It was the fourth win in six games under caretaker coach Michael Wimmer. VfB Stuttgart made things exciting again in last weekend's 2-1 win against Hertha Berlin. Konstantinos Mavropanos scored the winner in the eighth minute of added time to open floodgates of enthusiasm at the Mercedes Benz Arena. That was a repeat of ten days before when Stuttgart managed to achieve the same result in the Swabian clash with FC Augsburg with Waldemar Anton netting a last-minute goal for VfB.
The White and Reds have made their ground in Cannstadt a fortress again. Since Michael Wimmer took over the helm from Pellegrino Matarazzo four weeks ago, Stuttgart appear to have rediscovered their love for a big performance in front of their home crowd. The 4-1 victory over VfL Bochum on matchday ten – the first win of the season for the Swabians – was followed by an emphatic 6-0 result against second division Arminia Bielefeld in the second round of the DFB Cup. In the Bundesliga, the three points from the last-minute win against Hertha saw VfB escape from the play-off spot and they are now fifteenth in the table – just one point and two places behind the Werkself. "I'd prefer it to be less spectacular. But if we win a game in the end then that's okay," said coach Wimmer after the match against the Berlin team. The 42-year-old is caretaker coach at Stuttgart initially up to the World Cup break. "Michael has achieved a points average that would see us stay up," said sporting director Sven Mislintat. The management, led by chairman of the board Alexander Wehrle, will make a decision on the coaching position in the next few weeks.
As convincing as Stuttgart are now at home, there is a sobering record on the road. VfB have not won an away game in the Bundesliga in this calendar year. And there was a heavy 5-0 defeat at Borussia Dortmund. The Swabians suffered a 3-1 reverse in Mönchengladbach but they did produce a much better performance.
Wimmer will have to manage without two important players at Leverkusen. The captain, Wataru Endo, suffered concussion in a collision with Hertha Berlin's Ivan Sunjic in the 2-1 win. The 29-year-old Japan international will not play in the Bundesliga again this year but he will probably take part in the World Cup in Qatar. Mavropanos, the scorer of the winning goal on Tuesday, will also be sidelined. The Greece international picked up a fifth yellow card against the club from the capital and is therefore suspended for the match at the BayArena. The central defender, who has won the most duels in the team up till now, will probably be replaced in the starting line-up by Dan-Axel Zagadou. The Frenchman is fit again after a bout of flu. It is possible that Wimmer will switch to a 3-5-2 formation in Leverkusen with Zagadou joined in a back three by Hiroki Ito (left) and Waldemar Anton (right). The Croat Borna Sosa is established on the left flank regardless of the system used. The 24-year-old is the best provider in the team with five assists. "He shows how important he is to the team in every match," said Wimmer about the left back. Josha Vagnoman could play on the right – also in a 4-4-2 formation.
Wataru Endo will be difficult to replace in central midfield. The captain has started every match this season. Equally irreplaceable is Naouirou Ahamada. The 20-year-old Frenchman will play an important role in Leverkusen. Atakan Karazor could be the replacement for Endo in midfield. Other options in this position are Lilian Egloff and Chris Führich who missed the Hertha game through injury.
New signing Serhou Guirassy has proved reliable up front for Stuttgart in recent weeks. The 26-year-old is on loan from Stade Rennes and he is the top scorer for the White and Reds with four goals. Tiago Tomás (2) and Silas Mvumpa (3) are also capable of scoring. The same applies to another new signing Luca Pfeiffer. The former Darmstadt player netted a brace in the 6-0 win against Bielefeld in the DFB Cup. VfB have been able to compensate well for the departure of striker Sasa Kalajdzic to Wolverhampton Wanderers in August.
The Swabians are seen as the "bunch of rascals" in the league. This season, decisions on the VfB squad have placed emphasis on the signing of young players who can develop. And they have proved to be courageous and passionate on the pitch, with the best rate of duels won of all the Bundesliga clubs (53%), the third most shots on goal and VfB are dangerous in transition above all down the flanks – as the second best accuracy in crosses in the league demonstrates.
VfB have conceded six goals in the first eight minutes of games. In the 3-1 defeat in Mönchengladbach, Jonas Hofman scored for the hosts on four minutes. The Swabians have now conceded eight goals in the opening 15 minutes in 14 games with them going behind seven times. Chasing games costs physical and mental strength. A phenomenon that the coach is obviously aware of. "We've worked intensively on this issue and have spoken about it amongst the coaching staff and the team," said Michael Wimmer who is expecting his team to be wide awake from the kick-off in future. Stuttgart recently proved they can turn things round in the 2-1 win against Hertha Berlin. They actually took the lead through Guirassy on three minutes.
"We have to play with the same intensity and the same passion in Leverkusen as we do in home games," demanded Wimmer. The coach is hoping to end the away curse. Stuttgart are looking to finally get back into position where they can come from behind as in the 2-1 home win against Augsburg. Points on the road will be needed at the end of the season if they are to avoid staying up at the last minute again. As in the middle of May this year in Cologne where Wataru Endo saved his club from a fourth Bundesliga relegation with his winner in the second minute of added time on the final matchday. The long World Cup and winter break will enable the club to make a decision on the coaching position. Alexander Wehrle says there is a clear job specification. Everything will be done this season to maintain top-flight status and also to be in the best possible position for the future," said the chairman of the board. It will be interesting to see who VfB will choose.
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