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2020/21 Bundesliga Season Preview | VfB Stuttgart


Nickname
Die Schwaben

Head Coach
Pellegrino Matarazzo

Stadium
Mercedes-Benz Arena

2. Bundesliga 2019/20 finish
2nd (Promoted)

 

It’s always weird to look at the Bundesliga table and not see VfB Stuttgart as part of the top-tier of German football. One of the inaugural participants in the Bundesliga since its inception in 1963, despite relegation in 1974/75, Die Roten were ever-present throughout their top-flight history. Between 1977/78 and 2014/15, the Swabian-side finished in the top half of the table in 28 out of 39 seasons, including topping the table on three occasions.

But since 2010/11, Stuttgart have hardly been German royalty. Relegated twice in the last ten seasons, they’ve managed just two top-half finishes (2011/12 & 2017/18), and at times have been painful on the eye. For a club of their size, with a ground such as theirs and a youth sector that historically has done quite well, so much more is expected along the Necker river.

Likely Starting XI

Key Man

Nicolás González – Forward

Goals could well be at a premium for Pellegrino Matarazzo’s troops this term. Though Stuttgart are deceptively creative in certain areas of the pitch through the likes of Erik Thommy, Daniel Didavi and of course Gonzalo Castro, Die Schwaben lack any abundance of real lethality in and around the box if not for Nico González.

Netting 14 times in the 2019/20 campaign in 27 appearances, the Argentine forward – still just 21-years-old – will be as vital this term as he was the previous one.

Tactically versatile and effective out wide on the left as well as through the channel, he excels at finding space to attack either when on the ball or when played into it. His penchant for getting into the area (5.64 touches in the penalty area/90min last term) and his ability to test the keeper (3.18 shots/90min with a 20% goal conversion rate) makes González the centre piece of any chance Stuttgart have of avoiding the drop.

There is a reason why AC Milan have been linked with interest.

Signing to Watch

Konstantinos Mavropanos (loan) – Centre-back 

Defensive structuring and solidarity at the back is so often the difference between relegation and staying up after you’ve been promoted. For Stuttgart, this certainly will ring true. And while focus will be applied to certain players in midfield or in the final third, how they perform in the defensive third will tell the whole story come the conclusion of match-day 34.

Despite adding the likes of Waldemar Anton and Pascal Stenzel this summer into the pool of defensive options available to Matarazzo, the loan signing of Arsenal’s young centre-back Konstantinos Mavropanos could prove the most important.

Physically imposing, mature beyond his years and dominant in the air, the young Greece international turned heads during his highly-impressive loan at 1. FC Nürnberg last season with a string of brilliant performances that helped the Bavarians stave off relegation to 3. Liga.

Previously earmarked by current sporting director Sven Mislintat during his brief spell at Arsenal as Head of Recruitment, this is a signing that is more akin to an audition for Mavro as his future in north London seems under serious thread after the Gunners’ brought in both William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhães over the last two summers. In that light, expect him to fight tooth and nail to hold down a starting birth in a predicted back-three deployment and push for a full move in the following summer. 

Strength

A progressive tactical approach 

Formerly in the inner circle of Julian Nagelsmann’s braintrust as an assistant at Hoffenheim, Pellegrino Matarazzo has received praise for his progressive approach since taking charge in December.

Some will look at the approach championed by Union Berlin last season, opting to be direct while utilizing their strength in the air through Sebastian Andersson. Unlike Union, Stuttgart are far more flexible in their schematics, operating out of a back three that requires its centre-backs to be confident on the ball when distributing. 

Comparisons can be drawn with Nagelsmann’s very-own system(s) both at Hoffenheim and at RB Leipzig currently. That may come as no surprise considering Matarazzo’s time under his command.

Progressive and forward-thinking centre-backs, strong positional play across all phases, effective pressing and a solid creative core, this is Matarazzo’s Stuttgart. Far more dangerous than maybe given credit for.

Weakness

Not enough goals in the team

This might seem a bit of a strange take considering VfB were just a shade under averaging two goals per match last term, but the Bundesliga is a whole other animal that needs to be faced. Nico González starts the season injured, while Mario Gómez retired; constituting 21 of their 62 goals from last season. To pick up the slack right out of the gates, Hamadi Al Ghaddioui (8 goals in 2019/20), Silas Wamangituka (7 goals in 2019/20), and Daniel Didavi (6 goals in 2019/20) have large shoes to fill. So too do Sasa Kalajdzic, and Darko Churlinov; two youngsters that constitute much of the attacking depth in the first-team.

Like any promoted side, Stuttgart’s two-tiered problem of plugging holes in defense while doing enough in the final third to off-set a potential high goals allowed tally could be a tricky task.

Verdict 

Avoiding relegation, but only just. This is because other clubs the likes of Augsburg and Werder Bremen are on the downturn and under equal pressure. Stuttgart, when fully fit, still have a fair amount of ability across their strongest XI and could well have enough about them to continue the trend of promoted clubs performing above expectations in their first season back in the German top flight.

Questions are sure to remain about the future of Nico González and even if the presence of Mario Gomez will be missed, but Pellegrino Matarazzo’s troops should be able to stave off the drop…for now.

Andrew Thompson

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