Episode #52 - VfB:RBL … 1:1 and 4th on the table (all-time)!
Welcome to VfB Stuttgart Americana, an American based, English language VfB Stuttgart fan podcast, where our views are unofficial, uninformed, and usually, unprepared.
Today, we’re so unprepared that we’re not even DOING a podcast! Just a … word-cast? A blog? An essay? A cry for help?! Whatever the case, due to technical and personal restrictions, we’re unable to bring you America’s number one rated VfB Stuttgart fan podca... wait, what’s that?
We’re the ONLY American based VfB Stuttgart fan podcast? Huh.
Guess that means we’re both first and last!
That being said, we (Matt and Travis, by the way ... nice to meet you!) still wanted to throw out our limited opinions on the opening match of the season, so here you go!
Part One - The Match
In last week’s incredibly long-winded two-plus hour podcast, Matt and I broke down the club from top to bottom, so for this episode, we’re going to keep that theme in mind and instead of following the game chronologically, we'll hit it up thematically. How's that for avant garde!
We started with the goalkeeping, then moved on to defense, midfield, and attack. So let’s start with the goalkeeping. Mostly because it makes ME, Travis, look good and makes Matt, the Hater of all Florian’s, look bad!
But in Matt’s defense we both agreed that Flo Muller would be a key to the season (also I can't type an umlaut, so that's awesome for our credibility) and that our criticism of him last season was just that - last season. That keepers tend to mature with age, that Rino’s system can put pressure on the defense and especially the goalkeeper, and that we expected an improvement in Flo’s play this season.
We now take a short break to appreciate the one and only time both Matt and Travis got something right! It’s such a rare occurrence that we almost need a moment of silence to appreciate it!
Shhhhh... it's quiet time!
Not only did Flo play an amazing match, he had, according to the website Fotmob eight - eight! - saves and was rightly named the Kicker Player of the Game with a 1.5 rating. 1.5! I don’t know about you, but after the first - and then last - 30’ of the match, I had a bad, bad, bad feeling. RBL’s pressing seemed to really be giving VfB problems, and from the 66’ mark on, Flo was under constant pressure and delivered each … and every … time. As Rino said post-match, “The boys fought like lions. Everyone defended heartily and when something went through, Flo Muller was there.” Holy smokes, was he! So first off, shout out to Flo on a fantastic opening match of the season, and second off congrats to Flo for making Matt look bad!
Never have I been so happy to be so wrong. As we all know, you can ALWAYS trust a Florian. His rebound control was not great. His positioning, at times questionable. His reaction saves, unassailable. If we get this kind of game out of FloMü (does that work? No? Oh well, neither does my backspace key) every week we will be in much better shape in net than I expected a week ago.
Hmm ... I don't think you ever said that but I'm far too lazy to go back and listen to our lousy podcast to actually find out. Yuck.
Speaking of giving up 28 shots and nine shots on target, well, let’s move on to the defense.
In our pre-season preview, Matt and I chose Endo and Dino as our keys to the D, which … well … that’s not exactly a shocking pair of choices, eh? Endo, what’s not to love? Another eight duels won and just patrolling the middle, that guy is amazing. And Dino played great on the right side, a side that seemed to be targeted by RBL quite a bit AND LET’S NOT FORGET ANOTHER THUNDEROUS DINO SHOT! What a way to end the first half THAT would have been had that gone in (sidebar: I wonder how the goal post is feeling … that had to sting!).
I have thoughts on the defense. They are good thoughts. This is a nice change. Last season the defenders often looked confused and unsure when faced with pressing attackers. Against RBL, they looked like a cohesive unit. Lines were held, players looked to be communicating, attacks were handled. It was glorious. I am still a little concerned at how content the back line was to let RB players shoot from outside the box, but if Müller is handling the shots I suppose it's not a big deal. Dino did a great job holding an attack that felt like it was focusing on him at times. Anton was largely invisible, which is good by my standards. If a defender goes unnoticed it means he is quietly taking care of business. No big plays, but also not in a position to need to make one. Ito had some solid moments, but was mostly positively quiet on the day too.
