Stuttgart – Sunday’s Matchday 29 action begins at the Mercedes-Benz-Arena, where VfB Stuttgart host Borussia Mönchengladbach with both sides still hopeful of European qualification.
While the home side's most likely route into the UEFA Europa League is arguably by way of the DFB Cup, another top-six finish remains a distinct possibility for seventh-placed Gladbach
Stuttgart have lost seven of their 11 matches since the turn of the year, leaving them nine points adrift of the promised land with just six games left. Nevertheless, a difficult season may yet be salvaged by victory in next week's cup semi-final against SC Freiburg. With newly-confirmed Bundesliga champions FC Bayern Munich still in the competition, an appearance in the final could be enough for the Swabians to claim their place on the continent.
Head coach Bruno Labbadia alluded to the importance of Wednesday’s clash, but also insisted that the players’ minds were firmly focused on beating Gladbach: “The spark has to come from us, and then we can look forward to the support of the fans. There is still a chance that we can climb the league table, but that requires us beating Gladbach.”
Need for improvement
The visitors, by contrast, remain remain in contention for a place among the leading pack. The Foals were 1-0 victors over bottom club Greuther Fürth last weekend, but head coach Lucien Favre saw room for improvement from his players: “We need more speed to our game and to make those runs in behind more often."
One player who could help make the difference in Stuttgart is Juan Arango. The Venezuelan international’s form has dipped in recent weeks, but Favre was quick to reiterate his importance to the side: “He's been really impressive this season, especially in times where we struggled. Without his goals, we wouldn’t be where we are.”
Tale of two strikers
Where the points end up come Sunday tea-time might well depend on which team’s leading striker enjoys the better day. Vedad Ibisevic’s 12 goals this term make him the danger man for Stuttgart, but he has scored just two in his last dozen appearances. Gladbach’s Luuk de Jong, meanwhile, has managed six goals thus far but boasts excellent form with three in his last five.
Stuttgart: Ulreich – Rüdiger, Tasci, Niedermeier, Molinaro – Boka, Kvist – Okazaki, Maxim, Traore – Ibisevic
Gladbach: ter Stegen – Jantschke, Dominguez, Brouwers, Wendt – Herrmann, Nordtveit; Marx, Arango – Younes – de Jong