Coach Thomas Schneider and his Stuttgart team bounced back in Matchday 12’s final contest from a humiliating 6-1 loss administered by Borussia Dortmund the prior week to defeat SC Freiburg 2-0 in the Black Forest. The win over their fellow Baden-Württemberg club lifts Schneider’s record as Stuttgart headman to 4-4-1 after taking over from Bruno Labbadia following his dismissal after MatchDay 3.
The black-clad Swabians came into Sunday’s game with revenge on their minds, as Christian Streich’s Freiburg side had eliminated Stuttgart from the DFB Pokal competition in late September. That victory, however, was a rare highlight this season for Freiburg, who only gained their first league win last week and have been dire in their Europa League group against low-profile competition. Streich was without captain Julian Schuster, Johnathan Schmid and Vladímir Darida for Sunday’s game and started the match with a banged-up Mike Hanke on the bench as Freiburg had only scored 12 goals in league play this season (only Eintracht Braunschweig and Nürnberg had scored fewer). Full-backs Antonio Rüdiger and Arthur Boka were absent for Schneider’s club, with speedy Ibrahima Traoré relegated to the bench.
SC Freiburg came out on this rainy day demonstrating determination, as Admir Mehmedi’s early chance was stopped by Sven Ulreich while teenaged Matthias Ginter saw his close-range shot go over the bar in the early minutes. Weathering that storm, the Swabians thundered back with two quick goals, as World Cup-bound Bosnian international Vedad Ibišević sliced in front of goal to flick in Christian Gentner’s low cross and Stuttgart’s own teenager, Timo Werner, slalomed through some sloppy SCF defending and netted under the reach of Oliver Baumann. After ten minutes, Stuttgart held a 2-0 lead.
Ibišević, now with 8 league goals this season, almost added another but couldn’t connect accurately with a low cross from the left from former Hannover man Konstantin Rausch, while the visitors missed out on another goal due to an offside call. Mehmedi, seemingly representing the total sum of Freiburg’s attacking in the half, had a chance to halve Stuttgart’s lead from a Felix Klaus cross but couldn’t connect effectively and the half ended with the visitors holding a two-goal lead despite Streich’s young men holding an edge in possession and tracking.
Stuttgart appeared to lose their edge early in the second half as Freiburg battled to earn a result. Ginter again had a chance to score, but Ulreich saved his header from a Sebastian Kerk free-kick. Streich inserted the embattled Mike Hanke, though, with immediate results as the German veteran netted a low shot after just a few seconds on the pitch, cutting Stuttgart’s lead to one goal, However, Stuttgart, content to confine their attacking to counters for most of the half, made the most of a 3-on-1 charge as Timo Werner dribbled forward from the left and, ignoring his two nearby teammates, took aim and beat Baumann for Stuttgart’s third goal, effectively ending the game in the 82nd minute. Freiburg continued to attack, but Schneider’s insertion of Traoré late had the Swabians striving for another goal as the French-born Guinean international re-ignited Stuttgart’s attack. Despite losing 3-1, Freiburg did hold the statistical advantage in possession (just by a hair), corners (7-2), attempts on goal (19-10), crosses (14-8), kilometers covered (129.6-124.6) and were barely edged by the visitors in percentage of tackles won.
Sunday’s victory for Stuttgart was timely indeed. Last week, after Karim Haggui had opened the scoring in Dortmund, Klopp’s men answered with six goals to not only hand Schneider his first loss as Stuttgart trainer but render the team’s overall improvement under Schneider questionable – after all, most of the games under Schneider’s leadership had ended only in draws. Sunday’s win, even against a depleted Freiburg squad, could provide a springboard of confidence for Stuttgart as they end the Hinrunde on a tough against Gladbach, Schalke, Hannover, Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich, although three of the five matches will be played at the Mercedes-Benz Arena.
Schneider, who has been affiliated with Stuttgart almost all of his life, has certainly erased much of the stodgy play too often displayed by the Swabians under Labbadia. Despite the thrashing given out by Dortmund, Stuttgart are still +3 in goal difference and have scored a respectable 24 goals after twelve league matches. Young Werner should especially feel a jolt of confidence with his two goals today and another one called off after not scoring since September 22. But for Stuttgart to move up from their 8th place berth in the table in the final weeks of the Hinrunde against top clubs, Schneider will have to further eliminate those times when his club seem to lose their focus and fire for long stretches of the match, such as today in much of the second half.
For Streich and his Freiburg club, it’s obvious that the strain of playing in three competitions has stretched the limits of a roster depleted by offseason signings of players such as Max Kruse, Cedric Makiadi and Jan Rosenthal. But today’s statistics show that the Breisgau-Brazilians were hustling and doing many things relatively well. The ability to finish the early attempts by Mehmedi and Ginter may have committed Streich’s boys to an early lead that could have changed the complexion of the match and the final score, while a Haggui forearm and a Leitner handball were ignored, denying SCF a couple of free-kick attempts in Stuttgart territory. Streich’s club will have the opportunity to bounce back after the international break when they meet Eintracht Braunschweig away. From there, they finish the Hinrunde facing Gladbach, Leverkusen, Wolfsburg and Schalke — a rather daunting run, before their third round Pokal match against Hannover.
Nevertheless, all is not lost for Freiburg supporters. The futility displayed by Braunschweig and Nürnberg thus far provide competition for the Bundesliga’s bottom berths, while fellow Europa League side Eintracht Frankfurt only lead Freiburg by two points in the table. Probable elimination from Europe in December will alleviate Freiburg’s crowded fixture schedule, while the winter break will provide Streich the time to further integrate his offseason pickups into the squad – the Freiburg coach has certainly demonstrated the ability to improve young players. Finally, Freiburg’s reserve team top the Regionalliga Südwest, competing against the reserve sides of Mainz, Kaiserslautern, Hoffenheim and Eintracht Frankfurt. It’s not unimaginable to think that Streich will find some gems among the reserves as he did during winter break of 2011/2012 — recent reservist Kerk contributed two well-taken free kicks in Sunday’s second half. Despite the disappointment of another loss, there is still hope for Freiburg.
Header courtesy of rp-online.de
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