Vedad Ibisevic (c.), who scored the winner in this fixture on Matchday 8, returns for Stuttgart...
Vedad Ibisevic (c.), who scored the winner in this fixture on Matchday 8, returns for Stuttgart...

European hopefuls clash in Stuttgart

Stuttgart - With one side short of confidence and the other short of form, one thing is clear: VfB Stuttgart and Hamburger SV are in desperate need of points and both will be pulling out all the stops to maintain their hopes of competing for European qualification when they meet on Sunday evening (kick-off 17:30).

Down on their luck

The hosts, famed for their strength in the second half of the season, have collected just four points from a possible 21 , while HSV are yet to truly recover from the 5-1 hammering they suffered at the hands of Hannover 96.

With Stuttgart's UEFA Europa League hopes hanging by a thread after Thursday’s 2-0 defeat at home to S.S. Lazio, the Swabians' league form could prove imperative to their chances of being in the competition again next season. Despite still competing on three fronts, VfB’s team morale seems to have suffered in recent weeks. “I can’t guarantee that we’ll see a different Stuttgart when we take on Hamburg,” William Kvist told after the defeat to the Italian heavyweights.

However, the Danish international made no bones about how pivotal this weekend’s encounter is in VfB’s current campaign. “It's a really important game for us and we'll be giving it everything,” said the 28-year-old. “We want to be fighting higher up the table and to put some distance between us and those behind us. We haven't picked up enough points so far in the second half of the season. We want to change that on Sunday.”

“Tough nut to crack”

Head coach Bruno Labbadia has opted to focus on the positives though, pointing out during Friday’s press conference that he couldn’t ask any more of his side because they’ve “permanently pushed themselves to the limit” this season. Yet the 47-year-old did go on to admit that his team had been stretched “brutally thin”. “That’s not an excuse, it’s a fact,” Labbadia said.

With 30 points left to play for and just eight separating them from European qualification, hope is not lost for the Swabians, who will be able to call upon the services of star striker Vedad Ibisevic once again. The Bosnian was sorely missed against Lazio and, alongside the likes of Martin Harnik and Raphael Holzhauser, who were rested midweek, will be key to Stuttgart breaking through a Hamburg side Labbadia described as a “tough nut to crack”.

On the right track

That’s certainly what his counterpart, Thorsten Fink, is hoping to see from his Red Shorts, who have conceded six times in their last two games. “Our main aim is to keep a clean sheet," said the HSV head coach, who could be without captain Heiko Westermann due to a niggling calf injury. “We almost always score at least once. We’re not going there for just a single point. We’ve shown positive development in many areas this season, but we must further ourselves in certain areas like our consistency."

For now though, the Hamburg players are not concerning themselves with Europe, but instead on where they stand in what many believe is a season of transition under Fink’s stewardship. “It seems silly to be discussing our chances of European football every week,” said HSV left-back Marcell Jansen, who alongside striker Heung Min Son, is one of several players thriving under the tutelage of the former FC Bayern defender. “In Stuttgart we’re determined to take another step forward.”

Possible line-ups:

Stuttgart: Ulreich - G. Sakai, Tasci, Rüdiger, Molinaro - Kvist - Harnik, Gentner, Okazaki, Traore - Ibisevic

Hamburg: Adler - Diekmeier, Bruma, Rajkovic, Jansen - Rincon - Skjelbred, Aogo - van der Vaart - Son, Beister

James Thorogood