Manuel Veth –
Stuttgart vs Leipzig – Saturday, February 16, 14:30GMT/15:30CET – Mercedes-Benz Arena, Stuttgart, Germany
It has been a turbulent week in Stuttgart. Fortuna Düsseldorf defeated the club, and it was only thanks to Augsburg’s defeat to Werder Bremen that Stuttgart are still within three points of a non-relegation spot.
Many expected that the club would fire head coach Markus Weinzierl this week. The head coach had won just three of his 14 games with the club for a point average of just 0.74. As a result, sporting director Michael Reschke, who had hired the coach earlier this season, had voiced internal criticisms against Weinzierl and wanted to replace the coach.
Stuttgart’s board, however, was against another coaching change this season and instead fired Reschke. Reschke certainly carries the responsibility for putting together a squad that despite significant investments has struggled all season. At the same time, Reschke also put together the squad that finished seventh last season and as one hears from Stuttgart has voiced some rightful criticism towards Weinzierl’s player coaching and lack of overall training planning.
Nonetheless, Reschke is now history replaced by the charismatic Thomas Hitzlsperger. Hitzlperger won the German championship with Stuttgart in 2007 and is respected among the club’s fans. “My job is to be there for the coach,” Hitzlsperger told the media this week. “My relationship with Markus Weinzierl is very good. We will work together as long as I consider it to make sense, which is hopefully a long time,” Hitzlsperger added.
Relegation problems or coaching worries are not part of RB Leipzig’s problems at the moment. The club from the Messestadt are currently in fourth place and fought off Frankfurt’s attempt to close the gap to two points in a 0-0 draw on matchday 21.
The result against Frankfurt, in particular, highlights RB Leipzig’s biggest strength this season. Although die roten Bullen have plenty of firepower to their disposal Leipzig under interims head coach Ralf Rangnick have made significant improvements in their defensive work and with just 18 conceded goals have the best defence in the Bundesliga.
One aspect of Leipzig’s defence has been its variability. Under former head coach Ralph Hasenhüttl Leipzig almost exclusively played with four at the back. That has changed under Rangnick with Leipzig seamlessly moving back and forward between four in the back and three in the back like it was the case against Frankfurt.
“The first question is, are we going to play with three in the back once again? I have thought about it but not made a final decision yet,” Rangnick said this week. For Rangnick and top striker Timo Werner, the match is a return to their roots. “It is an opponent that doesn’t have a lot of confidence. But that doesn’t make the team any less dangerous,” Rangnick said.
Rangnick, however, showed some confidence that his side could get the job done. “Hitzlsperger won’t be sitting on the bench as a player,” Leipzig’s coach downplayed the possible impact of this week’s changes at Stuttgart on Saturday’s game. Overall, Rangnick is right Stuttgart have been in disarray in recent weeks, and Leipzig should find it easy to collect all three points.
Stuttgart vs Leipzig – Players to look out for:
Mario Gómez #27 – VfB Stuttgart
Mario Gómez has become a major subject of debate in the capital of Baden-Württemberg. The striker was left out of the starting XI that faced Bayern three weeks ago and also did not come off the bench. Then against Freiburg one week ago Gómez once again failed to make the starting XI and only came on in the second half in the Baden-Württemberg derby against Freiburg. Stuttgart were up by a goal when Mario Gómez was sent off for a second booking, and Stuttgart ended up dropping two points thanks to a late goal by Florian Niederlechner. It is expected that Gómez will return to the starting XI on Saturday and the striker will have to deliver as he is under special observation by new sporting director Hitzlsperger.
Emil Forsberg #10 – RB Leipzig
Emil Forsberg is expected to return to the starting XI on Saturday against Stuttgart. The attacking midfielder has struggled with various injuries over the last four months. “It is a thought to start Forsberg. But there are also other options. I haven’t made a decision yet,” Rangnick said. Leipzig could certainly use Forsberg’s creativity. The Swede is a fantastic mix between playmaker and winger and as a result can be a dangerous proposition for any defensive line — if he is fit.
Stuttgart vs Leipzig – Match Stats
- Fifteen points and 14 defeats are Stuttgart’s worst ever tallies after 21 matches.
- VfB’s six-match winless run is their longest since returning to the Bundesliga in 2017.
- Leipzig boast the joint-best defence in the league after 21 games (18 goals conceded).
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Stuttgart vs Leipzig – 0-3
Stuttgart vs Leipzig – Lineups
Zieler – Pavard, Kabak, Kempf, Insua – Ascacibar, Gentner – Esswein, Didavi, Zuber – Gomez
Head Coach: Markus Weinzierl
Gulacsi – Klostermann, Konate, Orban, Halstenberg – Adams, Demme – Sabitzer, Forsberg – Werner, Poulsen
Head Coach: Ralf Rangnick
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others contributes to Forbes.com and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.