Josha Vagnoman is a clear upgrade over Pascal Stenzel. Vagnoman has a lot of pace and moved the ball well. I think there's a lot of potential there. I'm really excited to see what our attack looks like with Vagnoman on the right side and Sosa on the left. Should be fun! In the traditional Sosa spot, Silas filled in admirably. He doesn't track back as well as Sosa does, but he was a net positive on the day.
Travis, you mentioned Dino's absolute rocket into the woodwork. Let's pause for a second and appreciate that this is a CENTER BACK. I maintain my belief that Matarrazzo's system is set up to allow and encourage this kind of thing, and I'm here for it. I also think he saw Ahamada score and felt his role as lead goal scorer was under threat and wanted to show the young newcomer what he was up against.
Ha! I think you're right? Did you see the picture of when Ahamada scored? Dino was in front of him! And this wasn't a set piece! He was in front of the midfielder on a regular play! Speaking of ...
The biggest question regarding the midfield was an obvious one - who was going to replace Orel Mangala (congrats to him, by the way, on his Premier League debut the past weekend!)? Turns out the answer was pretty obvious - Naouirou Ahamada! The 20 year old had played a lot during the preseason and had played quite well, so turns out the answer was right in front of our eyes for quite some time! Ever present in the midfield he seemed - at least to this untrained eye - to be more offensively aggressive than what we’ve seen in the middle the past few years, even if we don’t take into account the obvious, his first ever Bundesliga goal! Congrats N.A.!
Ahamada, Führich, and Endo did well in the middle of the park. I like them all individually and thought they functioned well as a group. Endo's ball winning ability and defensive responsibility provided the other two with opportunities to get the ball moving forward and join in on the attack.
So let’s talk about THAT for a minute as we move to attack. The only big question we had last week was the biggest question most of us have been asking since, well, last season - when is Sasa leaving? We all know it’s just a matter of time before a guy who you could mistake for an NBA player is going to head outta Stuttgart, but oddly, that time … isn’t now. Which is fine! Three things stood out with Sasa during this match. He had a great opportunity with a header that was well off; he had an amazing touch pass to Ahamada to earn the assist on the 31’ goal; and he was subbed off with 30’ left to play. Taking each three in order, hopefully he gets his form back and starts putting those chances away; his passing is just exquisite and always has been; and let’s be honest, how many of us were in panic mode when he left the pitch?!
Turns out his ankle is still a bit tender from a knock a week or so ago, so that makes sense, but what really stood out to me is how into the match he was when he was subbed off. Hopefully you all saw what we saw when Sasa was coaching from the sidelines and got into it (briefly) with one of the RBL assistant coaches, but how many guys who are about to depart a club show that much passion for a club that, let’s be honest, he’s not going to be playing for much longer? To me, his attitude just sums up this team perfectly - a group collective rather than a set of individuals. Yeah, yeah, perhaps that’s corny, but if he didn’t care he wouldn’t be that invested in a match he’s done with.
How often do you see a star player get subbed off and stay THAT engaged? Sasa is a treasure. At this point I'm hoping teams are a little gun shy about his injuries and want to see him have a full season at VfB before making a move. At one point I read that Sasa told Sven if he didn't leave by the start of the season, he would sign an extension. The intent is obviously just to force another team to compensate VfB for his services. It's something he doesn't have to do, but it's really nice that he wants the club to benefit. When his time in Swabia is done, he will remain in my Brustring hall of fame. In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy watching him baffle opponents with his size and skill.
100%. He'll be among the pantheon of VfB players who left but the Stuttgart faithful still cheer for him even though he's wearing different colors. WE'RE LOOKING AT YOU RON-ROBERT ZIELER!
Just kidding. I loved Lord Baelish's stunt double.
Anywho, we could spend days talking about one of our favorite players, so let’s move on to one of our other favorite players, Silas. Man, how great was it to see him back on the pitch? Especially on a counter attack?! His touch is definitely lacking, for sure, and hopefully that comes back with more pitch time, but he’s definitely trending in the right direction (which is usually toward the opposition goal!). And Chris Fuhrich fully deserved his 2.5 Kicker rating (the second best rating for any player in the red and white), he seemed to be EVERYWHERE on the pitch. Not that everything was smooth in the attack as Tiago seemed a bit invisible to these eyes, and maybe it’ll take time for him and Sasa to learn to work together, but all in all, the jungundwild’s plan seemed to be working.
I agree that Tomas was invisible for big stretches of this game. I did notice a few things he was doing well though. If you watch the replay of Ahamada's goal you can see Tomas pulling the defenders deeper toward the RB goal with the run he's making. This takes them away from Sasa and creates more space for Ahamada to really lay into that shot. His contributions may not have made it to the scoresheet, but Tiago put in some good work. I think as he and Sasa continue to play together and get a feel for each other's movements, this could be a very potent attacking pair.
Hmmm, good point. Perhaps Tiago won the "Philip Forster You Didn't Do Anything Impressive On the Stat Sheet But Played a Big Role in the Game Plan" award?
And what about that plan? Last week Matt mentioned that he felt that Rino was the key figure when it came to the management group, and that’s a tough one to argue against. The lineup didn’t surprise too much and was pretty much exactly what we thought it would be (although Darko turned out to be the odd man out) nor did the style of play - letting RBL have the possession and hoping to catch them on the counter. Which unfortunately didn’t seem to start off too well! Indeed, the visitors enjoyed nearly 70% of the possession, an almost 3-to-1 advantage in shots taken, and a 9-to-1 (!) advantage in corners. But to be honest, is anyone surprised with this? Against a Leipzig club that scored three against Bayern last week and historically dominates VfB (two draws and two goals scored for Team VfB in 10 tries), I can’t say I was surprised with the counter-attack set-up.
And let’s be honest, neither Matt nor I will pretend to be tactical geniuses (though I did read Inverting the Pyramid once and understood almost … none of it), but Rino has been the head man for going on three seasons now (sidebar: that makes him the 4th most tenured manager in the Bundesliga … let that sink in!) and most of us know what VfB is going to do on match day. 3-5-2’ish, get the ball to Borna Sosa, cross to Sasa, watch the two celebrate yet another assist-goal combination! Rinse and repeat. That being said, with none of Borna’s gorgeous crosses (out due to injury), you wondered what the fellas would look like. Turns out, much the same in setup as always, a counter-attack, bend-but-don’t-break approach, and … grit.
Here’s where I think Rino’s genius lies (sidebar: wonder if he’s read Inverting the Pyramid and if he understood it any better than … okay, stupid question). Matt has mentioned it over and over and over again (that guy won’t shut up, will he?!), Rino has these kids - and most of them are young kids! - playing with grit. Character. Spirit. Perseverance. PASSION! Each and every match. Yes, we may question his calm demeanor sometimes (sidebar: doesn’t it seem like that demeanor is changing and becoming more emotional? Perhaps letting a coach grow and mature instead of sacking one every 15 games is the way to go?!). And last year we wondered about substitution patterns. And I'm kind of an expert because I coached high school track and field. Ahem. But there’s one thing you can’t wonder about - how hard this club plays. How they play with grit.
Here’s what I find impressive: there are a bunch of new players this season who are showing the same signs of grit as the players who have been around a bit. So let’s take a second to chat about that.
I like that you chose the word "grit". It's something that has become overused in the hockey world, but that's where I come from. Our guys do play with grit and passion. I think that has to be a reflection of their manager. We know Endo is a quiet "lead by example" Captain. I've read that Anton is the vocal presence in the cabine. While some of that emotion certainly comes from Waldemar, I have to believe most of it is straight from Rino.
Speaking of Waldy (as I like to call him ... although I'd never actually call him that in person), I love how VfB is using him as a model for everything. Kits. Entomology. I predict that he'll soon show up to my house and force-feed my kids dairy products after VfB extended their deal with GAZi.
