At the Mercedes-Benz Arena on Thursday night, Stuttgart and Hamburger SV square battle in the first leg of the Bundesliga relegation playoff.
The guests are looking to return to Germany’s top division for the first time in five years, while the hosts are hoping to keep their top flight status for the upcoming season.
Despite earning five points in their final three games of the regular season, Stuttgart’s three-year Bundesliga tenure is still in jeopardy.
Sebastian Hoeness’s team knew that a victory in their penultimate encounter against relegation rivals Hoffenheim would ensure their survival after a 1-1 draw at home with Bayer Leverkusen was followed by a crushing 4-1 away triumph over Mainz 05.
Ihlas Bebou’s 75th-minute goal was canceled out just five minutes later by substitute Tiago Tomas, forcing Stuttgart to settle for a 1-1 draw at home last weekend. As a result, they finished the season in 16th place, which is the relegation playoff position, just one point behind safety.
Hoeness joined Stuttgart in early April with the team languishing at the bottom of the Bundesliga, but after guiding Die Roten to three victories and four draws in nine games, he has given Die Roten a chance to survive.
Stuttgart has reason to be optimistic heading into Thursday’s first leg because history favors the Bundesliga team in the relegation playoffs. The top tier club has maintained their position in 18 of the last 24 seasons.
Despite winning 1-0 away at Sandhausen last weekend, Hamburg just lost out on automatic promotion from the 2.Bundesliga and has been relegated to the playoffs for a second consecutive year.
On a suspenseful final day in the second tier, Hamburger fans were on the field cheering at the conclusion of play after discovering that Heidenheim was down 2-1 in the final game they played against Jahn Regensburg.
Heidenheim miraculously scored twice in extra time, including the game-winning goal in the 99th minute, to come from behind and snag all three points, moving up from third to first to secure the title and automatic promotion with essentially the final kick of their campaign.
Tim Walter is now entrusted with motivating his understandably demoralized Hamburger side in an effort to prevent a repetition of their playoff loss to Hertha Berlin, which they suffered by a score of 3-0 on aggregate.
With 30 points from 17 games played away, Hamburger finished the regular 2.Bundesliga season with the best away record. However, going into Thursday’s first leg, they have lost nine of their last 13 trips to Stuttgart, including a 3-2 loss in May 2020 in which they allowed a two-goal first-half lead to slip.
Dan-Axel Zagadou, a defender for Stuttgart, won’t be playing since he’s still recovering from a brain injury, while Thomas Kastanaras, a forward, is still out with a fractured foot.
Last weekend, Borna Sosa overcame an illness to start and play the entire 90 minutes. The talented Croatian international, who has so far this season contributed seven assists, is expected to keep playing left wing back, with Josha Vagnoman expected to play on the other flank.
The line is anticipated to be led by top scorer Serhou Guirassy, who has four goals in his past six games. Chris Fuhrich and Silas Katompa Mvumpa will help him in attack.
In terms of Hamburger, Mario Vuskovic is serving a two years suspension from football for doping, while left back Noah Katterbach is still out due to injured ankle ligaments.
Bakery Jatta and Ludovit Reis can return for the visitors after serving one match suspensions. Reis might replace Sonny Kittel or Jean-Luc Dompe in the starting lineup, but the latter scored the game winning goal in last weekend’s victory against Sandhausen.
Stuttgart possible starting lineup
Bredlow, Mavropanos, Anton, Ito, Vagnoman, Karazor, Endo, Sosa, Mvumpa, Fuhrich and Guirassy.
Hamburger possible starting lineup
Fernandes, Heyer, David, Schonlau, Muheim, Reis, Meffert, Benes, Konigsorffer, Glatzel and Dompe.
We predict: Stuttgart 2-1 Hamburger
On Thursday, a match between two Bundesliga champions and juggernauts of German football is expected to be closely contested, but Stuttgart will likely be given a tiny advantage.
We think the hosts will prevail to secure a first leg advantage as the two clubs attempt to rapidly move past the disappointment of not reaching their desired goals last weekend.