Stuttgart have picked up the box labelled ‘our midfielders‘, turned it upside down, and given it an almighty shake.
Alexander Hleb (back to Barcelona),Roberto Hilbert (Beşiktaş) and Martin Lanig (Köln) are all gone, and Sami Khedira, so impressive in the recent World Cup and U21 European Championships, appears Bernabéu-bound.
However, these losses aren’t necessarily all negatives – Hleb was painfully inconsistent, Lanig was deputy in the defensive midfield position to the classy Christian Träsch, while it seems Hilbert and Khedira have been or will be replaced directly.
Even last season’s squad contains like-for-like replacements. Élson showed occasional flashes of his ability on loan at Hannover, but with a year left on his contract, he’ll be a peripheral figure.
Perhaps then Zdravko Kuzmanović will at last ditch his perennial bridesmaid tag. Cast in this role with both his current employers and Fiorentina, the Serb has a better chance than ever to snare a first team jersey.
Raddy Antic included him from the off twice in South Africa, and a silly game-losing handball aside, his energy and well-timed ghosts into the box demonstrated why he’s been so highly rated for a number of years.
Nevertheless, he competes with a new rival for the centre midfield berth: just as he did when Khedira *was* at the club.
Meanwhile, new addition Christian Gentner, similar in application and manner to Khedira, is a mightily impressive player.
He returns to his original club after some very good years with Wolfsburg, and will compound defensive duties with striker support, vision, and great technique.
Supposedly joining Stuttgart as part of the Khedira deal is the forgotten left midfield man Royston Drenthe.
The Dutchman, who came to prominence via an U21 European Championships tournament, would fill in on the left flank position vacated by Hleb and Hilbert.
With the club turning left back Cristian Molinaro’s loan deal into a permanent transfer, this is a pairing that gets lips licking. Arthur Boka offers the Italian competition, and will keep the former Juventus man on his toes.
Over on the right channel, Mexico’s Ricardo Osorio has joined Monterrery in his homeland. In spite of a good World Cup, the right back played second fiddle to Stefano Celozzi in 2009/10.
That side of the backline looks pretty healthy right now. The erratic Khalid Boulahrouz remains on the club’s books, and if he can (ever) get his head sorted, he’ll be a top class deputy.
Undoubtedly, the striking department is where Stuttgart are most quality-laden. Livewires Ciprian Marica and Cacau, energetic and potent inside and out of the box, form a deadly duo.
Indeed, such is the lethality of that pairing, Russia’s Pavel Pogrebnyak is consigned to the bench. Capable of playing as target man or on the ground, the free-kick blasting benchwarmer now has added competition: Martin Harnik, who also offers an option on the wing, hasn’t left the Werder Bremen bench to spend time on Die Roten’s.