VfB Stuttgart go into Sunday's Matchday 7 encounter against Bayer 04 Leverkusen looking for a pick-me-up after their midweek loss to Molde FK in the UEFA Europa League blotted out the euphoria of collecting their first league win of the season at 1. FC Nuremberg last week.
As witnessed in their 2-0 defeat to the Norwegian champions, Stuttgart have been bereft of a killer instinct in front of goal and are yet to score at the Mercedes-Benz Stadion. "We must play our game cleverly, in particular with our challenges and making more effective use of the chances we have," said head coach Bruno Labbadia ahead of the game against the club he trained for much of the 2008/2009 season.
The pressure is on Stuttgart after FC Augsburg's surprise 3-1 win over Werder Bremen on Friday saw the Swabian club slip back into the bottom three. Labbadia admitted his troops' heads were hanging and is accordingly trying to take a positive approach to the shaky start in order to "tease even more out of the players."
The 46-year-old will have to make do without the injured duo of Tim Hoogland and Shinji Okazaki as well as long-term absentees Johan Audel and Daniel Didavi against Leverkusen.
Völler: "It'll be a tough match"
Despite five points currently separating Stuttgart and the Werkself, Bayer's sporting director Rudi Völler believes the sides are more evenly matched than the current standings suggest. "What we are seeing now is not the true face of Stuttgart and we know that, which is why it will be a tough game," the 1990 World Cup winner said. "They've have had a difficult schedule. Stuttgart will rise up the table again."
Leverkusen themselves have had a difficult start to the season, but after collecting seven points from their last three Bundesliga matches, they are within touching distance of the European spots at present.
Thursday's 1-0 win against Rosenberg Trondheim in the Europa League courtesy of Stefan Kießling's goal has boosted Sami Hyypiä's confidence. The former Finnish international is now looking for his side to maintain their course. "We're going to Stuttgart to win," stated Hyypiä, who is also "expecting a tough game."
Hyypiä, who turns 39 on Sunday, has Stefan Reinartz at his disposal after the defensive midfielder recovered from a groin strain, but there are concerns as to whether Germany international Lars Bender will be available after picking up a minor knee injury in Trondheim.
Stuttgart Ulreich - G. Sakai, Tasci, Niedermeier, Boka - Kuzmanovic - Gentner, Holzhauser - Harnik, Hajnal - Ibisevic
Leverkusen: Leno - Carvajal, Wollscheid, Toprak, Kadlec - L. Bender, Castro, Rolfes - Sam, Schürrle - Kießling