When it came to our predictions last week, Matt and I wondered “who would be the best new player,” and we both said Josha Vagnoman, partly because of his pedigree - one of the best Right Back’s in the second division and partly because he had the best opportunity to get pitch time right away. Well, he didn’t disappoint! What strikes me about him is his pace, his offensive abilities, and his size. Pairing him with Dino? It looks like a mountain on defense! But let’s not forget Juan Perea, the 22 year Columbian who somehow is only listed at 5’11” but I don’t buy it - he looks well over 6’ tall and is an enormous physical presence! And while he only played a few minutes, who didn’t love his run down the sideline toward the end of the match and then the smile on his face after that run. Silas 2.0?!
I talked about Vagnoman earlier. Big fan already. I was glad to see Perea get some run. I'm very excited about his potential.
Wow. That was brief. But I like it when you let me do ALL the talking!
Our breakout player picks, Darko and Enzo, both saw game-time, so that’s great, although I still want to see Lillian Egloff - he looked amazing during the pre-season. Speaking of amazing, that new home kit is sweet. I mean, come on. JAKO is absolutely killing it. My wallet hates them, but other than that, what’s not to love?!
I'm betting we see more of Egloff with Darko leaving for distant shores. His loss, as no team will have a kit as sharp as the ones JAKO provided us this year!
Ha! Well, when all is said and done, the boys earned a crazy valuable point (anyone remember last season’s point totals?!), and now enter a stretch of hopeful optimism as they travel to Bremen, host Freiburg, and head to Koln before taking on newly promoted Schalke at Mercedes-Benz Arena. Yes, that stretch ends with a screeching halt in Munich, but they earned a point their last season, so who knows? And with a now Kostic-less Eintracht the final match before the international break, this seven game run, which is 20% of the season, is key key key. And the best part? We’re going into it with what most people would call a bonus point after the exciting draw versus Leipzig.
Next Match: At Werder-Bremen
Here's the deal. Bremen is newly promoted. Which means I’m scared of them.
Also, I know nothing about them!
Here are some fun-facts though. They had a late draw versus WOB, although they were up 1:2 in the 84’, so they’ve got to be bummed about that. Add literal injury to insult as their striker Niclas Füllkrug suffered a muscle contusion and is questionable for Saturday’s match. So I’m expecting a - wait for it - gritty affair this weekend! And the all-time stats seem to bare this out. In 110 all-time matches, VfB leads 39-33-38, so your guess is as good as mine when it comes to what is going to happen results-wise. But get this, we have five overall titles to Bremen’s four, although they have six Pokal Cups to our three. The tie-breaker? We have 1 2.Bundesliga title to their zero. BOOM!
No 2. BuLi titles? What a bunch of clowns!
YEAH! Take THAT Bremen!
Anyway, in the last 10, VfB leads 4-3-3 (sidebar: you know what’s funny? ESPN+ has historic matches on for clubs and one of the only ones they have for VfB is the 6:2 loss at Bremen during our first relegation season a few years back … sigh). The other good news is that in last match these two played, April of 2021, VfB won at home 1:0 thanks to a Bremen own goal while in the fall VfB won 1:2 thanks to two Silas goals. SO RECENT HISTORY IS ON OUR SIDE!
The bookies, the fine people that they are, have VfB as the underdog in this one, getting half a goal (if you’re not sure how this works, the Sports Books give the underdog a certain amount of goals, so if you wagered $100 on VfB, you’d get +.5 goals, so if the score ended 1:1, you’d end up winning … and would be expected to buy us all as many beers as that $100 would buy!).
I’m usually pessimistic but I loved the way we played versus RBL, Bremen seemed to struggle against a WOB side I’m not too impressed with, and hey, it’s early and let the optimism reign! I’ll take VfB plus the half a goal in this one. Matt, you finished 8-1 last week to my 4-5 while Austin and Jeff went 6-3. How do you see this one going?
I'm with you here. I like VfB in this match. I'm not sure if Bremen over performed or Wolfsburg underperformed (both are equally likely), but that match didn't give me much to be nervous about for this weekend.
Part Three: Headlines and Questions
Ok Matt, here are a few bullet points of the big headlines over the last few days:
Our OFC VfB Stuttgart Americana news (it's big to us at least!)
