Two wounded giants are set to go head-to-head in the 2. Bundesliga on Thursday night.
VfB Stuttgart, in ‘crisis’ after two defeats on the spin and fully behind their manager, face off against a Hamburger SV side that remain anxious about their promotion hopes, despite lying in second coming into this matchday*.
The pressure in well and truly on with seven games to go, and a winner is impossible to predict. The reverse fixture was a convincing 6-2 win for Hamburg, but Stuttgart proceeded to win in extra time when the two met again in the DFB-Pokal a few days later.
Matarazzo extension ‘a sign to the team’
Defeats to SV Wehen Wiesbaden and Holstein Kielsince the season resumed have left Stuttgart in a relative state of crisis. Key players, like Daniel Didavi and Mario Gómez are underperforming, whilst from the outside, coach Pellegrino Matarazzo seems to lack a clear sense of hierarchy within his squad.
Internally, Thomas Hitzlsperger and Sven Mislintat see things differently. The latter had said that Matarazzo would “100%” be in charge next season, and these words were backed up on Wednesday as a one-year extension of Matarazzo’s contract, which had already been planned before the defeats, was surprisingly announced.
Matarazzo, in a defiant mood, himself believes the decision is “a sign to the team” and “confirmation that the path we have taken is the right one.” On Thursday’s game, he says that they “want to win back second place.” He hopes the team will “achieve this with patience and discipline,” and expects Hamburg not to take many risks.
Several changes, as always, are likely, especially with Daniel Didavi and Atakan Karazor suspended. Matarazzo has hinted at a change of system as a way of dealing with Didavi’s absence, with the likes of Marc Oliver Kempf, Gonzalo Castro and Silas Wamangituka available to come back into the team having sat on the bench on Sunday. Maxime Awoudja and Borna Sosa, however, are definitely out.
Hecking remains wary of Stuttgart strength
The situation in Hamburg is not quite as despairing. They were unable to get the better of leaders Arminia Bielefeld at the weekend, and they probably should have beat SpVgg Greuther Fürth as well. Indeed, they have only one once in six games, whilst just one of their three away victories have come since August, yet with the Dieter Hecking in charge, there is a feeling that things are still under control. That hasn’t always been the case with HSV.
Of course Hecking is far too experienced to underestimate Die Roten. “I don’t measure Stuttgart by their most recent results,” he said, speaking to the media on Tuesday. He had high praise of Gómez, whom he previously managed at VfL Wolfsburg:
“Mario is a guy who has a clear opinion on many subjects. He is outstanding person and has always been at the service of the team. I’ll be happy to see him.”Dieter Hecking
Hecking expects his side to pose a different challenge to the one Wiesbaden and Kiel gave Stuttgart. He has though downplayed the significance of the game in the promotion race, but has set a clear goal for his time in their trip to the south west. “Our goal is to leave Stuttgart still in second place.”
He will have the same players at his disposal who were available in the 0-0 draw with Arminia Bielefeld at the weekend. Julian Pollersbeck, Jan Gyamerah and Gideon Jung remain just short of a return. Louis Schaub, Bakary Jatta and Lukas Hinterseer are the attacking options itching for a place in the starting XI.
Date: Thursday 28th May 2020
Kick-Off: 20:30 CEST, 19:30 BST, 14:30 EDT
Watch: Sky Sport Bundesliga 1 (Germany), BT Sport 1 (UK and Republic of Ireland), Fox Sports Match Pass (USA)
Given the stakes, both teams will be fuelled by nervous energy and defensive failings could lead to a high-scoring contest, as in October. Home advantage appears to count for little without spectators, but I feel Stuttgart are more likely to get the three points as they are more in need of them at this stage.
* – This article was written before 1. FC Heidenheim faced FC St. Pauli, where they would have moved up to second with a win.