VfB Stuttgart coach Pellegrino Matarazzo said during the week that Sasa Kalajdzic “knows he’s the striker that will keep us up”, and his words proved prophetic on Saturday as the towering Austrian forward scored a decisive late goal against Borussia Mönchengladbach to end the team’s nine-game winless run.
Kalajdzic was arguably the breakout star of the Bundesliga last season, registering 16 goals in 33 appearances in his debut top-flight campaign as the promoted Swabian side ended up in ninth place.
However, the 24-year-old has only featured seven times in 2021/22 for a total of 513 minutes owing to shoulder and calf injuries, and he has been sorely missed in his absence.
Stuttgart went into their Matchday 25 encounter at home to Gladbach in 17th place – an automatic relegation spot – four points adrift of safety and with just four wins all season. Indeed, their last victory was a 2-0 success over Wolfsburg on Matchday 15 in mid-December, and in the subsequent nine league assignments they had lost seven and drawn two.
That run appeared to be on course to extend to 10 games when Matarazzo’s men went 2-0 down inside 35 minutes at home to Gladbach. Yet Wataru Endo’s goal before half-time gave them a lifeline going into the second period, with Chris Führich pulling them level shortly after the restart.
VfB poured forward in search of a winner – they had 11 efforts at goal in the second half compared to Gladbach’s four – which Kalajdzic eventually provided in the closing stages with a supremely composed finish inside a crowded penalty area.
It completed a sensational and deserved comeback for Stuttgart, and the Austria international believes it will give the team self-confidence going into the final weeks of the season.
Watch: Highlights of Stuttgart's Matchday 25 win over Gladbach
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Kalajdzic told bundesliga.com afterwards. “I still have goosebumps from the goal and from the whole game. The fans were amazing. They were a big part of our win. I’m just relieved and happy.
“It’s so important because last week we lost the game in the last five minutes. Against Bochum we conceded in the last minute. That’s why this third goal and, at the end, the win is so important for our heads, because we know we can win again. And now we have to do it in the next games. I was positive the whole time because the performances weren’t that bad, unlike our results. Now we’ll continue.”
Next up for Stuttgart is a trip to Union Berlin on Matchday 26, and while the Swabians must also face the top two of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund before the season is out, they also have decisive meetings with four sides that are likewise too close to the relegation zone for comfort: Augsburg, Arminia Bielefeld, Hertha Berlin and Wolfsburg.
Watch: Kalajdzic reflects on victory over Gladbach
And Kalajdzic is confident he can continue to provide the goals to get his team out of trouble, eager to prove his coach right once more.
“He said I am the striker who will do it, not one of the strikers. And I will. And I want to. I don’t make promises, but I will give everything like today. If I score and we win, amazing. If someone else scores and we win, I don’t care. We have to win. I want to stay in the league, I want to achieve as many points, as many victories as possible. That’s it.”
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