Stuttgart 3-1 Schalke

VEDAD Ibišević grabbed a hat-trick as Stuttgart put on a counter-attacking masterclass to beat Schalke and move level on points with Huub Stevens’ side in the table. The Bosnian’s eighth, ninth and tenth goals of the season mean Bruno Labbadia’s side have now made it three wins out of three in the league, and could even end the first half of the campaign in a Champions League qualification spot. Stuttgart deserved their win this afternoon, after putting in a solid shift defensively, being tactically disciplined and versatile in midfield, and lethal on the break. It helps, of course, when you have someone of Ibišević’s calibre leading the line – the 28-year-old has scored 50 per cent of his team’s league goals this season, and looks on course to be one of the contenders for the golden boot for the fifth consecutive year.

As for Schalke, perhaps they just didn’t fancy the cold? Today’s clash was one fought in a sub-zero temperature; but one that also often had the relaxed feel of a friendly. However, both sides did end proceedings at the Mercedes-Benz Arena with ten men, following straight red cards for Stuttgart right-back Gōtoku Sakai and Schalke midfielder Jermaine Jones. The visiting side’s latest failure to win means despite making their best-ever start to a season, Schalke – still fourth in the league, but only by virtue of goal difference – have picked up just two wins from their last ten games. Although 59-year-old Stevens’ side bossed possession for large spells and looked the much-more technically accomplished of the two teams this afternoon, they didn’t trouble Stuttgart goalkeeper Sven Ulreich at all, with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar starved of service. Yes, the visitors were level for a while, after Ciprian Marica scored against his former club, but with Stevens already under pressure, this was not a performance that will have convinced the pen-pushers that the Dutchman is the right man for the job.

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Stuttgart (4-1-4-1, from right to left): Ulreich; Sakai, Maza Rodríguez, Georg Niedermeier, Arthur Boka; Zdravko Kuzmanović; Martin Harnik, Christian Gentner, Raphael Holzhauser, Ibrahima Traoré; Ibišević

Schalke (4-1-2-1-2, or 4-4-2 diamond; from right to left): Timo Hildebrand; Atsuto Uchida, Benedikt Höwedes, Joël Matip, Christian Fuchs; Roman Neustädter; Jones, Julian Draxler; Lewis Holtby; Marica, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar Continue reading

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Stuttgart-Schalke preview

TOMORROW afternoon, inconsistent Stuttgart host a Schalke side who have seen their title challenge disintegrate in the last few weeks. Both sides come into this game on a high, though, with Schalke securing top-spot in their Champions League group on Tuesday, and Stuttgart making it six 1. Bundesliga teams out of six to reach the next round of Europe’s continental cup competitions, albeit after losing at home last night. Continue reading

Borussia Mönchengladbach-Hoffenheim preview

Champions League qualification hopefuls Borussia Mönchengladbach will be looking to forget their midweek German cup heartache as they host a Hoffenheim side who remain too close to the relegation zone for comfort. Gladbach suffered a penalty shootout defeat to Bayern Munich – a side they have beaten twice this season – on Wednesday at the semi-final stage of the DFB-Pokal, thereby ensuring that the club’s dream-like campaign will end without silverware. Hoffenheim can only fantasise about being where Lucien Favre’s side are, however, as even since Markus Babbel took over as coach at the Sinsheim side a few weeks ago, results haven’t exactly improved.

Like Holger Stanislawski, his predecessor on the Hoffenheim bench, Babbel is struggling to get the team going after club patron Dietmar Hopp commissioned the sales of several star players in the January transfer window (in a move that suggests the board have now perhaps realised their folly, sporting director Ernst Tanner left the club this week). One of those players was creative-midfielder Gylfi Sigurðsson, who is currently in fantastic form for Wales’ second-biggest club, Swansea City, in the English Premier League. Another, Vedad Ibišević, scored twice last weekend as Stuttgart – the side Babbel played for and then coached between 2004 to 2009  comfortably defeated an invention and confidence-lacking Hoffenheim team by two goals to one. It’s not just players who have been sold this season giving Babbel headaches either – Ryan Babel has intimated that he is ready for a new challenge, Roberto Firmino has been out of form for months now after a scintillating start to the current Bundesliga campaign, and Sejad Salihović was recently handed a two-week suspension for a breach of club discipline by Babbel, who is not yet even a quadragenarian. Continue reading

Stuttgart 4-1 Freiburg

Stuttgart comfortably defeated near-ish neighbours Freiburg in the Bundesliga’s Baden-Württemberg derby by four goals to one, with Martin Harnik bagging his tenth and 11th goals of the season. Although question marks over the Swabian outfit’s ability to defend set-pieces remain, with Stuttgart having conceded a needless goal from a corner in the first half, thereby allowing Freiburg to temporarily enjoy a spell on top, Bruno Labbadia’s side simply had far too much attacking quality for the visiting defence here, whose inexperience was plain for all to see. Added to that, Christian Streich’s side showed at the Mercedes-Benz Arena this afternoon that they are severely lacking in quality and invention in the final-third, although the coach may point to last weekend’s 0-0 draw against Bayern Munich, which might conceivably have taken a lot out of his young side both mentally and physically.

