After the nail-biting end to the season in both the Bundesliga and 2.Bundesliga it was VfB Stuttgart and Hamburger SV, who clinched a place in the play-off match the first-leg of which takes place on Thursday. Two big clubs will go-head-to-head for the right to eat at the top table next season. Logically a high-performing form-team from the second tier should have an advantage over a struggling team from the top tier, but history shows that is not always the case.
In the past ten years the Bundesliga play-off match has only ever seen one 2.Bundesliga side prevail and that was back in 2019 when Union Berlin were promoted at (you’ve guessed it) Stuttgart’s expense. Hamburg are appearing in their second successive play-off series after losing out last year to Hertha Berlin. A 1-0 win in the first-leg at the Olympiastadion put them in the driving side, but a 2-0 defeat in the reverse fixture condemned them to another year in the second division.
HSV have year on year been amongst the favourites for promotion, but have always fallen short. This season they looked to have finally got their act together, but then did what Hamburg always do and just did enough to miss out. The final matchday of this season saw their fans pouring onto the pitch at Sandhausen in the belief they had finally clinched automatic promotion with their 1-0 win, but a very late 99th minute winner from Heidenheim saw them take the second promotion berth alongside Darmstadt. Heartbreak for the Rothosen, but at least they get a second bite of the cherry.
Coach Tim Walter will get the chance to gain revenge on his previous club having been sacked back in 2019. With Stuttgart third in the 2.Bundesliga table, Walter was unceremoniously dumped at the end of the Hinrunde having taken charge of just 20 matches.
Stuttgart are looking to end a pretty poor season on a high and will be hoping that their third coach this season, Sebastian Hoeneß, can guide them to safety before starting afresh next season. The Swabians were bottom of the table when he took over from Bruno Labbadia with eight games left so to avoid automatic relegation was an achievement, but the job doesn’t end there.
They have lost just once since he took over and the return to fitness and goals of Serhou Guirassy has been an integral part of their recovery. The ex-Köln striker now on loan from Rennes scored five goals of his eleven goals on the final run-in. Joshua Vagnoman faces his old side with the added motivation of not wanting to swap leagues with his former employers and return to the 2.Bundesliga in their place.
With no new injury worries to contend with Sebastian Hoeneß could be tempted to go with the same line-up that drew against Hoffenheim. Tiago Tomas could be an option in place of Silas. The system won’t change though with a back-three with the wingbacks of Vagnoman and the much sought-after Borna Sosa.
Possible line-up: Bredlow – Mavropanos, Anton, Ito – Vagnoman, Karazor, Endo, Sosa – Tomas, Guirassy, Führich
Like his counterpart, Tim Walter has little reason to tinker too much with a side that has done so well of late. Laszlo Benes has a thigh problem and could be a doubt for the game, but other than long-term absentees Noah Katterbach (cruciate ligament), Omar Megeed (torn ligament), Andras Nemeth (ankle) the HSV coach has a full complement to choose from.
Possible line-up: Heuer Fernandes – Heyer, David, Schonlau, Muheim – Meffert, Kittel, Reis – Jatta, Glatzel, Dompe
What they’re saying:
Sebastian Hoeneß: “Immediately after the game [v Hoffenheim] we were of course disappointed that we didn’t manage to stay up straight away. But now the focus is completely on HSV. When I started at VfB, we were 18th in the table, now we’re 16th and we still have relegation in our own hands. Of course, the pressure is slowly increasing before these two important games. But we have already survived and solved some pressure situations together. I am positive, that we are prepared for the two games both in terms of content and mentally.
“Hamburger SV is well-manned on an individual basis and poses a challenge for opponents who have possession of the ball. But the way they play also comes with risks. We hope to be able to pose problems for them with our offensive power. We see it as a huge opportunity because we have it in our own hands to keep our Bundesliga place over 180 minutes. And that’s exactly the spirit I feel in the team. We are ready and facing the situation, with everything it entails.”
Fabian Bredlow: “We have seen a positive development in the past few weeks. The team has what it takes to make it perfect in the two relegation games.”
Waldemar Anton: “We are concentrating on ourselves. We have to go a bit further to staying in the league. But we are ready for it.”
Tim Walter: “We’ve scored 70 goals, 66 points and won 20 games in 34 games this season, more than any other team. What has been achieved is very positive and means the best HSV record in this league.
Stuttgart, on the other hand, is 16th in the table. in the relegation, which they could have avoided on their own on the last day of the game, which they did not manage to do. Nevertheless, VfB are the favourites as the first division team, but we too have so much to offer that we can win and eventually get promoted.
“The game in Stuttgart is the first half of this duel. It’s only settled at the end, but of course we’re going to Stuttgart to win there. We want to play to our strengths in possession, be very active and keep our opponents busy so they can’t play to their strengths.
“If we can do that, it won’t be easy to play against us. The Stuttgarters will not have been happy when they heard that it was against HSV. But I’m looking forward to this duel because VfB and HSV are great clubs and the games will be exciting.”
27/05/23 Hoffenheim (h) 1-1 D (Bundesliga)
21/05/23 Mainz (a) 1-4 W (Bundesliga)
14/05/23 Bayer Leverkusen (h) 1-1 D (Bundesliga)
06/05/23 Hertha Berlin (a) 2-1 L (Bundesliga)
03/05/23 Eintracht Frankfurt (h) 2-3 L (DFB Pokal)
28/05/23 Sandhausen (a) 0-1 W (2.Bundesliga)
20/05/23 Greuther Fürth (h) 2-1 W (2.Bundesliga)
14/04/23 Jahn Regensburg (a) 1-5 W (2.Bundesliga)
05/05/23 Paderborn (h) 2-2 D (2.Bundesliga)
29/04/23 Magdeburg (a) 3-2 L (2.Bundesliga)
The last competitive fixture between the two came back May 2020 when both were in the 2.Bundesliga and pushing for promotion. Matchday 28 saw the sides share five goals with Stuttgart edging their northern rivals 3-2 at the Mercedes Benz Arena. First half goals from Joel Pohjanpalo and Aaron Hunt put the visitors in control, but two goals in the second half from Wataru Endo and Nicolas Gonzalez levelled things. The decider came late with Gonzalo Castro grabbing the winner in the 92nd minute.
Players to watch:
It’s going to be about goals and for Stuttgart they will be looking to Serhou Guirassy to fire them to safety and another season in the Bundesliga. A flop while at Köln, the 27-year-old is a much more complete striker now and has proved his worth with eleven goals this season- five of which have come in the crucial run-in at the end of the season to help give the Swabians this final shot at redemption.
HSV will in turn be looking to their main goal threat Robert Glatzel. The 29-year-old has scored 19 league goals this season and finished second in the scoring charts behind Heidenheim’s Tim Kleindienst. He will be itching to get a second chance to prove himself in the Bundesliga after a previous spell with Mainz.