When last season ended, Stuttgart’s supporters, players and executives all breathed a huge sigh of relief. The agonizing season they went through had concluded, and despite being in the bottom three for most of last season, they managed to stay in the Bundesliga.
For a club like Stuttgart, with all of their loyal supporters and great history, they expected this to be the end of a two season phenomenon of relegation fights. But the were wrong. At the halfway point this season, Stuttgart are again in a relegation fight, and are only out of the bottom three because of goal difference. But just like last season, they will stay up because they have a star, managerial credibility, and they are inevitably going to improve as a collective unit.
#1 VfB Have a Star
VFB Stuttgart would have no chance of staying in the Bundesliga if it wasn’t for one man, Daniel Didavi.
He has been their heart and soul this season, while blossoming into one of the Bundesliga’s best players. Didavi leads Stuttgart with 8 goals (8th best in the Bundesliga), double the next best total on Stuttgart. Didavi has clearly been doing most of Stuttgart’s scoring this season, but he’s also done most of the passing. He has 3 assists so far, which lead Stuttgart. Didavi is one of only three players this season to be in the top 10 in goals and top 20 in assists. The other two? Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Thomas Müller. Star company indeed.
Didavi has clearly been one of the best players in the league this season, and an attacking player like him is something that no other team currently in the bottom possesses. Of the bottom five in the Bundesliga, only one player has more goals than Didavi: last season’s top scorer, Alexander Meier. While Meier has more goals, Didavi is a player who helps out the team as well. Meier only has one assist, and he only averages two shots per game. When he’s not scoring, he’s not helping the team like Didavi is.
Let’s look at Hannover, Hoffenheim and Werder Bremen. The two players that come fairly close to Didavi are Kevin Volland and Anthony Ujah. Didavi has more goals, more assists and a higher WhoScored.com rating than Kevin Volland. Ujah is actually the next best attacking player on any of the bottom five sides. He’s level with Didavi with 8 goals, but has fewer assists, fewer shots per game, a much lower passing percentage, and a much lower WhoScored.com rating. So Didavi is clearly the better player. And Ujah as two more starts this season than Didavi, which can help explain why he’s level on goals with Didavi.
After examining the stats, Daniel Didavi has been one of the best attackers in all of the Bundesliga this season, easily the best player on Stuttgart, and the best player of any team in the relegation fight. Since Stuttgart have a player who can carry them and help provide goals and assists the way Didavi can, they will stay up this season, because that is a luxury that no other bottom team comes close to having. A player like Didavi can often decide if a team finishes 16th or 12th in the Bundesliga these days.
#2 Managerial Stability and Credibility
When Stuttgart appointed Jürgen Kramny as interim manager, the club was a mess, just having fired yet another manager, Alexander Zorniger, who had hardly been with the club at all. At the time, VfB were bottom of the table, and it seemed like maybe this was the season where the finaly get relegated.
But almost the opposite has happened to the club since. After a pretty unlucky 4-1 loss to Dortmund in Kramny’s first match, which included a crucial own goal, Stuttgart have played very well since then. Currently, they’re on a 5 game unbeaten run in all competitions, turning in some terrific performances along the way.
For example, a 3-1 win at home against Wolfsburg after falling behind, and most recently a 3-1 away against Cologne. Moreover, after the Wolfsburg win, Kramny got the job permanently, bringing Stuttgart a sense of stability.
In both wins mentioned, Stuttgart fell behind by a goal and had to fight back for the victory. The spirit that Kramny has installed into this side can’t be overlooked, since spirit and belief, as much as talent, are necessary for a team trying to stay up.
Kramny has brought these two qualities to Stuttgart, something separating them from the rest of the bottom sides for sure. The new found life under Kramny is another reason why Stuttgart can stay up this season.
In the Bundesliga, having a great manager is just as important as having the necessary players. For example, Peter Stoger, he’s turned a Cologne side that isn’t the ninth best team in the Bundesliga talent wise, into a top half of the table side. Andre Schubert revitalized Borussia Monchengladbach from bottom of the league to the top four with the exact same set of players. Thomas Tuchel turned a 7th place Dortmund side last season into easily the 2nd best team in the Bundesliga this season. These managers all show that managers have just as much of an influence as players, and with the way Stuttgart have played under Kramny so far, with an additional five weeks to learn and adapt to his philosophy, he could have a Schubert like effect on Stuttgart. With the additional time to learn, their newfound resilience and stability, along with the performances that Kramny has garnered in his short time with the club, show that Stuttgart have the necessary ingredients to stay up with Kramny at the helm.
#3 Inevitable Team Improvement
The third reason why Stuttgart are destined to improve is their young talent. Timo Werner and Timo Baumgartl are two of the brightest prospects in Germany, coming from a Stuttgart academy producing the likes of Sami Khedira, Mario Gomez, Antonio Rudiger and others. Since Stuttgart’s produces quality, we know these two are legitimate prospects with real talent.
Of the two, Werner is the better prospect and first team regular. He’s had his ups and downs so far this season, but his 4 goals and 3 assists are a fairly good output. But Werner certainly can improve his goalscoring and his finishing. He takes over two shots per game despite only having four goals, which tells you how poor his finishing has been up to this point. Werner clearly can improve his goal output, and improve his all around game. He’s shown improvement already under Kramny, but if he can take it to an even higher level, Stuttgart are bound to stay up with a striker as talented as Werner.
As for the other Timo, Mr. Baumgartl, he’s also only 19 and has featured in the first team as much as Werner this season. Similar to Werner, Baumgartl has had his ups and downs. He had good performances against Ingolstadt and Darmstadt, but then struggled against Dortmund and Augsburg. When he becomes consistent, he will help plug holes in Stuttgart’s defense.
With an impressive 6’2 frame and great leaping ability, Baumgartl has the physical attributes to succeed in Stuttgart’s defense. And with the way that Jürgen Kramny has already gotten the best out of the players during his tenure as manager, there is no reason why both Timo Werner and Baumgartl shouldn’t make significant strides in the second half of the season.
Besides the young players, Stuttgart also have made some shrewd January signings in the transfer window. The main acquisition that Stuttgart have made has been the signing of German International and World Cup winner Kevin Grosskreutz. Grosskreutz fits right into Stuttgart’s backline at right back, but he can also play in the midfield. He brings consistency and stability to the defense while he also has a lot of experience and quality. His traits will help out the rest of the team as well. Defenders like Baumgartl will really benefit from Grosskreutz presence in the defense.
The other key winter signing for VfB is the Ukrainian Artem Kravets, a quality striker on loan from Dynamo Kyiv. With 15 goals in 24 games in Ukraine, he will add quality and goalscoring that will help Stuttgart tremendously in the second half of the season.
Stuttgart also have some of their top players injured, and bound to return in the second half of the season. Daniel Ginczek, who was one of the best players for Stuttgart last season, has missed 12 games, but could come back before the end of the season. Martin Harnik is also coming back from injury very soon. Harnik brings Stuttgart more attacking quality, and he’s been a consistent first team player ever since his arrival to the club in 2010. His return will provide a huge boost for Stuttgart in the attack, and his experience and leadership will be invaluable as well. With the young players that Stuttgart have in Werner and Baumgartl, the signings of Grosskreutz and Kravets, and the returning stars Ginczek and Harnik, Stuttgart are bound to improve even more than they already have under Kramny, and this improvement will allows Stuttgart to stay up.
For a club like VFB Stuttgart, relegation battles aren’t something they’re accustomed to. But recently, they have been involved in a few battles. However, just like the last two years, they will once again stay up because they have a star in Daniel Didavi, have managerial stability and credibility with Jurgen Kramny, and they are inevitably going to improve as a team with young players, winter signings and returning stars. If Stuttgart can stay up and even have a positive season, hopefully the club can become a contender again, because that would help the Bundesliga and German Football as a whole.
(Header image credit Daniel Roland AFP/Getty Images)
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