Mario Gomez was on target for VfB Stuttgart, but Bundesliga 2 side Union Berlin have the advantage in the promotion/relegation play-off after the teams shared a 2-2 draw in the first leg at the Mercedes-Benz Arena on Thursday.
VfB Stuttgart 2-2 Union Berlin
Goals: 1-0 Gentner (41'), 1-1 Abdullahi (43'), 2-1 Gomez (51'), 2-2 Friedrich (68')
Having won their two home games preceding this fixture without conceding, Stuttgart began confidently and soon put their visitors under pressure, with Anastasios Donis testing Rafal Gikiewicz from a tight angle, before Nicolas Gonzalez dragged a shot just wide of the near post after cutting in from the left. Union grew into the game as the clock ticked on and Sebastian Andersson went close, drawing a brilliant save from Ron-Robert Zieler from close range. The tension of the occasion made for an engaging encounter, but it truly sparked into life shortly before half-time when Donis' pace took him clear of three defenders down the Stuttgart right, affording him time and space to pick out Christian Gentner to slot in the opener from 10 yards out. The home team's lead lasted all of 87 seconds though, and Stuttgart did not touch the ball once Union kicked off again: Andersson flicked on a long ball forward to Suleiman Abdullahi, who took it past Emiliano Insua with his first touch before drilling in the equaliser to ensure the sides went in level at the interval.
Aware that the away goals rule is in effect across the two legs of this tie, Stuttgart interim coach Nico Willig brought on veteran striker Gomez at half-time and the move paid dividends within minutes. The 33-year-old collected the ball on the halfway line and drove forward, doing well to hold off Marvin Friedrich until he reached the edge of the penalty area. There, his shot took a deflection off the Union defender, wrong-footing Gikiewicz and trickling over the line to restore Stuttgart's lead. Friedrich made amends a short while later, however, outfoxing his marker to meet a corner on the penalty spot and direct a powerful header past Zieler. Andersson very nearly won it for the Bundesliga 2 side in the closing stages, capitalising on a mistake from Ozan Kabak to lash a 25-yard volley at goal that Zieler did superbly to tip over the bar. There were to be no further goals in a nervy finale though, giving Union the edge ahead of Monday's decisive second leg.
Watch: Zieler says Stuttgart 'unfortunate' not to win
- Since the play-off was reintroduced to determine the final promotion/relegation position between the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2, the top-flight team has retained their status on eight out of 10 occasions.
- Neither five-time Bundesliga winners Stuttgart nor Union have contested the Bundesliga play-off before.
- Gomez scored in the first leg of the 2016/17 play-off as Wolfsburg secured their survival with a 2-0 aggregate win over Eintracht Braunschweig. The former Germany international finished the current campaign as Stuttgart’s top scorer on seven Bundesliga goals.
- If they beat Stuttgart over two legs, Union will become the 56th team to play in the Bundesliga.
- Union’s Andersson scored 12 Bundesliga 2 goals in 2018/19. Sebastian Polter was the club’s next best marksman with nine.
- Kroos - who made 65 Bundesliga appearances for Werder Bremen between November 2010 and December 2015 - is suspended for the second leg after picking up a second half yellow card.
Watch: Andersson says home advantage will help Union
Stuttgart: Zieler – Pavard, Kempf, Kabak, Insua – Akolo (Zuber 73'), Castro, Gentner (c), Didavi (Gomez 46') – Donis, Gonzalez (Esswein 82')
Unused subs: Grahl, Aogo, Sosa, Badstuber
Out: Ascacibar (suspended), Beck (knee), Maffeo (not considered), Thommy (ankle)
Coach: Nico Willig
Union: Gikiewicz - Trimmel (c), Friedrich, Parensen, Reichel - Schmiedebach (Kroos 84') - Prömel, Zulj, Abdullahi (Gogia 80') - Andersson, Hartel (Mees 60')
Unused subs: Moser, Polter, Rapp, Lenz
Out: Schönheim (knee)
Coach: Urs Fischer