Stuttgart get off to a good start in the 11/12 season.
Both Schalke and Stuttgart are considered to be amongst the teams that could snatch a finish in the European places at the end of the season. Going into the match Stuttgart had won 27 of their home matches against Schalke, making the West-Germans their favorite side to play against. While Stuttgart are looking to build upon the foundation they started in the second half last season, Schalke have re-shaped their team under Rangnick. Jermaine Jones, Lewis Holtby and Jan Moravek have all come back from loan spells, while a number of players have left the club (or are in the process of finding a new employer).
Both Schalke and Stuttgart got off to a bad start in their last campaigns, with Schalke losing the first four matches last season, and Stuttgart spending the winter break in a relegation spot, sacking two coaches before Labbadia arrived.
Bruno Labbadia didn’t have a good track record before he arrived at Stuttgart. Not having made many friends at Leverkusen and Hamburg during his brief stints with two of the biggest teams in Germany, the former striker is still in need of proving that he is able to develop a team into a side that is competing for the European spots in the Bundesliga.
Starting the season against his favorite opponent (Labbadia has never lost against Schalke) was probably just the start he needed.
VfB Stuttgart: Ulreich – Boulahrouz, Tasci, Maza, Molinaro – Kvist, Kuzmanovic – Harnik (Traore 72 min), Hajnal (Okazaki 79min), Gentner – Cacau (Progrebniak 85min)
Schalke 04: Fährmann – Höger, Höwedes, Papadopoulos, Fuchs – Matip (Draxler 45min), Jones – Baumjohann (Moravek 68min), Raul, Holtby (Edu 65min) – Huntelaar
1st half – Stuttgart dominate
Going into the match Ralf Rangnick said that his team needed to flexible, and adjust their formation according to the situation. Furthermore, Rangnick stated that Schalke could start in different formations, varying from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1. Rangnick chose to go with the latter, sending Huntelaar into the match as the lone striker and giving Raul the role of the playmaker. Alongside the somewhat surprising role for Raul, Rangnick chose to include Jermaine Jones in a holding midfield position and he gave the nod to new signing Marco Höger over Atsuto Uchida on right back. There weren’t any surprises in the Stuttgart line up.
The game got off to a rather nervy start, with Stuttgart dominating most of the action in midfield, mainly due to Kuzmanovic and Kvist winning a lot of the one on ones against Schalke’s midfielders. Neither team managed to string together their passing game before 8 minutes had gone. Christian Gentner managed almost to find Martin Harnik alone in front of goal with a delicate pass in the 9th minute, but he had just a tad too much power on the pass which was picked up by Schalke goalie Ralf Fährmann.
Stuttgart grew in the following minutes more confident and managed to produce a number of decent opportunities, all the while Schalke seemed to struggle to put together a decent attacking move. The royal blues, who for the occasion were playing in their away shirts, put together their first decent attack in the 28th minute. Raul failed to convert Baumjohann’s cross into a goal with a header from 7 yards out.
It was German international Cacau who grabbed the first goal of the game, after he got his head on a corner kick that was headed on by Stuttgart’s new signing Maza. The teams went to the locker room with a well deserved 1-0 lead for Stuttgart.
2nd half – Schalke fail to create clear-cut chances
Ralf Rangnick took out Joel Matip at the beginning of the second half, replacing him with the talented youngster Julian Draxler. Rangnick’s hopes of boosting his team’s attack were immediately met with a Schalke side that controlled most of the possession, and that managed to get the ball forward into the attacking third of the pitch. However, over the course of the first ten minutes of the half Schalke managed to control the game, but failed to create any clear-cut chances that could amount to anything. Julian Draxler’s shot from 20 meters in the 48th minute was probably the best chance in the beginning of the second half.
It was once again a dead ball situation that led to the next goal of the match. Tomasz Hajnal sent a free kick out to the left to Cristian Molinaro who found a completely unmarked Martin Harnik in front of goal. The Austrian striker played on the right flank for most of the game, often leaving his position to get into the box, while Cacau was dropping back into midfield. Schalke didn’t seem to get a handle on neither Cacau or Harnik for the entire course of the 90 minutes, and the two of them constantly changing positions proved to be an excellent move by Labbadia.
Stuttgart concentrated on defending after they had gotten the second goal, allowing Schalke to create a number of half chances. None of them led to anything. Going by the play of Schalke in the second half there are two lessons Rangnick should draw from this game: first of all, he should have started with Draxler, who was the team’s biggest danger man in the second half, and secondly and maybe more importantly, Raul doesn’t fit the playmaker role. The Spaniard seemed uncomfortable there for the entire match.
Stuttgart managed to finish the game in style: A 40 meter pass from Christian Gentner found substitute Shinji Okazaki, who first outplayed one Schalke defender before he drilled the ball into the net from 17 meters out.
Conclusion – both sides can improve
Both Schalke and Stuttgart can improve their game in the coming weeks. Labbadia can be happy about his team’s display in defense, and the fact that his team managed to score two goals from set pieces. However, Stuttgart have still ways to go when it comes to their passing game. 27.1% of the team’s passes didn’t find their intended targets, and Stuttgart was at times rather easily outplayed by Schalke in midfield.
Schalke on the other hand have a number of things they can improve. The defense was rather easily outplayed by Stuttgart long passing game. Furthermore, Raul doesn’t seem to thrive in the playmaker position, and the team was asleep during both set pieces that led to two of Stuttgart’s three goals. There is certainly a lot of work ahead for Rangnick.
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