Leverkusen - Operation 'how to mend a broken heart' takes precedence for VfB Stuttgart ahead of their trip to Bayer 04 Leverkusen on Saturday afternoon (kick-off 15:30 CET).
Die Schwaben have lost their last three Bundesliga outings, with their most recent defeat to unflappable Bundesliga pacesetters FC Bayern München arguably the most gut-wrenching knockbacks of the lot.
"I’m really disappointed we lost the game," bemoaned head coach Thomas Schneider after witnessing his side’s last-gasp demise in Wednesday night’s rearranged Matchday 17 fixture. "The lads played really well. They defended with passion and restricted the space. We had our chances, too. There’s no doubt the lads did enough to deserve a point."
A plucky performance or not, it’s fast becoming an all-too familiar tale for 12th-placed Stuttgart, who allowed 1. FSV Mainz 05 to wrestle back the initiative and all three points in another avoidable 2-1 reverse at the Mercedes-Benz-Arena just four days prior to their latest setback.
'We are stronger'
"We need to be seventh or eighth," defiant VfB captain Christian Gentner told the Stuttgarter Nachrichten. "Without sounding like I’m taking a pop at teams like Augsburg, Mainz and Hertha BSC, who are above us, it really annoys me. We are stronger than those teams. And we want to prove it."
Gentner and Co. might not get a better opportunity to flex their top-eight-chasing muscle than against a Leverkusen side nursing a three-match losing streak of their own, with Sami Hyypia’s charges now 13 points adrift of the league leaders and only four clear of the chasing pack. "We have to pick things up and start enjoying our game," admitted captain Simon Rolfes on the eve of his 250th Bundesliga appearance.
The one that got away
Bayer’s skipper will nevertheless take a morsel of comfort from the fact his side have not lost any of their last seven meetings with Baden-Württemberg’s capital club, winning five and drawing two. What’s more, die Werkself’s leading marksman Stefan Kießling has scored more goals (13 in 16 outings) against Stuttgart than any other team in Germany's top flight.
Amidst the heartache and happy hunting grounds, meanwhile, stands one final subplot: Leverkusen custodian Bernd Leno. Deemed surplus to Swabian requirements in 2011, the 21-year-old has latterly established himself as one of the most reliable goalkeepers in Germany’s top flight, conceding 16 fewer goals than Stuttgart counterpart Sven Ulreich so far in 2013/14. Talk about slipping through the net.
Leverkusen: Leno - Donati, Toprak, Spahic, Can - L. Bender, Reinartz, Rolfes - Castro, Kießling, Son
Stuttgart: Ulreich - G. Sakai, Schwaab, Rüdiger, Rausch - Leitner, Khedira - Harnik, Ti. Werner - Abdellaoue, Ibisevic
See for yourself how Bayern broke Stuttgart hearts last Wednesday on the Bundesliga's official YouTube channel: