I don’t know how often Sporting Directors sit with the coaches and team on the bench during a match, but new director Robin Dutt apparently wanted to witness the train-wreck as close as he could.
Dutt, wearing a suit and sitting on the bench looking dour, appeared totally out of place among the VfB coaching staff, a group very fond of red and white warm-ups. It was an awkward sight and I can’t imagine his presence helping the players. At the very least, it is not going to alleviate concerns that he will return to that same spot as Huub’s replacement should things continue to slide.
During the January transfer window, all but one team facing relegation attempted to improve their roster. Last place BVB Dortmund added Kevin Kampl from RB Salzburg. SC Freiburg, one spot above Dortmund, added Nils Petersen, who immediately rewarded his team with a hat trick of goals on Saturday. Werder Bremen, the only team in the Bundesliga with a defense worse than VfB’s, added giant 6’6” Dane Jannik Vestergaard from TSG Hoffenheim in an effort to shore up the central defense. Hamburger SV, the team with the worst offense in the league, added veteran Wolfsburg striker Ivica Olić.
Stuttgart did nothing. Not one player was added or subtracted from the roster. I tried to talk myself into it, telling myself they looked good during the break. “Maybe it’s because of their belief in Vedad Ibišević as a striker?” I thought. After all, he did look up to the task until the match started.
VfB also rejected a $5.5 million bid from Premier League team Swansea City to acquire talented young forward Alexandru Maxim. The rejection from VfB seemed strange given coach Huub Stevens’ reluctance to often start him, but perhaps this was a sign Stuttgart was going to use him during the second half of the season? With a new Sporting Director, it seemed like it was a realistic possibility. Fresh ideas, fresh perspective, etc. etc.
Any sense of optimism vanished when the starting lineups were announced. Ibišević and Maxim were on the bench. The lineup looked like every other 4-2-3-1 lineup VfB tried in the first half of the season. As the ball left midfield and the match started, Stuttgart fans knew what they were in for: A slow and painful death, missing easy shots in the net and waiting for the inevitable defensive miscues which result in an opposing goal.
Operating with a 4-4-2, it appeared as though Borussia Mönchengladbach’s plan was exactly that. Well, they executed their plan flawlessly. Gladbach was perfectly content biding their time the entire match, keeping the ball in the middle area. Both teams did very little pressing on defense. As soon as one team had possession, the other would race back to their side of the pitch to get into formation. Why VfB’s coaching staff believed they could win a defensive battle, I have no idea.
The stalemate ended in the 71st minute when VfB’s defense faltered. Gladbach attacked before Stuttgart’s defense could get set. Midfielder Patrick Hermann ran by everyone, taking the ball in stride from Branimir Hrgota and blowing it right past Sven Ulreich. After 22 more minutes of agony and a near goal in stoppage time from Georg Niedermeier, the match was over. The near goal was beyond painful. Niedermeier missed a gimme earlier, and had the entire net in front of him at point-blank range yet somehow fired it into the top crossbar.
There really is not a lot of positive to come out of that match. It was nice to see some more one touch passing from the offense but that’s about it. The team looked lifeless. Huub is a good personality fit for the club, but he needs to adjust something fast. Set pieces and defensive miscues have killed them all year. At this point, there is no reason to believe Stuttgart will be in the league come next year.
One thing to be optimistic about, and this is a serious stretch, is that every time this season it seemed as if VfB’s destiny is last place (first half against Leverkusen and losing to Augsburg in late November come to mind), out of nowhere they play like a decent team and garner points.
No rest for the weary during “English week”, as Stuttgart heads up north to face FC Köln on Wednesday. The Billy Goats defeated Hamburg Saturday and downed VfB earlier in the season, while Saturday’s loss to Die Fohlen dropped VfB’s record to 4-5-9 for the season.
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