September 24, 2017

VfB Stuttgart: What a difference a year (and league) makes!

It’s been awhile since I stood between Mercedesstrasse and Benzstrasse in Stuttgart. Last time I went, it was in the 2015-16 campaign that ended in relegation, while this year is an exact reversal.

(October 2015 vs. May 2017. Same shirt, different day.)

In October 2015, I stood with the Cannstatter Jungs in their curve. The VfB was dead last in the league and lost each of their first four home games. As I recall, there was perhaps a small tifo in front of us in the standing section. With promoted side FC Ingolstadt holding their own in an ugly match, the typically rowdy curve fell quiet well before halftime. This level of disappointment can’t be reached in one half of play; it had been brewing for a long time.

VfB has not been in European competition since getting knocked out early from the 2013-14 Europa League. Their only saving graces since winning the Bundesliga a decade ago have been finishing as runners-up to Bayern in the 2013 DFB Pokal Final and co-winning the final UEFA Intertoto Cup in 2008.

Eventually, the only separation between the team from the hometown of Mercedes-Benz and Porsche and the city of Audi came from a light deflection in front of goal. The Cannstatter Curve lost it and turned into a mosh pit. All the frustration of the previous home matches vanished in that instant.

Stuttgart kept their lead and earned three points at home for the first time that season. Everyone around me considered me a good luck charm and begged me to come to more games in order to escape the relegation zone. I didn’t come back for the rest of the season, however, and the Reds were relegated for the first time in over four decades.

This past Sunday, I was back at the ground, but in a different spot: I was next to the pitch wearing a photography bib. Instead of bringing the noise, I would be standing right in front of it, and it was certainly different from that day in 2015. Just one glance at the 2. Bundesliga table that day would put a smile on the face of any Schwabe, as Stuttgart was on top with just three games to go.

Even when security checked through my camera gear, they waved me in with a “Viel Spass!” (Have fun!) and a smile. This was definitely going to be different.

Despite the light drizzle and gray skies, it was all bright eyes around me. Promotion was close at hand. The home side needed just three points against an FC Erzgebirge Aue team fighting off relegation to the third league to keep up the pace. With a tifo that engulfed the entire Cannstatter Curve, both above and below, Stuttgart was ready to return to the Bundesliga.

Stuttgart made it easy to cheer for them again, instead of just blindly rooting for them as the home team. Their passes were quicker and sharper. They developed chance after chance in the Erzgebirge Aue half. They knew what they were doing, cruising to a 3-0 victory over helpless Aue.

Stuttgart came at Aue with wave after wave of attack and finally broke the deadlock after Simon Terrode converted the penalty for his 22nd goal on the year.

Click to enlarge exclusive photographs from the match at bottom of this article @Kai_Dambach

Terodde continued his attack, firing shot after shot until he headed in his league-leading 23rd goal of the season off an Emiliano Insua cross in the 69th minute. Alexandru Maxim gave the Schwaben their third goal with a left-footed strike in the box with 15 minutes to go.

Stuttgart now needs just four points from their final two matches to guarantee a spot in next year’s top league, and it appears they are definitely on their way back to squaring off with the likes of Bayern, Dortmund, et al once again. Will Stuttgart continue their resurgence, like the teams promoted to the top league this year (both of which will likely compete in Europe next season)? Or will it be more struggles if they make it back?

They have all but accomplished their goal this season: making it back to the top flight. Now all that remains is an encore of the old days in the Neckarstadion.

Pbotos exclusive to the Bundesliga Fanatic courtesy of Kai Dambach

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