It may only be Matchday 5 but already this feels like a proverbial six-pointer, with Stuttgart stuck in 17th place and Hoffenheim a point better off in 16th. The fact that Wednesday night's clash at the Mercedes-Benz-Arena is a Baden derby adds yet further flames to the relegation fire.
Green shoots of recovery
Putting a finger on exactly why it's going wrong for Bruno Labbadia is a difficult task, especially given the squad of players the Stuttgart coach has at his disposal. The Swabians have managed to collect just two points from their opening four Bundesliga encounters and are only propped up in the standings by bottom side FC Augsburg.
However, judging by the manner in which they pulled a draw out of the bag at Werder Bremen on Sunday, Stuttgart shouldn't be in the Bundesliga basement for too much longer. Martin Harnik and Cacau got the goals on that occasion, although the former received his marching orders for a second-bookable offence and will have to sit-out the derby through suspension.
Work to be done
Until Sunday, there was a terrible sense of foreboding about Hoffenheim's predicament. After being thumped 4-0 in the first round of the DFB Cup, 1899 went on to lose their first four Bundesliga games, giving away a handsome eleven goals in the process. Whether the Matchday 4 win over Hannover 96 was a turning point or just a case of the Reds suffering the after-effects of playing in Europe in midweek should become clearer at the Mercedes-Benz-Arena.
A review of the game, however, suggests there's still plenty of room for improvement if Markus Babbel's charges are serious about leaving the bottom three behind. Too often the Sinsheim club were guilty of needlessly conceding possession and, despite the three goals, didn't look all that sure of themselves in the final third.
A battle to beat the drop and local geography are just two common ingredients that comprise Wednesday's match-up, with familiar faces also set to play a starring role. Stuttgart striker Vedad Ibisevic shot to fame in Hoffenheim's debut season in the top flight, before moving to Stuttgart in January 2012. An outside bet for Bundesliga top scorer, the Bosnian makes a timely return from suspension.
The aforementioned Harnik misses out against his former employer, but one man expected to be on the field against his ex-club is French defender Matthieu Delpierre, who spent eight years at Stuttgart between 2004 and 2012. Real Madrid old boy Joselu looked lively on his first start two days ago, but his second-half replacement, Eren Derdiyok, also impressed with the scores locked at 1-1. Indeed, pairing the two together might do just the trick as Babbel looks to get one over on his old flame on Wednesday night.
VfB Stuttgart: Ulreich - G. Sakai, Tasci, Maza, Boka - Kvist, Gentner - Cacau, Hajnal, Okazaki - Ibisevic
1899 Hoffenheim: Casteels - Beck, Delpierre, Compper, Johnson - Williams, Rudy - Vukcevic, Salihovic, Usami - Derdiyok