Hinrunde Reviews: VfB Stuttgart

The 2017/18 Bundesliga season has reached the halfway stage, giving us here at the Bundesliga Fanatic the opportunity to take stock of each club’s progress so far. Here, we look at how VfB Stuttgart fared in the Hinrunde.

The story so far

Thank goodness for the Mercedes-Benz Arena! Without their home form this season, newly promoted VfB Stuttgart would be in serious trouble (we’re talking Köln-type trouble here). A dire away record has been slightly ameliorated by important points picked up on their travels meaning that the Swabians can spend the Winterpause outside of the bottom three, but still too close to the drop zone for comfort.

After a season in the second division, it was always going to be interesting to see how they fared back in the top flight and whether the players who had secured promotion could cut it amongst Germany’s elite and whether the newcomers could gel.

The opening four games of the Hinrunde were to provide a real preview as to how the first half of the season would unfold for Hannes Wolf and his side. An initial away defeat at Hertha Berlin was followed by a 1-0 home win over Mainz. An away loss at Schalke followed before a second set of three points was earned at home against Wolfsburg.

This became a recurring theme with not a single point picked up on the road against Mönchengladbach, Frankfurt, RB Leipzig or Hamburg. They did pick up a win in the DFB Pokal at Kaiserslautern though to progress to the third round.

Luckily for Stuttgart, they were performing much better at the fortress Mercedes-Benz Arena with wins over fellow strugglers Köln and Freiburg and a point against Augsburg. They then stunned Borussia Dortmund 2-1. Finally the first point away from home was won on matchday 13 with a 1-1 draw at Hannover.

The final four games of the Hinrunde brought little festive cheer with four consecutive defeats to Werder Bremen, Bayer Leverkusen, Hoffenheim and Bayern with no goals being recorded by the Swabians. Aside from the poor away record, another hindrance for Stuttgart in the first half of the season has been the lack of goals with just 13 registered in 17 games.

To finish the year Stuttgart were knocked-out of the DFB Pokal (you’ve guessed it!) away at Mainz.

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Stat central        

P17 W5 D2 L10 F13 A21 Pt17 (14th)

  • Stuttgart have the worst away record in the Bundesliga with only a single point picked up from their nine matches.
  • Only four of their goals have come via a set-piece, which is the lowest figure in the league (2 corners, 1 free-kick and 1 penalty).
  • Santiago Ascacibar received the joint highest number of yellow cards with 7 (along with Kyriakos Papadopoulos).

Top Performer: Benjamin Pavard

Amongst a struggling side French defender Benjamin Pavard has really shone so far this season. After joining from Lille in 2016 the centre-back established himself a key-member of the back four in the promotion-winning side.

His form has continued this season so much so that he was a surprise inclusion in Didier Deschamps’ French national squad for the friendlies against Wales and Germany. He played as a fullback against Wales and then came off the bench in Köln for the 2-2 draw with Germany.

He ranks 4th in the entire Bundesliga for both passes and interceptions made inside the opposition half. Such is the value attached to him at Stuttgart that he has just extended his current contract till 2021.

“Benjamin has developed very well during his time here at Stuttgart. The nomination for the France national team also underlines his development. We are happy that he decided to extend his contract despite several offers from other clubs,” Stuttgart’s sporting director Michael Reschke said.

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The summer signings

Ahead of what they knew would be a testing season, VfB Stuttgart invested heavily in strengthening their promotion-winning side. Starting from the back, keeper Ron-Robert Zieler has taken over the number one jersey following his move from Leicester. Aside from his blooper against Hamburg and a poor display against Hoffenheim, he’s done fine. Alexander Meyer has provided his back-up. The arrival of Holger Badstuber has from Bayern via Schalke has really paid off for the defender, who is finally getting regular games and overcoming his injury-filled past. He even scored the winner against Mainz.

Andreas Beck has returned to the club for a second spell and has shown he still has the quality to make the right wingback slot his own. On the other side Dennis Aogo has made 14 appearances. Brazilian fullback Ailton, signed from Estoril started on matchday 1, but has since been limited to four substitute appearances.

In midfield Argentine Santiago Ascacibar has made quite an impression with his combative nature- even if it has earned him seven bookings in the Hinrunde. Dzenis Burnic has made just two starts, but was unlucky to be sent-off against HSV on matchday 11. Belgian Orel Mangala has filled in when required notching up ten appearances in total.

Speedy Greek winger Anastasios Donis has been a threat and scored his first goal for the club against Köln, but a shoulder injury disrupted his progress. Probably the biggest transfer success has been that of Chadrac Akolo, who has scored four goals in his fourteen appearances.

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Hinrunde highlight

Stuttgart’s best form has come at home and their best win was the 2-1 win over Dortmund on matchday 12. Yes the visitors were in the midst of a slump, but the hosts still had to go out and beat them- and beat them they did.

They were ahead after just five minutes when a comedy mix up between Marc Bartra and keeper Roman Bürki gave Chadrac Akolo probably the easiest goal he will ever score. Ron-Robert Zieler pulled off a number of saves to deny BVB as they reacted with Andriy Yarmolenko, Andre Schürrle and Mario Gomez all kept out.

Sadly a handball from Pavard was spotted in first half stoppage time and Dortmund were handed a penalty. Zieler did well to save Schürrle’s effort, but was powerless to keep out the rebound fired in by Maximilian Philipp.

Stuttgart were not to be bowed though and six minutes into the second period Josip Brekalo, who had been brought on for the injured Akolo restored the lead with a fine left-foot effort after a lightning fast counter-attack.

This time there was no reaction from Dortmund as the Swabians notched up their fifth (and most impressive) home win of the season.

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Hinrunde lowlight

If matchday 12 saw their best performance, the week previously had seen probably VfB’s worst as they went down to a 3-1 defeat away to Hamburg.

When Dzenis Burnic was harshly given a second yellow card after just 12 minutes and sent off, Stuttgart were always going to be up against it and so it proved to be. Aaron Hunt scored the opener eight minutes later from a direct free-kick and it always looked unlikely that a first away win could be achieved.

Daniel Ginczek did equalise from the penalty spot in the second period, but Filip Kostic then restored HSV’s lead just ten minutes later. When Fiete Arp scored his first goal at the Volksparkstadion on 69 minutes it was all over for Hannes Wolf’s side.  It could even have been worse than 3-1, but Zieler saved well from Kostic and Hunt in the closing stages.

The forecast

VfB Stuttgart’s chances of Bundesliga survival are going to come down to them sorting out their two major areas of weakness- picking up points away from home and scoring goals.

The surprise return of Mario Gomez to the club is supposed to rectify the second of those issues and the hope is that the prodigal son will return with the same sort of goalscoring record that ultimately helped keep Wolfsburg up last season.

Whether Super Mario, along with fellow survivors from 2007 Andreas Beck and Christian Gentner, can deliver remains to be seen. Their first five away games are against Mainz, Wolfsburg, Augsburg, Köln and Freiburg and those are the sorts of trips they need to start taking full points from especially as their other three away matches are against Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern.

They really don’t want to be travelling to those games in desperate need of three points.

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Mathew Burt

A year spent living in Bremen got Mathew hooked on the Bundesliga with regular visits to the Weser Stadion getting in the way of his studies. Back in the UK now, he still keenly follows the Grün-Weißen and German football in general. Follow him on Twitter @matburt74.

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