Stuttgart still have some way to go if they are to claim a place in next season’s Europa League (because, if Werder Bremen defeat Nuremberg this evening, the 2007 Bundesliga champions will remain ten points adrift of the north German side with 11 games of the 2011/12 Bundesliga season left to play), but this derby win was a real test of character for Bruno Labbadia’s out-of-form squad, and one which they passed with flying colours, a single corner-kick aside. Freiburg, on the other hand, remain bottom of the league, and with Augsburg beating Hertha Berlin 3-0 today, are now three points from safety (four if you count their extremely poor goal difference).

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Stuttgart (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Sven Ulreich; Khalid Boulahrouz, Serdar Tasci, Georg Niedermeier, Gotoku Sakai; William Kvist, Zdravko Kuzmanović; Harnik, Tamás Hajnal, Shinji Okazaki; Vedad Ibišević

Freiburg (4-4-2 from right to left): Oliver Baumann; Oliver Sorg, Fallou Diagné, Immanuel Höhn, Jonathan Schmid; Jan Rosenthal, Johannes Flum, Cédric Makiadi, Daniel Caligiuri; Ivan Santini, Erik Jendrišek Continue reading

Stuttgart-Freiburg preview

It’s a battle of the Baden-Württemberg sides this weekend in the Bundesliga, as Freiburg take on Stuttgart on Saturday afternoon. As Uli Hesse noted in his column on ESPN last week, it may be surprising to football fans outside of Germany that this match is a derby, let alone a heated one, considering the two cities are more than 80 miles apart. But, wrote Hesse, “the thing about this game is that it pits a club from Swabia (Stuttgart) against one from Baden (Freiburg), and to say there is no love lost between these two regions and ethnic groups is an understatement.” Continue reading

Hamburg 2-0 Hoffenheim

The formations which started the game.

Hamburg hauled themselves out of the relegation zone for the first time this season by winning their first home match in eight months. They beat former St Pauli hero Holger Stanislawski’s Hoffenheim side 2-0, although if the visitors had been a bit more clinical in front of goal, the outcome of this match – which saw two 4-4-2 systems cancel one another out for large spells – might have been quite different. However, Hamburg were good value for their win, and remain unbeaten under new coach Thorsten Fink.

Match preview here.

It took a few minutes for both teams to settle, with the pressing hard and fast, and the midfield area congested. However, José Paolo Guerrero’s clever turn and powerful run drew a good save from Tom Starke in the second minute, and so began a spell which saw HSV on top. They bossed possession, and made it difficult for Hoffenheim to get out of their own half. Nevertheless, the visitors showed good off-ball discipline in the opening ten minutes – working in tandem so that when one player sprinted out with the man he was marking, a colleague would plug the gap. As a result, Hamburg, for all their control, could barely get out of the second-third area of the pitch.

The next time they did, it was another moment of magic from Guerrero. The Peruvian’s reverse through-pass fed the disguised dart of Dennis Aogo, but his cross was a bit too long for Marcus Berg to do anything with. Continue reading

Hamburg-Hoffenheim preview

Holger Stanislawski and his right-hand man André Trulsen return to the city of Hamburg for the first time since leaving St Pauli in the summer. They go back to take on HSV with a Hoffenheim side who are falling into mid-table obscurity a little earlier than normal. Professionalism aside, Stanislawski will not only be desperate to win in a bid to ensure his side keep up with the early-season European-spot pace-setters, but also because he has the chance to keep St Pauli’s arch-rivals mired in relegation trouble. Hamburg, who are now off the bottom of the table after a several-month stint, could feasibly end the weekend as high as 12th if they beat Hoffenheim. However, despite a decent 2-2 draw away at Bayer Leverkusen in the fixture played before the disruptive two-week international break, Hamburg, Augsburg and 2. Bundesliga side FSV Frankfurt are the only teams in Germany’s top three divisions yet to win a home game so far this season. Continue reading