After registering 16 Bundesliga goals last season, can Sasa Kalajdzic hit the ground running with more of the same when he returns from injury in 2022? - © Christian Kaspar-Bartke/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty Images
After registering 16 Bundesliga goals last season, can Sasa Kalajdzic hit the ground running with more of the same when he returns from injury in 2022? - © Christian Kaspar-Bartke/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty Images
bundesliga

VfB Stuttgart: the 2021/22 season so far

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Injuries have made life difficult for VfB Stuttgart in 2021/22, and the imminent return of talismanic frontman Sasa Kalajdzic can't come soon enough.

The story so far

Ninth in 2020/21 in their first year back in the Bundesliga, Stuttgart have found the going a lot tougher this season. One reason for that has been a lengthy injury list, which has notably included - for much of the campaign - Austrian striker Kalajdzic. The Swabians started in promising fashion, but their 5-1 victory over Greuther Fürth on the opening day of the season was one of only four they have managed in the league. Pellegrino Matarazzo's charges followed it with a five-match winless streak, which was halted by a 3-1 home success over Hoffenheim that became their only win in 11. They picked up a much-needed seven points from a possible nine between Matchdays 13 and 15 - scoring impressive wins against Mainz and Wolfsburg - but rounded the year off with a home hammering at the hands of Bayern Munich and a painful late defeat in Cologne. Stuttgart's injury problems meant they used 31 players over the first 17 games - more than any other side - and they will start 2022 third from bottom in the standings.

Matarazzo will be hoping to cajole his players to greater success in the second half of 2021/22. - Eibner/Michael Memmler via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Eibner

Key player

Stuttgart have had some good goalscoring contributions from defenders this season, with Greek centre-back Konstantinos Mavropanos their leading scorer with four goals and Marc Oliver Kempf on three. Japanese defender Hiroki Ito got the Bundesliga Rookie of the Month prize for November in part thanks to his well-taken effort against Mainz, while Croatian full-back Borna Sosa thrashed home the winner in that game and has three assists as well.

It's clear, though, that Matarazzo’s team have been missing a couple of players in particular this season. Towering target man Kalajdzic was a revelation for Stuttgart last season, scoring 16 league goals in 33 appearances before representing Austria at UEFA Euro 2020. The 24-year-old suffered a dislocated shoulder in the Matchday 2 loss at RB Leipzig, however, an injury which required surgery and kept him out until 2022. The 6'"6” forward was sorely missed - along with last season's 11-goal attacker Silas Katompa Mvumpa - and his return in January could be just the boost Stuttgart need.

Best game so far

As impressive as the opening-day thrashing of Fürth was, the 2-0 triumph in Wolfsburg was arguably of greater significance for Matarazzo and his men. Having struggled for form and consistency all season, the clinical display at the Volkswagen Arena gave VfB a much-needed boost, extending an unbeaten sequence to three straight games. Memories of that performance could be crucial going into the second half of the campaign as they seek to climb clear of the drop zone.

Watch: Wolfsburg 0-2 Stuttgart - highlights

One to watch

On loan from Wolfsburg, Omar Marmoush has provided plenty of excitement for the fans and an edge to Stuttgart's attack. He scored his first Bundesliga goal in the 1-1 draw at Eintracht Frankfurt in September, getting a late equaliser on his debut for the club. Named Bundesliga Rookie of the Month in September, he scored again in the 2-2 home draw with Hertha Berlin in December. Marmoush's performances did not go unnoticed. The 22-year-old - who is also a Canadian citizen as a result of his parents working there for six years - made his debut for Egypt in October. He will miss the start of the second half of the season for Stuttgart after being called up for the Africa Cup of Nations which gets underway on 9 January in Cameroon.

Marmoush has two goals and three assists for Stuttgart so fat in 2021/22. - imago

The view from inside the camp

“It was a pretty complicated first half of the season with lots of injuries and challenges we faced. We tried to find solutions for those. We only succeeded to the extent of earning 17 points, but we know exactly what we need to work on. We’re happy that increasing numbers of players are nearing returns.”  - Sporting director Sven Mislintat

Key fixtures

Greuther Fürth (a) - Matchday 18
Augsburg (h) - Matchday 27
Bielefeld (a) - Matchday 28

Starting the new year on a positive note would do wonders for morale - as well as the team's point haul - so victory is a must when Stuttgart resume their campaign in Fürth on Matchday 18. Gladbach (14th) and Wolfsburg (13th) are likely to come good at some point given the quality in their squads, so the back-to-back meetings with fellow strugglers Augsburg and Bielefeld could prove decisive.

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