. Nevertheless, they are capable of easing the burden off Ibišević and giving the team some much-needed options in attack, but the main target man will still be Ibišević. His success depends on the service he receives from midfield, which is one of the main points coach Schneider will have to work on.
Image courtesy of facebook.com/VfB
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