Munich - VfB Stuttgart’s improvement under new coach Thomas Schneider has been nothing short of remarkable. Since the 40-year-old took the reins at the Mercedes-Benz Arena, the Swabians are Bundesliga matches and are now just three points off fourth-place Borussia Mönchengladbach, despite losing their first three league games.
Turned the corner
While top scorer , and Martin Harnik have all played a pivotal role in die Schwaben's reversal in fortunes, two players flying under the radar are VfB's African duo, Ibrahima Traoré and Arthur Boka, whose contribution should not be forgotten...
Like most of his team-mates, had a torrid start to the 2013/14 campaign. The 25-year-old, who has scored four goals in 21 international appearances for Guinea, started VfB’s opening defeats to 1. FSV Mainz and Bayer 04 Leverkusen, before receiving a straight red card for a tackle FC Augsburg's Ronny Philp on Matchday 3. Traoré's dismissal turned out to be one of the final major incidents of Bruno Labbadia’s spell as coach.
Since returning from his early suspension, however, Traoré's youthful exuberance and energy down the flanks has proved invaluable in terrorising opposition defences with increasing regularity. Against Eintracht Braunschweig on Matchday 7, Traoré enjoyed his best game of the season so far, scoring his first goal of the campaign and setting up two more in VfB’s 4-0 victory. Stuttgart will be hoping he can produce performances of similar quality in the coming months.
Stuttgart's Mr. Dependable
While Traoré and Co. are starting to find their feet at one end of the pitch, Stuttgart are also beginning to look more solid at the other. The Swabians’ backline was far from convincing in the opening matches of the season and the departure of former skipper Serdar Tasci to FC Spartak Moskva, as well an ankle injury to Georg Niedermeier, hardly helped matters.
One man who has helped sure up the backline is Ivorian international Boka. Deployed in a holding midfield role under Labbadia, the 30-year-old has reverted to his more favourable left-back position under Schneider and has repaid the new coach with trademark no-nonsense performances. Boka, who has played every minute of every game so far this season, adds much-needed experience to a backline that boasts a rising young star in Antonio Rüdiger.
Rüdiger on the rise
Born in Berlin to a Sierra Leonean mother and a German father, Rüdiger has stepped up to the plate for VfB since Tasci’s departure, starting all but two of Stuttgart’s games this season. His sending off against Hamburger SV on Matchday 9 was the only blot in the youngster's otherwise impressive copybook.
Rüdiger’s brother, Sahr Senesie, made 24 appearances for Borussia Dortmund between 2004 and 2008 - Stuttgart's opponents on Matchday 11. There is no reason why VfB can’t give BVB a run for their money, however, and though Rüdiger is suspended for that match, with Traoré and Boka set to start, the African nations will be well represented at Signal Iduna Park on Friday evening.
Find out what happened when Stuttgart travelled Dortmund in the 2011/12 season, courtesy of the Bundesliga's official YouTube channel: