Stuttgart - FC Augsburg are hoping to stretch their unbeaten streak to eight games when they travel to a VfB Stuttgart side struggling to find their stride in the second half of the season (kick-off 15:30 CET).
“Got to be patient”
Thomas Schneider’s side have lost all three of their opening Rückrunde games - despite taking the lead in every encounter - and the Swabians’ head coach is determined to put that run to an end on Sunday afternoon.
Stuttgart will feel justifiably aggrieved not to have picked up at least a point in 2014, but Schneider revealed his players’ confidence has not been dented following three straight defeats. “We’ve worked with a great amount of concentration during the week,” explained the 41-year-old. “There was a lot of intensity in training. Mentally the team are on the right level.”
Welcoming the league’s surprise package to the Mercedes-Benz Arena, Schneider has outlined a clear plan of action for Gotoku Sakai and Co. “We’ve got to be patient,” said the VfB boss. “When we win the ball we’ve got to make the most of it and move forward as quickly as possible.” Sporting director Fredi Bobic, meanwhile, is hoping two key ingredients play their part in finding a recipe for success: “I’m expecting us to take to the field with great commitment and passion in order to take all three points.”
Ji fighting to be first choice
Taking on a team currently in the best form of their three-season Bundesliga career won’t be a walk in the park, however. “Augsburg will stay very compact and, as always, demonstrate exemplary fitness,” admitted Schneider, who has a full squad at his disposal with the exception of absent captain Christian Gentner, still labouring under the effects of a thigh injury.
FCA will be hoping to recreate the performance that saw them clinch a 2-1 victory over Stuttgart on Matchday 3, but Markus Weinzierl's side have a few absentees of their own: First-choice goalkeeper Marwin Hitz and Raphael Holzhauser, on loan at Augsburg from VfB, are still unavailable for selection, while Dong-Won Ji and Raul Bobadilla are both vying for a starting berth up front. Jan Moravek has returned to training, but is unlikely to feature in the squad.
Not counting chickens
Augsburg may be punching above their weight this season, but head coach Weinzierl is taking nothing for granted going into this weekend. “Even if we’re currently ahead of Stuttgart in the league standings, it says nothing about which team are favourites for the match,” said Weinzierl. “The table doesn’t lie after 34 Matchdays, but at present it can cheat you somewhat.”
Reaching the illustrious 40-point mark remains the top priority for Halil Altintop and Co., but despite being twelve points off that magical number with 15 games left to play, Augsburg are refusing to let complacency creep in against a side who have proven their strength in recent matches, according to Weinzierl. “Anyone who saw their performances against FC Bayern and Bayer Leverkusen knows how strong they are,” conceded the 39-year-old. “However, we’ve built up our self-confidence and as a result are determined to pick up another win in Stuttgart.”
Stuttgart: Ulreich - G. Sakai, Schwaab, Rüdiger, Rausch - Leitner, Khedira - Harnik, Ti. Werner - Abdellaoue, Ibisevic
Augsburg: Manninger - Verhaegh, Callsen-Bracker, Klavan, Ostrzolek - Baier - Hahn, Vogt, Halil Altintop, To. Werner - Bobadilla