Frankfurt - The relegation battle is heating up, especially for Eintracht Frankfurt and VfB Stuttgart, who are separated by just three points in the standings as they get set to go head-to-head on Sunday evening (kick-off 16:30 GMT/17:30 CET).
The Eagles and this weekend’s visitors are gearing up for a season-defining string of fixtures with both set to face several sides lingering in the lower echelons of the Bundesliga during the month of March. “We’ve only got finals ahead of us,” admitted Stuttgart sporting director Fredi Bobic.
Frankfurt are in just as perilous a position, and go into Sunday's clash on the back of a heart-breaking 3-3 draw with FC Porto at the Commerzbank Arena that saw them knocked out of the UEFA Europa League on away goals. “Of course the players are disappointed,” said head coach Armin Veh. “But I think we’ve put the defeat behind us very quickly.”
With games against Hamburg, Freiburg and Nürnberg on the horizon Veh is hoping his side can gain confidence from pushing a UEFA Champions League calibre side to the brink. “We can be proud of the way we performed despite getting knocked out,” explained the 53-year-old, who is aware his side are in for another tough test this weekend. “This is a crucial match for us. Stuttgart have a lot of quality, which is why it’s so surprising to see them near the foot of the table. However, we know what to expect.”
Thursday night’s encounter certainly took a lot out of the Eagles, with Veh admitting that some of his players are “carrying knocks”, but Marco Russ, suspended for the midweek match-up, is expected to return to the starting line-up. “I don’t know if we’ll have the team we need on Sunday,” admitted the Frankfurt boss, who is already without midfield maestro Sebastian Rode. “But the experience of being able to go toe-to-toe with a top European side should give us a greater sense of optimism.”
Stuttgart, meanwhile, are hoping to be able to welcome Christian Gentner back into the fold after the club captain returned to training during the week having recovered from a torn thigh muscle. “I feel good,” said the 28-year-old. “We’ll have to see how the muscle reacts.” Gentner could line up alongside Moritz Leitner, fresh from a one-game ban, but doubts still surround the fitness of Daniel Schwaab and Rani Khedira.
“Always get back up”
Off the pitch concerns currently pale in comparison to those on the pitch, though, with Stuttgart currently in the midst of a seven-game losing streak, but head coach Thomas Schneider insisted that “it was great to see” how his players had got over the disappointment. However, the 41-year-old did concede their run of form, which has left them just four points off the foot of the table, is “a catastrophic streak and one I’m determined to rectify.”
The Schwaben are putting on a brave face, but there appears to be a feeling of one win - even if it’s “ugly” in the words of Bobic - could change everything for the struggling side. “Everyone knows what’s at stake,” conceded Schneider, who explained that his side became “a much tighter unit this week”, in keeping with the club’s ’Stay Together’ campaign and further proof that Stuttgart are not ready to fly the white flag. “We’ve suffered seven setbacks,” said rising star Timo Werner. “But we always get back up.”
Frankfurt: Trapp - S. Jung, Zambrano, Madlung, Oczipka - Russ - Flum, Lanig - Meier - Aigner, Joselu
Stuttgart: Ulreich - Schwaab, Rüdiger, Niedermeier, Boka - Leitner, Gentner - Harnik, Ti. Werner - Maxim - Abdellaoue
Get up close and personal with Frankfurt's Carlos Zambrano courtesy of the Bundesliga's official YouTube channel.