The dream of reaching the final in Berlin is also over for VfB Stuttgart. In spite of taking an early lead, the Swabians lost 2-1 to Borussia Mönchengladbach on Wednesday. That represents the exit from the competition that sporting director Sven Mislintat had described as "our Champions League." The focus for Stuttgart is now completely on the Bundesliga – and VfB have been doing very well so far as a newly promoted club. Stuttgart have caused a stir in the league with their refreshingly attacking style of play that has seen them beat Borussia Dortmund 5-1 on their home turf. There has recently been the odd spanner in the works but the team under head coach Pellegrino Matarazzo are still comfortably mid table. On top of that: Tenth place could perhaps very well be THE middle of the league table at the moment. While all the other teams are having to look up or down, Stuttgart are seven points off the European spots and have an eight-point lead over the play-off position. An interim situation that everyone at the newcomers would definitely have signed up to before the start of the season.
And: The Swabians are again partaking in their specialty event on Saturday – away games. VfB are in second place in the away form table – level on points with the Werkself and only behind league leaders FC Bayern. 22 goals on the road are just one less than the record champions have scored and significantly more than the rest of the league. So Bayer 04 have been warned.
Gonzalo Castro reached a landmark last week. Stuttgart's captain played his 400th Bundesliga game in the 2-0 win against FSV Mainz 05. 286 those appearances were for Bayer 04 between 2005 and 2015 and that means the now 33-year-old is still in seventh place in terms of the record number of league appearances for Leverkusen. Of all the current Bundesliga players, only Christian Gentner and Manuel Neuer have played more games in the top-flight. However: Appearance number 400 came to an early end for Castro as the captain was taken off injured in the middle of the first half – and number 401 will have to wait. Castro is sidelined with a muscle injury and therefore misses the chance to return to his old stomping ground. Not just a pity for 'Gonzo' but also annoying for VfB as Castro plays an incredibly important role in the team. Not just as a leader for the many young players at VfB but also as a dynamo and creator in midfield.
Otherwise, coach Matarazzo, who usually prefers a 3-4-to-one formation, has all his regular players available. Only reserve striker Hamadi Al Ghaddioui (groin) and the 18-year-old youth talent Lilian Egloff (ankle) are currently sidelined with 19-year-old Clinton Mola already ruled out for the rest of the season due to continuing hip problems.
VfB's playing philosophy under Matarazzo is probably best personified by Silas Wamangituka. The winger represents everything that makes the Stuttgart team stand out this season: Young, carefree, lightning fast, versatile – and extremely entertaining for the neutral observer. Although he usually plays on the right wing and has to fulfil defensive duties in the system with a back three, Wamangituka has already scored eleven goals this season with only five other players across the league scoring more. The Congolese is currently in outstanding form and he scored in each of the last five games. Particularly noteworthy: Both in the 2-0 against Mainz in the league as well as the 2-1 defeat against Mönchengladbach in the DFB Cup, he rounded off solo runs from deep in his own half with a goal. The Werkself will have to be prepared for his dribbling at pace.
Given the impressive season of the newcomers, it is almost rather strange that coach Matarazzo was on course for a negative record up to last week. Only two coaches in the history of the Bundesliga have had to wait longer for their first home win than the American. As impressive as Stuttgart are on the road, the home record at the Mercedes Benz Arena has been disappointing. There was not one win in any of the first eight home games and VfB are bottom of the home form table. Nevertheless: That run ended last weekend at the ninth attempt with the 2-0 victory over Mainz 05 – so Matarazzo does not have to worry about an inglorious entry in the league record books.
There appears to be some consolidation at VfB. Sporting director Mislintat again and again has a good eye for transfers, coach Matarazzo has inculcated the team with a clear playing philosophy and the young side has enormous potential for improvement. The years of inconsistency with two relegations within three years appear to be a thing of the past. Stuttgart are on track to establish themselves in the top-flight. This season should definitely end without any worries.
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