- © DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga/ KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images
- © DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga/ KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images

Tactics Corner: What makes Serhou Guirassy and VfB Stuttgart so effective?


They say things come full circle: Serhou Guirassy certainly knows a little something about that. A brace in Wolfsburg on Bundesliga Matchday 24 was the VfB Stuttgart striker’s first multi-goal showing since his hat-trick against the same opposition on 7 October 2023 – but it’s unlikely to be his last…

Guirassy finished a fine team move for the game’s opener, before adding another to stir memories of his record 13 strikes across the opening seven fixtures of the season. Those goals catapulted Stuttgart into the top-four equation, just months after they had survived a relegation play-off tie with Bundesliga 2’s Hamburg. How quickly things can change in football…

Watch: Guirassy netted twice in the win over Wolfsburg

Faith in Guirassy & a superb supporting cast

Sixteen minutes into the Bundesliga Matchday 8 meeting with Union Berlin, Guirassy put away his 14th goal of the season. However, late in the game, disaster struck in the form of a hamstring injury. Since then, the Guinean has had to contend with two more physical setbacks and played at the Africa Cup of Nations, reducing his involvement in the Bundesliga to 802 minutes. In nine games between his initial injury and the Wolfsburg brace, he had only scored four times – and two of those efforts were penalties – but all signs now point to his mojo being back. And Stuttgart know a fit and firing Guirassy is only good for business.

In the 19 league assignments Guirassy has been on the pitch so far in 2023/24, VfB have won 15, drawn two and lost two, averaging 2.4 goals per game. Compare that to four defeats in six without him, with a collective mean strike rate of 1.8 goals per 90 minutes. Had it not been for Deniz Undav’s excellent performances in front of goal, Stuttgart may well have been far worse off during Guirassy’s absence. The Brighton and Hove Albion loanee scored his third goal of the season in the Union win, before going on an 11-goal spree between Matchdays 9 and 21. For context, only Bayern Munich counterpart Harry Kane produced more goals in that period.

Guirassy and Undav - Stuttgart's deadly duo

Better yet, Undav and Guirassy have proven a handy double act on a number of occasions, most notably in league and DFB Cup wins over Borussia Dortmund, as well as the 1-1 draw with unbeaten Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen.

Watch: Stuttgart back among the Bundesliga big boys

Although a central striker by trade, Guirassy’s willingness to shift out wide to receive possession is a real boon for his Stuttgart teammates. In doing so, he drags opposition central defenders out of position whilst opening the space for Undav and Co. to work their own magic. They reciprocate in kind, with nine different players assisting him already this season – but not one of them more than twice. Consider how Leroy Sané has set up five of Kane’s 27 goals, or Florian Wirtz four of Victor Boniface’s 10.

As well as Undav, Chris Führich has been a revelation. He is tied league wide with Leverkusen right-back Jeremie Frimpong for progressive carries, is third in carries into the final third and fourth for take-ons. What’s more, his 17 goal-creating actions are second to Wirtz domestically and third behind Girona’s Savio across Europe’s top five leagues per UEFA coefficient. A career-best return of seven goals and seven assists after 24 games, in addition to a first Germany cap, are among the 26-year-old’s most tangible rewards.

Watch: All 20 Guirassy goals in the Bundesliga prior to Matchday 25

Maximilian Mittelstädt is another example of perseverance paying off. The former Hertha Berlin talent was on the fringes of the starting line-up early in the season, before making his first start in the aforementioned victory over Union. Since November, the left-sided specialist has started all but one league match.

Gone are the days where Mittelstädt’s versatility was either detrimental to his prospects of regular senior football or underutilised by previous coaches. Instead, he is both modern wing-back and playmaker rolled into one by the ever-astute Sebastian Hoeneß. He leads the club charts for crosses into the penalty area ahead of Führich, has won 212 challenges and chipped in with five goal involvements.

We can see a typical example of the patterned unpredictability of Hoeneß’s Stuttgart as well as the interaction between Führich, Mittelstädt and Guirassy in the massive chance created for Enzo Millot below against Cologne. - DFL

Other contributors to Guirassy and Stuttgart’s success include attacking midfielder Enzo Millot and Josha Vagnoman – though Pascal Stenzel and Anthony Rouault deputised at right-back earlier in the campaign. Together, they have given balance, creativity and unpredictability to the right-hand side akin to the Mittelstädt-Führich tandem on the opposite flank. Millot has also operated in more central roles as a No.6, 8 or even 10, adding a touch of je ne sais quoi to the team’s spine of Waldemar Anton and Angelo Stiller.

Stiller was part of the Bayern reserves that Hoeneß steered to an odds-beating 3. Liga title in 2019/20. The 6’0 central midfielder followed his mentor to Hoffenheim, before switching to Stuttgart where he has established himself as the team’s on-field conductor. In terms of xG build-up and final third passing, Stiller is second only to Leverkusen midfielder Granit Xhaka.

Watch: VfB Stuttgart - AWS analysis

Anton is behind Xhaka for total carries, but the Stuttgart defender is in the top three of all passing and ball progression metrics. The 27-year-old, previously capped at U21 level for Germany, has also been anchoring the third best defence in the Bundesliga, teasing the prospect of a maiden senior call-up ahead of UEFA Euro 2024.

The various parts all add up to one formidable Stuttgart machine that’s arguably right up there with Xabi Alonso’s Leverkusen for watchability. Hoeneß’s wily spread of creative brilliance married with Guirassy’s razor-finishing has fans on cloud nine and Stuttgart on course for a first season of UEFA Champions League football since 2009/10.