VfB Stuttgart’s season has been an odd one. They’ve been like a yo-yo in a very labile league table. They started off well by winning a few games at home, which is always crucial to do as a newcomer, even though they’ve been an established Bundesliga side of the years. However, after a few Matchday’s they fell behind, and Hannover 96 became the most talked about promoted team in Bundesliga while VfB had to keep their distance to the relegation spots.
The season kept on going, as it often does, and Stuttgart went with it. A few games won, a few games lost and no real form at all to be seen or felt. When they fired head coach Hannes Wolf, many were surprised, both fans of the club and outside.
When they further replaced the forward-thinking former Borussia Dortmund II coach with the Brachiosaur known to the world as Tayfun Korkut, most were convinced of Stuttgart’s demise. We basically believed they had lost the plot completely. However, as it often is, Stuttgarter’s have become the ‘Honeymooners’ under Korkut and have now won their last four games. Korkut has brought some much-needed stability to an often-chaotic Swabia. But how has he managed it? How has he, of all people, managed to not only keep the Swabians afloat, but improved them at that?
Korkut is in no way a (Tay)fun choice of manager. It’s not forward-thinking and it’s in no way interesting as a choice. But Korkut has made himself a name as a relegation specialist. He knows his way around tight corners, he knows what to do when relegation beckons for a club unworthy of it. His defensive abilities are never in question and therefore Stuttgart brought him in to replace the more attacking Hannes Wolf, who managed to create a free-flowing Stuttgart that was fun to watch, but not too successful at the back. Firing Wolf was in many ways an odd choice, for he had done nothing wrong, that we know of. He had endured a bad spell, one of his first truly bad spells at the club but should have been given more time at the helm. When Korkut then replaced him, it was a clear nod to everybody at the club that defensive football was going to be the way forward.
They’ve impressed most of us so far. Korkut’s intelligence as a defensive manager has proven to be very successful. It seems like, judging from their last four wins, that the tactic is to score early, possibly even shock the opponents with an early surge. Then the general instruction seems to be “Defend the lead with your life!”. Against Borussia Mönchengladbach, Augsburg and Eintracht Frankfurt, three straight 1-0 wins, they managed to score early and then won the game through some fantastic defending.
Their game against Eintracht Frankfurt is an excellent example of this. Stuttgart faced one of the best defences in the league and one of the most in-form teams in the division. Stuttgart scored very early and then allowed Frankfurt to have the ball, which has often proven to be a very bad choice. However, VfB managed to keep Eintracht from even having a good chance in the whole game. While Frankfurt in no way is an attacking outfit, they are one of the more creative and expressive teams in the league, at least while in possession of the ball. Stuttgart’s man-marking proved perfect as they disallowed Sebastian Haller and Ante Rebić even the slightest touch. By man-marking Marius Wolf and Omar Mascarell, Eintracht’s wing-backs were also kept out of the game, resulting in a very stable win for the Swabians.
By bringing old souls back to the team, they have also managed to bring back the old Stuttgartian culture that went missing for a few years. Mario Gomez is back where he belongs. He’s scoring goals, assisting goals and his bare existence in the team gives the whole club hope for the future. Gomez has in many ways become a Stuttgart talisman, even though one might argue that he’s a talisman wherever he sets foot. But Stuttgart is special for him, which he has expressed on multiple occasions. A strong, tall, but still agile striker who never seems to age was just what Stuttgart needed. When Simon Terodde’s luck ran out, a new talisman was needed to reinstitute hope in Swabia. Gomez has done just that. He did it when he picked up the pen to sign the contract.
While Stuttgart were never in real danger of falling into relegation trouble, the very odd move of firing Wolf to bring in Korkut seems to have worked. By choosing a more defensive manager before a more attacking one, VfB follow the stream in Bundesliga.
Borussia Dortmund replaced Peter Bosz with Peter Stöger, VfL Wolfsburg replaced Martin Schmidt with Bruno Labbadia and Niko Kovac, Julian Nagelsmann and Domenico Tedesco are already defensively astute managers who are making themselves a name in the international game.
The appointment of Korkut was in no way revolutionary, quite the opposite actually, but the mixture of his defensive tactics and Gomez’ talisman aura has formed this newcomer into an outsider for the European spots. While the race for Europe is tighter than it’s been in years, Stuttgart’s form has propelled them into eighth, proving to us all that Korkut is a good manager. He’s still a dinosaur, though. But maybe, just maybe, he’s a dinosaur with sharp teeth. Perhaps, he’s the Tyrannosaur Stuttgart needed.
1 | Stuttgart’s win on Sunday was perhaps the final nail in the coffin for 1. FC Köln. Stefan Ruthenbeck’s side needed a win to move above Hamburger SV and put them within sight of catching 1. FSV Mainz 05 in the relegation play-off. The RheinEnergieStadion had been rocking after Claudio Pizarro fired Köln into the lead but unfortunately for them, VAR ruled out what looked to be a perfectly legal goal. A lapse in concentration 90 seconds from the break resulted in Stuttgart scoring twice, before Andreas Beck put the game to bed. Milos Jojic pulled a goal back with a sublime free-kick, but a 2-3 defeat really does feel like the final straw, with 2. Bundesliga football beckoning.
A stark contrast given their 2016/17 campaign that saw them qualify for a European competition for the first time in 25 years.
2 | Borussia Dortmund had a chance to climb above their Ruhr rivals Schalke on Saturday with a visit to RB Leipzig, who have started looking lethargic of late. Jean-Kévin Augustin gave Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side the lead before Marco Reus rescued a point for Dortmund with this third goal in as many games. Pressure seems to be mounting on Peter Stöger and with his contract expiring June 2018, these next few months is likely to share the future of Borussia Dortmund.
One thing is for certain and that’s that Reus should be on Germany’s plane to Russia. The 28-year-old has every right to be in Joachim Löw’s squad and remains a potential starter, even with the in-form Leroy Sane. The vast array of attacking talent in the current Germany national team is frightening, while it looks as though they may have one of the strongest squads in Russia, as they look to retain the World Cup.
3 | Bayern Munich moved 20 points clear after they put four past a SC Freiburg side. Jupp Heynckes was full of praise after the game, labelling it as “one of our best performances of the season,” while it’s clear to see why. A weaker side included Corentin Tolisso who dominated the midfielder from the off, scoring his third Bundesliga goal of the campaign.
Axel Falk with Daniel Pinder.