Currently occupying third position in the Bundesliga, VfB Stuttgart has collected an outstanding 18 points from a possible 21 with an attacking brand of attractive penetrating football that has yielded plaudits domestically and throughout the continent. If they beat Union Berlin this weekend — who have lost seven in a row in all competitions — they will overtake Borussia Dortmund in the table, currently sitting a point behind Bayer Leverkusen, one point above Bayern Munich and two behind Dortmund, with a game in hand on BVB.
Considering the trauma their partisan support endured throughout the previous campaign, we are witnessing something remarkable. Cast your mind back 12 months, and the side led by former head coach Pellegrino Matarazzo had failed to win any of their opening nine Bundesliga fixtures. Up to the day of his inevitable departure, Die Roten had collected a solitary five points from the 27 available while failing to win a single game during that period.
Michael Wimmer would take temporary control of the first team until December 5, winning three of his six games in charge before the break for the World Cup. At this point, Stuttgart sat 16th in the table, with 14 points earned from 15 fixtures played. Following Wimmer’s period in the hot seat, Bruno Labbadia assumed control of the side – promising an upturn in form and a desire to improve the fortunes at Die Schwaben. It would be the German’s second stint at the club following his reign between 2010 to 2013.
Unfortunately, for Labbadia and the disgruntled support, he would last under four months in the position, winning only one of 11 games played, losing 64% of his domestic fixtures and overseeing the side’s decline to the bottom of the famous German division. Enter Sebastian Hoeneß – the man tasked with saving the five-time Bundesliga champions from relegation to the second tier. A fascinating coach who studied his trade at the underage levels of German football, Hoeneß brought a vibrant sense of possibility to the MHPArena. His impact was immediate.
With eight fixtures remaining in the season, he galvanised the group of players and rekindled a sense of enjoyment within the squad. His opening game was an impressive 3-2 victory away to VfL Bochum, setting the standard for a structured end to the campaign that would endure a solitary defeat in eight outings.
Inevitably, the 41-year-old would guide his side out of the relegation places and see off Hamburger SV emphatically in the relegation play-offs by an aggregate scoreline of 6-1. After a season of torment, uncertainty and irrational displays, VfB had crowned their managerial kingpin.
I drag your mind back to the present day, and the magnificent work of yet another talented young German coach has propelled this side to unimaginable heights. Having led from the touchline for 20 fixtures since April, the Munich man has suffered defeat only three times and earned a win ratio of 65%.
He has achieved this response from his players by adopting an attack-first strategy, with a brand of typically modern high-pressing football, with the onus on creating multiple attacking threats. The side that managed 45 goals in the 2022-23 campaign has already netted 22 times in seven outings, fronted by the utterly phenomenal Serhou Yadaly Guirassy.
The 27-year-old forward initially joined on loan from Ligue 1 side Rennes for the 2022-23 season. While his new side may have struggled for large parts of the season, he contributed an impressive 14 goals from 28 appearances throughout all competitions. His move was made permanent in May, with the club announcing they had activated an option to buy, with a three-year deal confirmed.
What has transpired since is nothing short of mesmerising. The man who opted to represent the Republic of Guinea started the 2023-24 campaign with a bang – finding the back of the net ten times in his first five matches and equalling the previous record set by the legendary Robert Lewandowski. He would also achieve his first Bundesliga hat-trick against Mainz during a 3-1 victory in September.
His second hat-trick came in Saturday’s 3-1 win against Wolfsburg, with all three goals scored within 15 minutes of second-half action. The feat took his league total to 13, overtaking Lewandowski’s Bundesliga record of 11 goals in the first seven domestic matches. Additionally, Guirassy netted in the 4-0 DFB-Pokal opening-round fixture against Balingen, equalling last season’s total of 14 goals in just eight appearances.
When analysing the marksman’s abilities, his standout attribute, for many, is the calmness he displays in the attacking third. His clinical nature in the box is evident for all, ranking in the 89th percentile for shots on target compared to the big five leagues, while also held in the 97th percentile for goals per shot on target.
Furthermore, his link-up play is exceptional, ranking in the 87th percentile for ball received, 92nd for passes in the midfield, and a staggering 90th percentile for outright passes completed. His presence in the Stuttgart team is crucial, and his ability to fulfil his manager’s wishes is second to none. Make no mistake: as the domestic campaign pauses for an international break, we are witnessing one of the finest finishers in the European game playing to his absolute peak.
But, as we are all aware, success does not come off the back of one player. While it is clear that Guirassy is the orchestrator of this magnificent run of form, several of his teammates are excelling across the park. Defensive midfielder Angelo Stiller made the permanent switch from TSG Hoffenheim during the summer and has been ever-present throughout the early stages of this campaign. The 22-year-old has performed admirably in the heart of midfield, and the meagre price tag of €5.5 million appears a bargain.
Another notable transfer was the loan move of goalkeeper Alexander Nübel from Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich. Having enjoyed a two-year loan deal with Ligue 1 side Monaco, the German shot-stopper has assumed the responsibilities as number one, enjoying a 50% clean-sheet ratio in games played this season.
Midfielder Chris Führich has been at the club since 2021 and is enjoying his most fruitful spell. His understanding of the attacking line is commendable, earning seven goal contributions in seven outings – topping the Bundesliga assist charts with five and earning him a maiden call-up to the Germany national team.
Pascal Stenzel has also been at the club for several years, switching from SC Freiburg in 2019. The versatile wing-back has been critical to attacking transitions, supplying three assists in his seven domestic appearances this season. His squad experience in defence will be a fundamental asset in moving forward.
While his players break for their international duties, Hoeneß will prepare for a meeting with struggling side Union Berlin on Saturday, October 21. The fixture presents an opportunity to maintain his side’s impressive form, with their opponents suffering five straight league defeats.
Whether or not this squad can maintain their current form is still being determined, as early pace-setters Bayer Leverkusen continue to impress under Xabi Alonso. Also, the perennial threat of the Bayern juggernaut looms ever close, with the European stars of Borussia Dortmund following behind.
Competition at the head of the Bundesliga table is fierce, and Die Roten will be pushed to their absolute limits. That said, their presence in the conversation is a breath of fresh air, and the talents of their hugely promising head coach, guiding the vision of their superstar striker, make the journey of this brilliant side a truly remarkable sight.
By: Shaun Connolly / @shaunconnolly85
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / DeFodi Images
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