VfB playing in Austin, Texas in November
Mangala played for Nottingham, but lost
Timo Werner back in the Buli RBL!
Modeste to BVB!
Darko to Belgium??
Sosa and Sasa ... staying or going?
Zirkzee, $20m .. ZoZen44 posted “Bayern wants $20. Sven: Challenge accepted.” I absolutely love that tweet.
Ok, of all those headlines, what catches your interest the most?
I'm very excited about the OFC developments! Travis has done yeoman's work trying to organize us idiots. It's been really heartening to see the response. We still need to find out who the maniacs in Michigan are that have the "VFB" and "VFB 1893" license plates though.
I'm happy for Mangala. He wanted a chance to prove himself somewhere else, and he's getting that. I hope Forrest have success this season.
Werner coming back isn't a big surprise. The Chelsea supporters I know don't think very highly of him. They also recognize he does not fit in with what Tuchel is trying to do there. I'm not excited to see him back at RBL, but whatever.
Modeste to Dortmund is the BIGGEST BuLi story going right now, in my opinion. He was Köln's ENTIRE OFFENSE! How are they going to score? Are they going to run Hennes out as a striker? Would he be more likely to boot one into the upper corner or eat the ball? Will Köln be in legitimate relegation risk?
100% I agree with you that the Modeste story is the big story. Partly because Jeff, our co-host here, is a Köln supporter. And he's super worried. But also partly because, let's face it - anything that weakens a relegation rival is good for us. I don't see how this doesn't hurt the Cathedral City down the line, but what do I know? They crushed Schalke this weekend without Modeste!
Of the other stories, VfB coming to the states is amazing for us American supporters. I know there is some mild backlash in Germany for clubs going overseas but this is legit a dream come true for those of us over here and I absolutely cannot wait to not remember any of it because I had far too many Texas brews while watching our club! But seriously, it's gonna be awesome. The VfB fan contingent is gonna be impressively large!
Okay, Matt, let's move on to questions.
Rory from The Village Footballer asks: With my long range prediction scope on here will we look back at this result later in the season and consider it a season saver? Flo the hero!
I think this will be one of a series of games we will point to in the end as having made the difference. This draw shows us, and the boys, that we are capable of getting points from tough situations. I think this is a start of a good foundation for Rino to build on.
Lord I hope not. I don’t think I can handle another last match, 92’, nail-biter like we faced last season. But any point against a top four club is a good point, and if we stack enough points together we’ll be in lot better shape than we were at any time last season.
Also, if you're reading this, Rory does a great job with his podcast ... give it a listen! He won our OFC fantasy week, so he is the rare member of this group that actually knows what he's talking about!
FlabbyViking asks: How great is Ito? What a signing by Sven! Which of the signings do you think could reach Ito levels? Way too soon to say, but…
Ito is amazing. Just. Amazing. We’ve talked about him a lot since he joined the club, but the fact he’s a starting caliber Bundesliga player after only playing in the Japanese second league is simply amazing.
Which means ... Sven is amazing. Just. Amazing. I hope VfB signs him to a 17,000,000 year extension, we improve 3-4 spots each season, and him and Rino can do their awkward celebration together after we get in the Champions League, lol!
I'll say no one matches Ito this season. I mean, Ito wasn't expected to do ANYTHING, so that's a tough comparison. Alou Kuol might be a comparison but I'd be shocked to see him get on the pitch any time soon. But if you're asking which new signing will be a key contributor? I'm super high on this Perea kid!
I heart Ito. He has really grown into his role since coming up to the big club. And he keeps getting better. He's not intimidated by the position he's been thrust into. If I knew who the next Ito was, I wouldn't be writing this you dorks (who I love). Sasa is the closest comparison. We signed him from a team currently in the Austrian second division. Other possible candidates... Perea came from a small first division Greek side, Faghir and Pfeiffer came from first division Dutch teams... That's it? Honestly that's fine. If we can pull an Ito out of obscurity once every 5 years, that would be remarkable.
Auz, who is a co-host of the podcast asks: Are there any trends that you find promising or alarming after Pokal and matchday 1?
