Stuttgart head coach Huub Stevens faces former club Schalke for the first time on Matchday 31
Stuttgart head coach Huub Stevens faces former club Schalke for the first time on Matchday 31

Points over nostalgia for Stevens in Royal Blue reunion

Stuttgart - Sentimentality would probably not be high on the list of characteristics springing to mind for the average Bundesliga follower if asked to describe Huub Stevens in a few words.

Coach of the Century

The man brought on board by VfB Stuttgart at the start of March to turn around an ongoing form slump which had dropped the club into the thick of the relegation battle long ago earned a reputation as one of the game's great pragmatists, straight-talking to the point of dourness.

That established history, coupled with the club's still-critical situation at the wrong end of the standings, more than likely rules out the prospect of a glint of emotion in the veteran Dutch coach's eye in remembrance of times past when he steps out with his new charges to face FC Schalke 04 at the Mercedes-Benz-Arena this Sunday.

Yet, for all that, Stevens' name remains inextricably linked to the Gelsenkirchen outfit – to the extent that in a poll of more than 10,000 fans in 2004 he was voted Schalke's Coach of the Century – his sole focus through to the final whistle will be to try and ensure that VfB end the game three desperately-needed points to the good.

Foiled at the last, yet again

After the match, regardless of the outcome, he may well take a short time-out to shoot the breeze with a few familiar faces from his second, rather shorter stint with the Royal Blues in 2011/12, among them his successor in the hot seat there, Jens Keller. The former Under-17 coach, who was given a shotgun promotion when the club parted ways with Stevens in December 2012, has come through some rocky moments of his own to guide Schalke up to a solid third place and only FC Bayern München have a marginally better league record than them in 2014.

On form, the visitors would thus appear to have a distinct edge on a Stuttgart side whose first six games under Stevens, while altogether more productive than those that came immediately before, have been something of a mixed bag nonetheless. At first glance, a 1-1 draw at European aspirants Borussia Mönchengladbach last time out might not look like such a bad return for a side struggling just above the relegation waterline. In reality though, Stuttgart were heading for a precious maximum haul until Juan Arango nabbed an unlikely headed equaliser for the Foals in the 89th minute.

It was the 18th goal VfB had conceded inside the final quarter-hour this season, an unwelcome division high, with 12 of those leaked since the turn of the year. Stevens, of course, is well aware it has been a problem, which only makes its ongoing nature all the more frustrating.

Tough going down the home straight

The balance of his first half-dozen matches thus reads as three draws, two wins and two losses. Both victories came against direct relegation rivals, Hamburger SV (1-0) and SC Freiburg (2-0), as did one of the defeats (2-0 at 1. FC Nürnberg). With four regular-season games remaining, Stuttgart are fourth from bottom, a single point above Hamburg, another of Stevens' former clubs. After the encounter with Schalke, a trip to Hannover 96, themselves still not safe from the drop, a final home game against VfL Wolfsburg and a visit to FC Bayern complete the programme.

It hardly adds up to the easiest of run-ins and while Stevens' bond with the Schalke fans remains undiminished, so too does his appetite for getting the job done. In Gelsenkirchen, he is remembered for his two DFB Cup successes, for taking the team to within seconds of a first Bundesliga title in 2001 and above all as the man whose 'Eurofighters' scrapped their way to victory in the UEFA Cup in his first season in charge. All great memories for future rainy days by the fireside but for now, Stevens' only concern is that his 2013/14 legacy will be to have kept VfB Stuttgart afloat in the top flight.

Take a look at Stuttgart's regular woes in the closing period on the Bundesliga's official YouTube channel: