As the Bundesliga’s undisputed form side, VfB Stuttgart have every reason to be optimistic.
Die Schwaben were hovering precariously above the relegation zone when Jürgen Kramny replaced Alexander Zorniger as coach in November, but are now up to tenth on the back of a seven-match unbeaten run - including wins in their last five.
Too strong for Hertha
"It has to continue," Kramny said of Stuttgart’s welcome hot streak. "We’re going to keep working hard, keep calm and continue to plough our own path." VfB’s assiduous approach has yielded 17 points all told, with defeat to Borussia Dortmund back on Bundesliga Matchday 14 representing the only blot to the Kramny-era copybook.
What is most striking about the performances in that time is the growing level of confidence exuded by the Stuttgart players - perhaps best exemplified by Saturday’s 2-0 victory against Hertha Berlin. Shorn of the services of suspended playmaker and leading goalscorer Daniel Didavi, VfB stuck to their well-oiled guns and successfully picked the lock of one of the most resilient sides in this season’s Bundesliga.
Pieces of the puzzle
Goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton - much improved since the turn of the year - pulled off an exceptional save from Stuttgart loanee Vedad Ibisevic with the scores at 0-0, Georg Niedermeier was imperious once again at the heart of defence, Ivorian midfielder Geoffroy Serey Die capped a typically robust display with his first Bundesliga goal, winter loan signing Artem Kravets grabbed an assist and Serbia international flier Filip Kostic added the decisive second goal.
Then there is Lukas Rupp, finally delivering the kind of all-action performances that took the right-sided midfielder from SC Paderborn 07 to Stuttgart in the first place last summer. The 25-year-old, whose teasing cross was helped on its way by Kravets at the Mercedes-Benz Arena, has laid on three direct assists in his last five games and has been involved in more challenges than any other Stuttgart player in 2016.
Survival top of the agenda
Together, Kramny’s tactical nous, Stuttgart’s team spirit and individual talent make for a potent combination. So much so that the three-time Bundesliga champions are now closer to the UEFA Europa League spots (six points) than they are the relegation zone (seven points).
For Die, however, beating the drop remains the priority: "We can’t afford to take our foot off the gas. We must continue to work as hard as we have been. The only target we are talking about is staying in the Bundesliga."