Stuttgart - For one set of fans, the Mercedes-Benz Arena looked a rather desolate place as the final whistle was blown by referee to signal the end of VfB Stuttgart's 3-0 defeat to local rivals 1899 Hoffenheim on Wednesday night.
Hoffenheim out of the woods
Not for the first time in recent seasons, the Stuttgart faithful have seen their side get off to a fairly desperate start in the league. For the visiting fans however, the night air was filled with the whiff of promise, as Hoffenheim, themselves under tremendous pressure only a week ago, celebrated a second consecutive Bundesliga win.
The assembled media did their best to extract some expressions of satisfaction from 1899's newly-appointed sporting director Andreas Müller at the post-match press conference, and with a degree of success. "Could it be said of this game that Andreas Müller came, saw and conquered?" asked one journalist, to which Müller allowed himself a chuckle. "Of course, we delivered a good performance and managed to show what this young team are capable of", he readily acknowledged.
Müller's allusions to a certain "sloppiness in possession" and the effort that the club are putting in to "keeping a lid on any possible euphoria" took nothing away from the team's overall performance and the ever-growing feeling that, after beginning the campaign with three straight defeats and conceding eleven goals, Hoffenheim's ship is heading into calmer waters.
Stuttgart in Crisis
For their more illustrious neighbours Stuttgart, it was another demoralising defeat, made worse by the fact this was the first time their ambitious new regional rivals had beaten them in the league since taking their top-flight bow in 2008. The balance from the previous eight meetings was four wins and four draws.
Head coach Bruno Labbadia made no attempt to deflect any blame from a poor team performance. "We made too many silly mistakes and didn't play as a team", a sentiment echoed by his own sporting director Fredi Bobic, who commented that, "Not one player was operating at the necessary level."
The spectators saw two teams headed in altogether different directions. From one of the division's strongest teams at the back end of last season, Stuttgart are now lying in the depths of 17th place in the Bundesliga table, only a point ahead of bottom club FC Augsburg. Labbadia's side have gathered just two points from their first five games and face a tricky away fixture at 1. FC Nuremberg on Matchday 6. Easing their domestic troubles will be even more difficult in view of their ongoing distractions in the UEFA Europa League.
Hoffenheim, on the other hand, are now looking to climb further up the standings. The likes of Sebastian Rudy and USA international Fabian Johnson have hit form at the right time, and in Takashi Usami the club have their own Japanese sensation to rival Eintracht Frankfurt's Takashi Inui and 1. FC Nuremberg's Hiroshi Kiyotake. Confidence is one of the most precious commodities in this, or any league, and Hoffenheim will have it in bags when they run out against Augsburg at the weekend.
Jens Fischer reporting from the Mercedes-Benz Arena