In spite of the year away from the top division, VfB did visit the BayArena last season – in the Round of 16 in the DFB Cup. The visitors from Baden-Württemberg were in the game up to the closing stages. An own goal by the Stuttgart goalkeeper Fabian Bredlow put the Werkself on course for victory (71’). Even after Lucas Alario made it 2-0 (83’), the team coached by Pellegrino Matarazzo did not give up. Silas Wamangituka scored a consolation goal for VfB two minutes later but that was the final goal of the game. But the newly promoted club have demonstrated they can enhance the Bundesliga with side that has players overqualified for the second division.
Promotion was only confirmed on matchday 34. Stuttgart took a big step towards returning to the Bundesliga in the previous two weeks. A 5-1 home win against Sandhausen was followed by a 6-0 victory away to FC Nürnberg. The first celebrations could start given the three-point lead and a significantly better goal difference.
A significant contribution to the two goal fests at the end of the season was made by skillful forward Nicolás González. The 22-year-old netted a brace in both games and was the most prolific scorer for the Swabians with 14 goals. However, VfB will have to make do without him at the start of the new campaign - González is suffering with a hip problem. He was ahead of Hamadi Al Ghaddioui (8) and Silas Wamangituka (7), two players who signed for Stuttgart before the start of last season. The departure of key defenders Timo Baumgartl (PSV Eindhoven), Ozan Kabak (Schalke 04) and World Cup winner Benjamin Pavard (Bayern Munich) was made good by bringing players through the club ranks or loan deal signings. Pascal Stenzel has led the way. Matarazzo played the right back on loan from SC Freiburg in every second division game. VfB wanted to hold on to the key player after promotion and the 24-year-old signed a permanent deal.
The club management led by chairman of the board Thomas Hitzlsperger plus sporting director Sven Mislintat mainly brought in defenders over the summer to date. Central defenders Waldemar Anton (Hannover 96) and Konstantinos Mavropanos (on loan from Arsenal) came in. Last season’s loanees Wataru Endo (VV St. Truiden) and goalkeeper Gregor Kobel (TSG Hoffenheim) – plus Stenzel – were signed on permanent terms.
A successful start to the season (six wins from the first eight games) was followed by a dip in form in late autumn with five defeats from seven games. In the winter break, the third-placed team parted company with coach Tim Walter and Matarazzo was appointed as his successor. The USA-born manager was however unable to solve one problem: The painful loss of points against teams from the bottom half of the table. Even if the opponents in the top flight are obviously of a different quality: VfB will have to work on this flaw – otherwise there is the threat of another relegation battle.
The club facilities at VfB, with the Mercedes Benz Arena having a capacity of over 60,000, are definitely worthy of a first division outfit. Stuttgart’s squad has the often quoted good mix of young and experienced players. Sporting director Mislintat talks about a “good framework” and “a lot of potential” in the team. Legendary striker Mario Gómez is no longer part of set-up. The 35-year-old ended his impressive playing career in the summer. Stalwarts like Gonzalo Castro (33), Daniel Didavi (30) and captain Marc Oliver Kempf (25) will now lead the team.
There is positive news from the youth section at the Swabian club: VfB have “massively” rebuilt this area according to Mislintat. A first success: The Stuttgart U21s have succeeded in returning to the Regional League South West.
After being promoted again, the Swabians are starting with modest aims – also due to painful personal experience. According to sporting director Mislintat, VfB are working towards a clear target. “40 points to guarantee safety. Staying up is the only object. We should have learned enough from our past and from the history of all promoted clubs and not think about anything else,” explained the 47-year-old, who also stressed: “We can now reap our reward for last season.” And shelve the image of a yo-yo club by avoiding relegation.
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