Cologne - And then there were two. In the midst of what is proving a troubled campaign even by their own precarious recent standards, VfB Stuttgart are pinning their hopes on a couple of freshly-turned 19-year-old local talents called Timo to help extricate them from an increasingly .
With the South West's biggest traditional club in danger of being cut adrift at the foot of the table, and only ten games left to turn things around, it is quite a burden of responsibility. One, however, that and are evidently more than willing to shoulder and, even in these rocky times, the two youngsters continue to enjoy a particular rapport with the fans still crowding into the Mercedes-Benz Arena in the hope of an imminent and dramatic turnaround.
Werner is already a Bundesliga old hand, indeed exceptionally so. In the to Borussia Dortmund on Matchday 22, he became the youngest player ever to rack up 50 games in Germany's national top flight, at 18 years, eleven months and 14 days old – hitting the milestone some three weeks earlier than the previous record-holder, FC Schalke 04's Julian Draxler. The left-sided attacking specialist had little to celebrate on the day, though, and his namesake Baumgartl even less.
Two days older than Werner but still a top-flight novice, having taken his first-team bow only last November at Werder Bremen, Baumgartl gave the ball away to Marco Reus in the dying minutes of the contest, leaving the Dortmund forward with a straightforward finish for what would prove the winning goal. To make matters worse, a similar lapse from the young central defender had led directly to 1899 Hoffenheim's added-time winner only a week earlier.
Support from all sides for Baumgartl
On that occasion, he had received the unstinting backing of his teammates and the management, with sporting director Robin Dutt pointing out there was no sense in “promoting young players then tearing them to bits when they're involved in conceding a goal.” Against Dortmund, meanwhile, there was the memorable sight of fans consoling a visibly dismayed Baumgartl as the team acknowledged their support after the game.
“That's one I've really got to make good on,” the native of nearby Böblingen admitted. Having just been handed a new contract valid through to 2018, he should have ample opportunity to do so and all concerned are in agreement that those costly lapses were distinctly out of character. Former VfB head coach Armin Veh, who gave him his big chance off the bench on Matchday 11, described Baumgartl's style as that of “someone with a hundred league games under his belt. He's very clear-headed.”
For his part, the youngster has said his composed exterior conceals a “quite different reality. I get goosebumps before every game.” As an under-17 national title winner in 2013, he is no stranger to success in a Stuttgart shirt and that strong association with the club at junior level undoubtedly helped cement his early place in the hearts of the VfB faithful.
Good result urgently needed: next stop Leverkusen
Baumgartl has cited FC Barcelona and Spain centre-back Gerard Pique as one role-model, and former Stuttgart skipper Serdar Tasci as another. Tasci ended his first full season as a pro by lifting the title and while mere Bundesliga survival is Baumgartl's immediate goal, helping VfB return to the top-end place they view as rightfully theirs has to be the mid-term target. His frontline namesake Timo Werner, now well into his second top-flight season, has had to come of age in a perpetually struggling team and his own dedication to the hometown cause remains unwavering.
Having exploded onto the scene as Stuttgart's youngest-ever Bundesliga debutant last season, and also made a decent start to this one, Werner has not been immune from the malaise afflicting the team as a whole, not least in the forward department. He himself has now been waiting since the end of November to add to his three-goal tally for the campaign and, as Dutt put it, currently experiencing “the hard side of life as a pro.” One goal, and one win, could turn that all on its head, for player, team and club alike. They could really do with it at the earliest possible opportunity – away to Bayer 04 Leverkusen, in Friday's Matchday 25 opener.