Four coaches, two legs of a play-off, lots of nervous energy and ultimate survival was the summary of Stuttgart’s season. The Swabians only survived the previous season on the final day and it would be another year of struggle at the bottom of the table for VfB. Two all-or-nothing clashes with Hamburg ultimately saw them secure their Bundesliga place, which for large parts of the season looked in real jeopardy.
If Pellegrino Matarazzo though he would oversee a new start for Stuttgart following the narrow escape of 2021-22 he was to be sorely wrong. An abysmal start to the new season saw eight games without a win and just five points before the club finally lost confidence in the trainer’s ability to turn things around. Matarazzo was sacked, but the club didn’t appear to have a plan B so assistant Michael Wimmer ended up taking control for longer than would ideally have been the case.
Wimmer oversaw the seven games up to the Winterpause and after losing his first game did steer VfB to their first wins of the season over VfL Bochum, Augsburg and Hertha Berlin. The break was spent in 16th just a point above Bochum. The mid-season break also gave the club the time to bring in Bruno Labbadia for his second spell in the Swabian hotseat with the hope that he could live up to his reputation a ‘relegation saviour’.
The hoped-for upturn in fortunes however was not forthcoming when the Bundesliga got back underway in January. Draws against Mainz and Hoffenheim were followed by three successive defeats (RB Leipzig, Werder Bremen and Freiburg). Labbadia did secure his first three points in a 3-0 win against Köln, but they were to be his last. One point from the next five games saw the club’s leadership (the term is used loosely!) push the panic button again and with eight games left, Sebastian Hoeneß was parachuted in to take on the seemingly impossible rescue mission.
Stuttgart were bottom of the table five points behind Hoffenheim in the safety position of 15th and a miracle looked all that could save them. Hoeneß began his tenure with a 1-0 win over Nürnberg in the Pokal and that spurned the team onto a rare Bundesliga win in his first league match against Bochum. It was their first win away from home since December 2021.
A thrilling draw with Borussia Dortmund followed, in which Silas’ 97th minute equaliser cancelled out what had appeared to be a 92nd minute winner from Giovanni Reyna. There was life in the team yet! Another three points arrived at home to Borussia Mönchengladbach, but a return to type saw them lose at the Olympiastadion to Hertha Berlin. Things were getting very tight at the bottom with six teams involved in the relegation scrap, but a 4-1 win away at Mainz (yes another away win) meant that they were just outside the bottom three, but the final day could go either way.
In the end Bochum’s win over Leverkusen, combine with Stuttgart only getting a point at home to Hoffenheim meant survival had been achieved in the very short-term, but play-off with Hamburger SV would be required.
A top display in the first-leg saw a 3-0 win put them in the driving seat and despite going behind early in the second-leg, their quality came to fore at the right time and the final result at the Volksparkstadion read 3-1 to Stuttgart with Enzo Millot the hero with two goals.
So, Stuttgart have survived a second relegation scare in two years. They will enjoy the relief of survival, but there needs to be a lot of inward introspection ahead of the new season and changes need to be made if Stuttgart fans are not to be put through another season of continual stress and struggle.
Obviously winning the relegation play-off was the highlight with the club showing over both legs that there is quality in the side and getting back to that winning feeling must have been nice.
The first win of the season may have taken a while to arrive, but the 4-1 win over Bochum on matchday 10 was a huge relief. The 3-2 win over Bochum on matchday 27 was huge in terms of it being new coach Hoeneß’ first game, it being against a relegation rival and it ending the club’s appalling away record.
The 3-3 draw with Dortmund was a highlight in terms of the most thrilling match, while the 4-1 win at Mainz on the penultimate weekend showed that they meant business in the fight for survival.
The awful start with nine winless games was a lowlight of the season right off the bat and there were plenty of other low points throughout the season. The heaviest defeat (5-0) came at the Signal Iduna Park against Dortmund. The painful football witnessed under Bruno Labbadia was a low as was the loss to Hertha on matchday 31, which made automatic relegation a real possibility.
Tale of the Tape
Record: 7-12-15, 33 points (0.97 per game), 16th in Bundesliga
Home Record: 21 points (5-6-6) Away Record: 12 points (2-6-9)
Goals: 45 (1.33 per game), Goals Against: 57 (1.68 per game), Diff: -12
xG: 47.6, xGA: 45.2, Diff: +2.4
The loss of Sasa Kalajdzic was a blow, but his heart was clearly not with the club and despite a poor first spell in the Bundesliga, his successor Serhou Guirassy proved to be a godsend in terms of important goals. A torn muscle kept him out for nearly two months and it was his return that helped spark the fightback which ended in survival. The club announced before the play-off had been decided that they have signed the Frenchman on a permanent basis regardless of the relegation outcome. His eleven goals made him the club’s top scorer.
