After a couple of horrendous seasons spent near the relegation zone, you wouldn’t blame VfB Stuttgart fans of hoping for nothing more than survival as a Christmas present. The club had been going in the wrong direction for some time and as the December nights drew in it was looking like another failed half season. But suddenly, and for no apparent reason, Stuttgart sprang into life just before the winter break and have not looked back.
Sparked by the trusted and talented Daniel Didavi, Stuttgart have finally started seeing some return on their numerous investments. When Serey Die signed last January, I tweeted that he could be just the signing they need; strong, combative, a fighter in central midfield. A year later and he is the lynchpin of that Stuttgart midfield, replacing Mauritz Leitner who returned to Borussia Dortmund after an impressive loan spell. The arrival of Die was, however, offset in the summer by the sale of star central defender and future Germany star Antonio Rüdiger to Roma. With that sale creating a gap in the centre of an already leaky defence, Stuttgart needed defensive answers and attacking solutions.
Kevin Großkreutz arrived from Turkey after only half a season out of the Bundesliga and immediately brought experience and class to the backline. Großkreutz was the only addition to make a real impact, arriving in January and quickly settling into the side. New coach Jürgen Kramny has been getting the most from his under-rated defensive line and their form has really been improving for some time now.
Since the end of last season, and another survival in the Bundesliga by having players of far superior quality to their rivals, Stuttgart had seemingly changed very little as the new season began. The departure of their first choice goalkeeper, Sven Ulreich, to Bayern Munich and the sale of Rüdiger seriously weakened their defence. Their defensive record is the second worst in the division this season, having conceded 41 goals in their 21 games so far. Despite having a poor first half of the season, things are finally starting to click for Stuttgart and the main reason is the creative force of Didavi.
Didavi has to take a lot of the credit for Stuttgart’s expansive play and much improved attacking return in the last few weeks. His passing and vision are obviously key to opening teams up, but for a central attacking midfielder he provides a lot of goals himself, having tucked in 9 so far this season. His thunderbolt against Wolfsburg just before Christmas signaled the true intentions and possibilities for Stuttgart and has inspired them to continue to improve and move up the table.
After beating Wolfsburg, a team seemingly distracted by the Champions League this season, Stuttgart then went on to beat Hertha Berlin 2-0 this weekend, a result which saw them beat a team who have themselves been surprising this season and were in the top four until that defeat. What will be most pleasing for Stuttgart fans is that Hertha have built their season on solid defence, an asset which has seen them do well against the bigger clubs and earned them a 0-0 draw against Borussia Dortmund a week ago. But what is clear is that Stuttgart are really starting to justify their place in the top division of German football and are not content with merely surviving; now they want to move on to the next level.
Every good team has a core of top quality players and in Großkreutz, Die and Didavi Stuttgart have three highly rated players in the axis of their midfield and commanding their defence. With time this team could challenge for a spot in the Europa League, assuming they can maintain their good form and do not drop off into obscurity after such a promising start to 2016. Mid-table will be the realistic aim for this season, but there are plenty of positives for the stars of the south-west.
Ali Haggis, Editor
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