A win and a draw in consecutive matches, I'd call that alone VERY promising. The way the team is playing in general is promising. Very positive, very fast, high work rate. Someone mentioned that last season VfB was consistently out run (distance wise) by their opponents, and on Sunday we outran RBL. I think that's a very promising development.
Yeah, Daniel, who is in the OFC mentioned just that and it's a great point. Did you know that we haven't lost a match since the end of season thriller versus Koln? Actually the draw the week before versus Bayern. So a great trend is the winning - or not losing - just continues to roll. Alarming probably isn't the right word but I will say this, we still aren't scoring a lot of goals. Small sample size, only two "real" matches so far, but the issues of last season - lots of chances without lots of conversions - may still be there? The biggest positive trend though is what we mentioned before - grit. This team just has "it." That's a fantastic trend, in my opinion.
Doug asks: I’ve seen news a lot of teams being interested in Sasa, Sosa, and Darko …what is the likelihood that one or more of these guys are gone by the end of the transfer window? And who would step into their roles if they did leave?
Only Batman knows. He is the night. He is vengeance. He is not telling.
Would you just answer the question (but well done with the Batman reference which Doug will absolutely love!)...
Sorry Doug, Travis isn't as cultural as we are. So Darko is reportedly halfway out the door. I'm a little bummed by this because I wanted to see him play for us, but I get it. I think we pulled in €5mil, so I'm not complaining. I'm sticking with what I said earlier about Sasa, and also applying it to Sosa. These guys have both been injury prone. I think teams will wait to see how they do this season before opening the cheque books. There's also the specter of the World Cup coming up. I suspect player movements right now are as much related to that as anything. Players wanting to be at clubs where they know they'll get playing time to impress international managers. Teams wary of the additional load any international players will be under. I think we'll see some World Cup darlings (i.e. Pavard) signed for big money after they're done in Qatar. At this point I wouldn't be surprised if both Sasa and Sosa stay this year, and move in the summer if they can manage to stay healthy.
I'm still not entirely sure where Darko fits on this team, so I can't hazard a guess as to who replaces his theoretical role. We saw that Silas is capable of playing the left side wingback role that Sosa fills. I think he's a downgrade defensively, and no one crosses the ball like Sosa, but Silas is more of a threat to score himself so not as much of a downgrade as it could be. I feel like Sven signed Luca Pfeiffer specifically as a Sasa replacement. He's a nearly two-meter-tall center forward. Can he play like Sasa? No idea.
While Matt may be more of a D.C. Comics guy while I'm more of a Marvel Comics guy we agree on a lot here. I'm super bummed Darko is moving on, I just loved the guy. I don't know EXACTLY what position he played but he just seemed to make things happen. By the way, who would have picked Darko being sold before Sasa or Sosa?! And I agree with Matt again, I don't think anyone replaces him ... in part because he never really established a consistent role on the team ... other than being the guy who can always be counted to score a goal against Dresden!
As to Sosa and Sasa, I've no clue. I thought they'd both be gone by now (hopefully to a Premier League team). But I think Matt is right, something's going on in the market plus they're both injury prone, so I understand why teams may be gun shy. That being said, if you were asking me to wager, I bet at least one of them is gone before September 1st when the transfer window closes. I think some team in England is going to feel the pressure to make a big signing and just like that Sasa will be gonzo. Sadly I have a bad feeling about Sosa's abductor injuries, which Jeff has noted, so I think he may be the odd man out. As to who replaces them, first off, if they leave and especially if they go across the pond, no one. Emotionally at least! But I bet Perea and Pfeiffer for Sasa ... and Tiago may play better solo up front. As to Sosa, I'll end this Q & A with one more agreement, no one replaces him. I think Rino kinda changes up the system a bit. Sosa just has a particular skill set that is unmatched.
Okay, Matt fell asleep during my last long-winded comment, so we are going to end our written podcast here. It's been a crazy week but like Matt said, we love our VfB family and wanted to throw out our two cents on how the week went. So thanks to anyone who actually made it this far and thanks for putting up with our nonsense and we'll hopefully be back on the air next week after a positive result at Bremen!