Nuremberg - The Bundesliga is gearing up for the next twist in what is becoming an increasingly enthralling tale in the relegation battle, with second-bottom 1. FC Nürnberg hosting 15th-placed strugglers VfB Stuttgart on Wednesday (kick-off 19:00 GMT/20:00 CET).
Down but not out
The two basement bedfellows come into the tie with differing mindsets on the back of their Matchday 26 results. Nürnberg succumbed to a fourth consecutive loss in their 5-2 reverse at home to Frankfurt on Sunday, while the Huub Stevens era finally got up and running at Stuttgart with a 1-0 victory over Hamburger SV.
“We wanted to play aggressively but we didn’t have enough self-confidence,” said FCN coach Gertjan Verbeek after their latest defeat. “The result is very disappointing but now we need to bounce back and pick up three points against Stuttgart.” That will be easier said than done according to leading scorer Josep Drmic, who was on target against Frankfurt in sublime fashion: “We have to perform a lot better than we have done in recent games. We’ve been reacting instead of taking the initiative. We have to change a lot of things and everyone out on the pitch has to give their all.”
Two players who won’t be taking to the field for the hosts are , who is suspended, and broken-nose victim Ondrej Petrak, forcing Verbeek into a defensive reshuffle. Nevertheless, it is not all doom and gloom in northern Bavaria, with Nürnberg taking heart from the way they fought back from 3-0 down against Frankfurt to make it 3-2, before eventually capitulating again.
Stuttgart sticking together
Key to unlocking the visiting defence will be 13-goal Drmic, whose combination play with and in that 15-minute spell in the second half had Frankfurt on the ropes. Nürnberg’s home form does not bode well however, with just two victories recorded all season at the Grundig Stadion.
Stuttgart will be confident of pouncing on that vulnerability on Matchday 27 and bolstering their meagre one-point advantage over Nürnberg in the standings. Messages on the club’s website and Twitter feed have been urging fans to “stick together” in recent weeks and that appears to have got through to the players too. Against Hamburg, Stevens’ men played with greater verve than had been evident of late. “We’re a big family,” matchwinner Alexandru Maxim told told bundesliga.com after the victory. “That’s the most important thing in our situation. We need to help each other out on the pitch - that’s the only way we can win our games.”
Stuttgart may have now gone three games unbeaten, but Stevens is in no doubt that there is still plenty of work to be done. “We’re very happy to have won three points,” said the veteran Dutchman, "but there was still a lot of uncertainty in the team after the results of recent matches. That’s understandable, but I hope the victory gives them some self-confidence.” One man in desperate need of a boost is forward , who appeared rusty on Matchday 26 after missing five games through suspension.
The Bosnian international is nevertheless expected to lead the line once more in a game that - on paper at least - is one of Stuttgart’s more winnable encounters in an extremely tough season run-in. Before the campaign is out, the Swabians face some of the Bundesliga’s finest, with fixtures against FC Bayern München, Borussia Dortmund, FC Schalke 04, Borussia Mönchengladbac and VfL Wolfsburg still to come.
Nürnberg: Schäfer - Feulner, Stark, Pogatetz, Plattenhardt - Frantz - Drmic, Campana, kiyotake, Hlousek - Pekhart
Stuttgart: Ulreich - Schwaab, Rüdiger, Niedermeier, Sakai - Gentner, Boka - Harnik, Traore, Rausch - Ibisevic
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