November 19, 2017

2015-16 Season Preview: VfB Stuttgart

VfB Stuttgart

Full name: Verein für Bewegungsspiele Stuttgart 1893 E. V.
Nickname: Die Schwaben, Die Roten
Founded: 1893
Stadium: Mercedes-Benz Arena (60,000+ capacity)
Colors: Red, White
Sporting Director: Robin Dutt (2nd year)

2014-15 Finishes

Bundesliga: 14th place
Pokal Cup: 1st round loss to VfL Bochum
Top Goal Scorers: Martin Harnik (9), Daniel Ginzcek (7)

2014-15 Season Summary

Stuttgart barely avoided relegation through a 2-1 victory over SC Paderborn on the final match day of the season. A tie or loss would have led to Suttgart being out of the Bundesliga for only the second time in team history.

The season started with optimism after hiring former coach Armin Veh from Eintracht Frankfurt. Veh had led Stuttgart to their last Bundesliga crown in 2007. Fans knew that feat obviously wasn’t going to be repeated immediately, but given the relative success of Frankfurt under Veh, it seemed Stuttgart was destined for a mid-tier finish.

That optimism began to fade early, thanks to a first-round exit from the DFB Cup, especially when the Bundesliga results were no better. Sporting Director Fredi Bobic was sacked in late September after four years of failure.

Veh was not good at hiding his emotions over the team’s struggles; one could see the pain and helplessness in his face as each loss mounted. Veh announced his resignation on November 23rd, after losing 1-0 to Augsburg, ending his brief tenure with a 2-3-7 record.

VfB’s new Sporting Director Robin Dutt (fresh off being fired as coach of Werder Bremen) appointed Huub Stevens to replace Veh. “Der Huub” saved VfB from relegation the previous year and was faced with a similar task. Stevens said when he first started it would be harder this time around.

He was right.

Whereas most teams fighting for survival make numerous personnel and managerial changes, VfB stayed their earlier course. The only change to the team at the winter break was acquiring Serey Die from FC Basel.

The combination of Serey Die’s acquisition, the return of players from injury, and starting some of the talented youth on Stuttgart’s roster (which had been rotting on the bench for whatever reason) eventually salvaged the season. Stuttgart won their final three games and jumped into 14th place in the final standings. To the surprise of no one, Der Huub resigned and will try once more to take a vacation from coaching.

The New Coach

Not long after the announcement, Stuttgart appointed former RB Leipzig coach Alex Zorniger as successor. Zorniger went 58-25-13 during his tenure at Rasenballsport. In 2012, he even led the team to an undefeated season, finishing 21-9-0!

Stuttgart fans will be in for a treat this year compared to years past. Zorniger will use many formations (in recent years VfB has rarely strayed from a 4-2-3-1) and be far more offensive in nature. Look no further than last Saturday’s 4-2 victory over Manchester City in the final tune-up before the season. Stuttgart scored four goals in the first 40 minutes against most of City’s starting group.

If interested in more information on VfB’s new coach, check out an introduction to Zorniger as delivered by the Fanatic’s own Matthew Burt.

Roster Changes: Subtractions

The most noticeable change is obviously at goalkeeper. Long-tenured Sven Ulreich left to become a full-time backup for Manuel Neuer at Bayern-Munich, and his backup at VfB, Thorsten Kirschbaum, signed with 1. FC Nürnberg.

Other notable players not returning next year are Gotoku Sakai (Hamburger SV), Oriol Romeu (was on loan from Chelsea), and Germany U21 player Moritz Leitner (on loan from Dortmund).

It has been refreshing to see Dutt fight-off vultures trying to take away the club’s youthful talent. Rüdiger, Kostic, Didavi, and Maxim are the players most often targeted in media reports.

Roster Changes: Additions

With two spots at goalkeeper open, Stuttgart signed Dortmund backup Mitch Langerak and Polish goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton.

Tyton has experience starting for the Polish national team, but neither player was promised a starting spot. A leg injury to Langerak, though, has given the lanky Pole first chance at becoming the starter. This will be Tyton’s first stint in the Bundesliga.

Personally, I have not seen much of either goalie play but Tyton looks like he can hold his own out there. He is more aggressive than the ever-cautious Ulreich at leaving the box to stop an attack. Plus, he can stop penalty kicks. One of Tyton’s bigger claims to fame is stopping a penalty shot in the Dutch league from league leading scorer Bas Dost during the 2011-12 season.

Two other additions to note are midfielder Lukas Rupp (SC Paderborn) and left back Emiliano Insua (Atletico Madrid). Rupp comes from new Schalke coach Andre Breitenreiter’s aggressive system, and Insua will help shore up Stuttgart’s defense, which has been prone to lapses during critical moments.

2015-16 Season Outlook

Odds to win: 500/1 (PaddyPower)
Odds for top 4 finish: 12/1 (PaddyPower)

For the record, 11 of the 18 teams in the league are 500/1. Of those 11 teams, Stuttgart have the second best odds to finish within the top 4. Only Augsburg has better odds.

It is scary to be optimistic given the past couple of seasons, but I am. The team finished strong and has not sold any of their top players despite multi-million dollar offers from Premier League and top Bundesliga clubs.

Sporting Director Dutt has not spent much money so far, but unlike the previous director he appears to have a plan in place. At the very least, he is changing other teams’ perception of VfB in that the Swabians will apparently no longer simply sell players for profit. Stuttgart has one of the best youth facilities in the league. It’s very annoying to be a continual farm system for the top 3 or 4 teams.

Stuttgart’s season success will be dependent on one simple thing: health. When fully healthy, their offense can compete with any Champions League team. There is no way Stuttgart will be in the relegation zone with their current team, as long as injuries do not strike. They are young and fast and have a coach who isn’t afraid of offense. I think the gamblers have predicted it right. Stuttgart is by no means a threat to win the league but aren’t cannon fodder either. Eighth place is very realistic, and maybe, after these past couple of seasons, the soccer gods could inch us up one more to a Europa League qualifying spot?

Hey, it is good to have dreams.

Predictions

Pokal Cup: 3rd round
Bundesliga: 8th place

The Pokal Cup begins for Stuttgart this Saturday when they travel north to face Holstein-Kiel, aka The Storks. The Storks are in the 3. Liga and finished 3rd place last year thanks to their rock solid defense, conceding only 30 goals in 38 matches.

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Court Wilson

lived in Tuebingen, Germany, which is a short drive from Mercedes-Benz Arena and favored team VfB Stuttgart. Twitter @oohrow