Munich - An under-par start to the Bundesliga campaign for the UEFA Europa League representatives has led some to question whether the clubs' participation in European competition will ultimately prove their undoing.
Stuttgart's travelling toils
Ahead of Matchday 3, VfB Stuttgart were in 14th position, SC Freiburg in 16th and Eintracht Frankfurt in 18th - all three without a league win so far this term.
bundesliga.com examines the troubled trio's prospects for the season ahead...
Stuttgart have already endured a longer campaign than any side in the Bundesliga, starting their campaign with a Europa League qualifying tie on 1 August. After knocking out Bulgarians PFC Botev Plovdiv to reach the group stage play-offs, they then suffered a demoralising 2-1 defeat to HNK Rijeka, leaving their place in the competition hanging by a thread.
The Rijeka loss has raised further questions as to whether the Europa League could hinder the Swabians' domestic ambitions this season. Coach Bruno Labbadia remained confident that his team would progress, but admitted that individual mistakes are making life more difficult. "We're in a bit of a crisis in terms of results at present," he commented before Matchday 3's visit to FC Augsburg. "Unnecessary loss of possession really tends to cost us."
Victims of their own success
Freiburg, meanwhile, have been brought down to earth with a bump after securing a somewhat remarkable fifth-place finish last term. Key players were propelled into the spotlight, with the subsequent departures of Max Kruse, Johannes Flum and Cedrick Makiadi hitting the club hard.
Although fitting replacements have been found, such as Mike Hanke and Francis Coquelin, losing the nucleus of a such a talented young side is hardly ideal preparation for such an intense season. Die Breisgauer snatched a point with a 3-3 draw against TSG 1899 Hoffenheim this weekend, but face FC Bayern Munich at home next Tuesday, meaning they could have just one point on the board by the time the Europa League groups stage draw is made on 29 August.
Of the three sides in question, last season's sixth-place outfit Eintracht Frankfurt perhaps look best-placed to mount a two-pronged challenge. Irrespective of their opening two defeats, coach Armin Veh will hope that his side's comfortable 2-0 victory in Azerbaijan over Qarabag FK in the first leg of the play-offs will kick-start their season. "It was an important step for us."
A trip to new boys Eintracht Braunschweig awaits on Sunday, and three points would certainly leave the club in a much better state than at the end of Matchday 2.
The attraction of the Europa League is the chance to compete in front of a continental audience against sides of a similar, if not higher, standing. Indeed, the competition's revamp means that this season's winners will be rewarded with a place in the UEFA Champions League the following year.
For clubs as proud as Stuttgart, Freiburg and Frankfurt, any chance to challenge for silverware will be approached with vim and vigour. Imperfect Bundesliga starts aside, rest assured that there will be no let up, if and when the group stages finally arrive.