Stuttgart’s quest to get the point total out of the teens will wait at least another week, as Christian Gentner’s goal was equalized by Hannover 96 midfielder Lars Stindl in the 80th minute of what turned out to be the Bundesliga’s lone draw of the weekend.
The captain’s strike past Ron-Robert Zieler gave the visitors a 1-0 lead at the 52nd minute. For a little more than seventeen minutes, Stuttgart fans got to experience for the first time in 2015 what it’s like to be ahead in a match.
It was a wonderful feeling . . . while it lasted.
Overall, it was a poorly played match. Stuttgart and Hannover both played with a sense of urgency, but almost too urgent at times, leading to many changes of possession. Most of the action was in midfield, a stark contrast to most VfB matches in which they are usually fighting off anything and everything on their side of the pitch.
Emotions boiled over during the 90th minute, with Martin Harnik and Hannover captain Stindl facing-off heatedly. As the VfB website described it, “the Hannover man went tumbling to the ground from a slight push.” Martin Harnik received a straight red card from referee Wolfgang Stark for his role in the dust-up, while Stindl received a second yellow and joined Harnik in being sent off.
The red card ensures Harnik will not be playing Friday against Hertha Berlin. “That was a very harsh decision but one that I’ll have to accept,” Harnik said. “It was a tight and heated game. Things like that can happen, although of course, they really shouldn’t. I’m sorry about what happened and hope I am not out of the team for too long.”
Pressure Mounts on Stevens
A win against Hannover could have bought Stuttgart coach Huub Stevens at least several more weeks, if not the rest of the season. Although team management will deny it publicly, a loss would have certainly spelled the end of his second stint with the team. With the match ending in a draw, we will never know for sure how either scenario would have played out, but for now, Stevens’ job status remains a week-to-week concern.
When a team is performing this poorly and sits in last place, removing the head coach must be considered. Stevens’ contract runs only four more months, making it a cheap buyout should Stuttgart decide to go that route. Sporting Director Robin Dutt is growing tired of the continual questions surrounding his manager, but the fact is that he has neither endorsed Stevens for the rest of the season nor denied a succession plan is in place.
“We work well together and cannot participate in speculation,” Dutt said.
He rarely strays from his talking points.
As for Stevens resigning, that would also not be surprising. The look he wore after Stuttgart gave up the final goal on February 14th at Hoffenheim was the same helpless look that Armin Veh had a week before he resigned. If Stevens feels he cannot help the team avoid relegation, his personal pride, similarly to what happened with Veh, may urge him to step aside to allow another face to help VfB launch one last chance at staying afloat.
Stuttgart management has a plan in place should Stevens leave his position, as first reported by Stuttgarter Zeitung. If a new coach is indeed necessary during the season, the plan is for that person to also manage next year regardless of whether the club is relegated or not.
The likeliest choice for a new in-season manager according to the report is 47-year-old Swabian native Alex Zorniger. Zorniger was relieved as manager of RB Leipzig on February 11 after leading the team from the fourth tier of German football to their current place in 2 Bundesliga. In 2012, he led Leipzig to an undefeated season in the Northeast regional league, posting a 21-9-0 record. He also was once an assistant manager for Stuttgart in 2009.
The other name mentioned is that of Jos Luhukay. The Dutchman was also recently fired from his post as Hertha Berlin’s head coach. Luhukay has a long resume of Bundesliga managerial experience and has been coaching in the league since 2007. He has previously managed Borussia Mönchengladbach and FC Augsburg.
Given the two choices I prefer Zorniger. Luhukay has valuable experience and knowledge of league opponents on his side, but neither is the team’s current issue. He would continue the painful defensive style of play Stuttgart has grown accustomed to and lacks the energy necessary.
Zorniger, on the other hand, has been quite successful. Unlike Hertha Berlin, Leipzig was not left a complete mess in his wake and have no worries of relegation. Although Zorniger has never managed in the top league, he might be the right gamble for a club that needs to take a chance. Zorniger would bring valuable energy to the sideline on Saturdays, and Iwould love to see him there for VfB in the near future.
- Harnik’s red card was the first of his career . . .
- Moritz Leitner (calf), Daniel Ginczek (abs), and Alexandru Maxim (Achilles) were questionable going into the match. Ginczek and Maxim (finally) both started . . .
- Stuttgart used a 4-2-3-1 and have used a different starting formation in the last three matches . . .
- In reflection of the poor match play, Stuttgart’s pass-completion rate was 62.9%, worst in the league for week 23 . . .
- The last time Stuttgart took more than ten shots during a match was January 31st against Borussia Mönchengladbach . . .
- Stuttgart’s last win was December 16th against Hamburger SV . . .
- On a positive note, Bayern München’s destruction of weaker teams, has led to Stuttgart closing the gap in goal differential to three of the four teams near above them in the standings.
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