Luca Pfeiffer made just six starts and registered no goals, while Tiago Tomas scored three. The versatile Silas hit the back of the net five times. The Swabians actually ranked fourth in the Bundesliga for total shots (457), but fell to 15th in for percentage of shots on target. They slightly under-performed their xG, but scored all five of the penalties awarded this season.
The goalkeeping position continued to be an issue with both Florian Müller and Fabian Bredlow failing to impress and both seemed destined to leave the club in the summer. Müller conceded 34 goals in 19 appearances, while Bredlow let in 23 goals in his 15 appearances.
The defensive line started out as a three, before Bruno Labbadia went back to a four and then Sebastian Hoeneß largely went back to the three centre backs. Waldemar Anton was an ever-present with Konstantinos Mavropanos and Hiroki Ito his regular partners. Borna Sosa took the left wingback role with Josha Vagnoman on the other side. Sosa actually led the league for crosses put in from open play indicating the attacking strength in his game. Pascal Stenzel and Dan-Axel Zagadou came in when needed.
Wataru Endo was the anchor in midfield and he missed just one game all season. He even chipped in with five goals and four assists. Silas, Chris Führich and Atakan Karazor were also regulars with the first two both getting five goals. Youngster Enzo Millot made just nine starts, but did amass 23 appearances all told with Genki Haraguchi adding further options in the second half of the season.
Tanguy Coulibaly came off the bench with great impact towards the end of the season and scored vital goals against Dortmund, Mönchengladbach and Mainz. Creativity wasn’t the issue for Stuttgart as the ranked fourth in the league for shot creating actions (SCA) and placed fifth overall for successful take-ons.
Both Waldemar Anton and Wataru Endo ranked in the top ten players for distance covered this season.
After the struggles of the previous season, the loss of key players last summer didn’t help Stuttgart’s cause with Sasa Kalajdzic, Orel Mangala and Naouirou Ahamada (January) all moving to the Premier League. Their sales did however generate €43 million.
To strengthen the squad Josha Vagnoman was signed from HSV for €3.5 million while Konstantinos Mavropanos had his loan move from Arsenal made permanent for €3.2 million payment. Both would become key members of the defensive unit.
Striker Luca Pfeiffer arrived from Danish club FC Midtjylland for €2.85 million, while Serhou Guirassy came in on an initial loan from Rennes. The pair would have hugely contrasting seasons with Pfeiffer not scoring in his 19 appearances and Guirassy ending as the club’s top scorer.
Japanese international Hiroki Ito (Jubilo Iwata) was signed and was especially effective in a defensive role. Colombian Juan José Perea was signed from Greek side PAS Giannina, while free agent Dan-Axel Zagadou was given the chance to get his floundering career back on track.
The January transfer window saw winger Gil Dias signed from Benfica for €1 million and Japanese defensive midfielder Genki Haraguchi came in from Union Berlin to add some bite.
Player of the Season
In the end the goals of Serhou Guirassy proved decisive for Stuttgart’s survival. His absence for nearly two months really affected the team’s attacking threat and he showed that he is a much better player than the one who disappointed during his earlier spell at Köln. His confidence grew as evidenced by the highly audacious Panenka penalty he dispatched when under huge pressure against Leverkusen. Five of his eleven goals came in the vital last eight games when they were needed most. An honourable mention has to go to midfielder Wataru Endo, who worked tirelessly all season to achieve survival.
20-year-old Enzo Millot had been on the verge of the first-team last season after joining from Monaco, and this season saw him continue to blossom with more game time coming his way. He saved his best for last scoring two vital goals in the away leg play-off with Hamburg to quell any danger of a HSV comeback. Expect to be seeing more of the French midfielder next season. Hiroki Ito deserves a mention after an impressive debut season in the Bundesliga.
Continuity of coach was an issue this season for Stuttgart, bit one thing that was continuous was the poor level of performances shown under Matarazzo, Wimmer, and Labbadia. The move to bring in Sebastian Hoeneß proved successful as the team showed a reaction at the end of the season and just about kept their Bundesliga place. That’s twice now the Swabians have seriously toyed with relegation and a third dalliance can’t be ruled out unless big improvements are made. The joy of the play-off win cannot be allowed to paper over the many cracks in the club.