Sinsheim - Separated by just nine points and one place in the standings, local rivals 1899 Hoffenheim and VfB Stuttgart have rarely been more in need of points ahead of Sunday's Schwaben derby (kick-off 17:30 CET).
Closing the gap
Both sides are short of form with Stuttgart yet to pick up a point since the turn of the year, while Hoffenheim have only managed to collect four points from a possible twelve.
Hoffenheim head coach Marco Kurz was in attendance when Stuttgart hosted Bremen last weekend and saw a VfB side who, in his words, "had Bremen with their backs to the wall for 40 minutes". 1899 can move within six points of their rivals by winning on Sunday, a powerful and worthwhile source of motivation in a draining relegation battle: "We want and need to take three points against a good opponent who don't have the rhythm that they once had at present."
Having witnessed his side overcome local rivals SC Freiburg last time out, Kurz is hoping to see a similar performance. "We want to make sure that we show the same amount of passion and drive in front of our own fans," said the 43-year-old. "It's a really important game for both teams and one that will require our full commitment. Unlike recent matches, though, we're determined to start and finish games a lot better."
Stuttgart did one of the two in their midweek encounter with KRC Genk in the UEFA Europa League, but came away with a sour taste in the mouth after conceding in the dying moments of their 1-1 draw with the Belgians. "We'd have taken an ugly 1-0 win against Genk given the current situation we're in," admitted sporting director Fredi Bobic. "Now we've got to win on Sunday instead."
That will be easier said than done a VfB side who have lost five straight dating back to before the winter break, conceding 14 and scoring on just three occasions. Bruno Labbadia's men are short on confidence and their form is indicative of a relegation candidate. "We're just not effective or creative enough up front and far too inconsistent at the back," striker Martin Harnik told bundesliga.com.
Out of form
Goalkeeper Sven Ulreich is hoping the derby will give the squad the boost they need: "It will be a heated game, but we have an obligation to win it. I feel positive enough because we created numerous openings against Genk and, at times, played some really good football."
Stuttgart's downturn in form has, hardly surprisingly, been mirrored by a dearth of goals in recent weeks. Harnik and fellow striker Vedad Ibisevic were prolific in the first half of the campaign, but their collective barren spell has led to a readjustment of ambition from the 2007 champions. "We shouldn't be feeling like we're safe," said Bobic during the week. "Our goal now is first and foremost to collect 40 points."
Hoffenheim: Gomes - Beck, Abraham, Delpierre, Johnson - Williams, Polanski - Ochs, Volland, Usami - de Camargo
Stuttgart: Ulreich - G. Sakai, Tasci, Niedermeier, Boka - Kvist - Gentner, Holzhauser - Harnik, Traore - Ibisevic