VfB Stuttgart - Can ‘Die Schwaben’ meet expectations 2013/2014?
Last season was certainly a forgettable one in terms of results for Stuttgart, however, that does not mean there wasn’t anything positive they could take from it. VfB in the end finished in a somewhat dreary 12th position- dropping 6 places from the previous season (2011/2012, although, last season there was added pressure due to Europa League commitment. Showings in the Europa League were far from pleasing (despite being the last German club standing).
A brilliant run in the DFB Pokal, however, means that Stuttgart can now compete in next year’s Europa League which for them was good news financially, and in Labbadia’s case, his job.
Stuttgart over the years have received much criticism for their “Hire then Fire” approach to managers, however, this time it’s different. Labbadia is now going into his 3rd full season as Stuttgart manager (one of the longest serving coaches in the league, shockingly enough) having signed a new contract until 2015. This was even more stunning considering the contract was signed during the terrible spell at the beginning of the season when Labbadia had almost dragged Stuttgart into the relegation struggle.
During this summer’s transfer window, Stuttgart have been able to remove dead wood as well as loaning out talented young players (Holzhauser and Stöger). They have also strengthened in depth brilliantly leaving the fans of VfB Stuttgart very excited for the coming season. It’s not only the on field changes that have excited fans; Bernd Wahler was elected with 97,4% of the vote as the new president replacing the less favourable Gerd Mäuser.
Stuttgart were perhaps one of the most organised teams in the league regarding the transfer window, tying up the majority of their deals before the window had even opened. They have also received a significant amount of praise for the cost of the deals, as they have been able to recruit the majority for free or at a relatively minimal cost.
The most impressive signing of the window, and even slightly shocking, was the two year loan deal with Moritz Leitner from Borussia Dortmund. Leitner has struggled with the competition at Dortmund and has found playing time relatively difficult to come across, mainly feeding on scraps. He is, however, very talented as a central midfielder boasting fantastic vision and being able to pick the right pass time after time. Stuttgart’s main problem last season was their inability to pass. Labbadia, in home games especially, tries to encourage the team to pass the ball, however, due to midfielders like Kvist (seemingly always plays a defensive pass backwards) and defenders like Niedermeier (Can’t pass at all), Stuttgart always resort to a “Pass, Pass, Hoof” system; Generally, starting with the pass but lack of creativity means the players become impatient.
Leitner, I believe, has the talent and creativity to change that, so Stuttgart can line up with a double pivot perhaps consisting of Leitner and Boka- with the latter able to concentrate on the defensive duties and retrieving the ball before Leitner can then move the ball forward.
Another major problem that Stuttgart faced in the last season was the inability to score goals, relying solely upon Ibisevic to provide the goods. They have addressed this issue by purchasing Hannover’s Abdellaoue for €3.5m. How will this help them? Well they have two high quality strikers, both of whom are capable easily of 10 goals a season and can cover with one another or play together if required.
Abdellaoue’s strength lies in his clinical finishing ability, scoring 36% of his chances making him one of the league’s most clinical strikers- with Maxim there to pump balls into the box consistently and a certain Martin Harnik of the wing; he will be in no shortage of chances.
Other signings include the defensive additions of Daniel Schwaab and Konstantin Rausch, both of whom have a chance to make the starting 11. Rausch is rather inconsistent, however, and Schwaab was seen by most Leverkusen fans as “Dead wood” but they should help with the extra work load in the Europa League with Rüdiger/Niedermeier/Schwaab/Tasci in the centre of defence and Rausch being able to compete with Molinaro for the Left Back position meaning Labbadia is in no shortage of defensive options.
The last two players to mention are the free transfers of Marco Rojas and Sercan Sararer. The latter is already a known entity for Labbadia, as he and Sararer had worked together back in the day, when Labbadia managed Fürth (He’s been with a lot clubs, don’t stress yourself if you don’t remember). Sararer should be a decent addition to the bench, although disappointing in his first Bundesliga season, he was perhaps Fürth’s best player in their promotion campaign back in 2011/2012 scoring 9 and assisting 13, unlikely to be able overthrow Harnik or Traore but he is definitely a sound option for rotation.
Rojas, dubbed by many the “Kiwi-Messi”, is a very exciting player that Stuttgart were able to acquire (despite an injury meaning he’ll miss the first couple of games). At just 21, Rojas was voted by far and away the best player in Australia’s A-League, scoring 15 and assisting 16. He has a low centre of gravity, very creative and is able to chip in with the goals- although he is unlikely to be a fixed starter- he is a player that Stuttgart have done well to get.
Are ‘Die Schwaben’ finished on the transfer market? Perhaps not, Kvist is said to be on the way out, freeing up some funds should Labbadia feel the need to fill the gap left by William Kvist.
The Key Men
Last season’s main issue was definitely the lack of goals, meaning the front 4 are the key to Stuttgart’s success this season. Ibisevic is no longer the sole option up front which means the pressure on him has been relieved ever so slightly, that does not make him any less of a key man though, as now he is able to rotate with Abdellaoue and has the added creative flair of Marco Rojas and Alexandru Maxim to create chances, the latter will be able to hand Ibisevic with opportunities on a plate with his superb set piece distribution.
Equally as important are the 3 behind Ibisevic, Traore impressed for the most of last season with many VfB fans claiming him to be one of few that has actually developed as player under the management of Bruno Labbadia- Martin Harnik was unable to back up the previous season’s work (2011/2012) in which he was able to score 17 goals and create 8, however, if he puts the work in as he is expected to, I can’t see this Stuttgart team struggling for goals as each player in the front 4 has a lot of potential that could be harnessed to make a team worthy of the top 4/5 spots in the Bundesliga.
Now, for me, the last key man in all of this is Moritz Leitner- He needs to show why he is player that everyone has hyped him up to be. Having someone like Boka/Gentner or perhaps Kvist (if he stays) next to him, means that he is able to put his full concentration and distributing the ball forward; linking the defence with the attack while the other man is able to concentrate of the defensive work load (Preferably Boka, in my eyes). The reason why this is “key” is that it means there is now stability in all areas of the team and that should help Stuttgart.
I personally think this Stuttgart side will be able to finish 5th/6th, the depth added means that the Europa League shouldn’t pose as much of a problem as it did last year- with Ibisevic having less pressure mounted on him- I would also say this squad could be in the race for a Champions League spot, however, the only thing that prevents me from suggesting that is Bruno Labbadia- He is not a tactical god, that is for sure and he isn’t really known to be able to develop players to the best of their ability and for that reason I don’t think Stuttgart can compete with the likes of Schalke/Leverkusen/Gladbach for 4th place just yet.