The club from the South West struggled somewhat at the beginning of the campaign and their progression looked in admittedly premature doubt with just two points on the board at the half-way stage. The quality in the side has prevailed though and, spearheaded by the goals of front three Vedad Ibisevic, Martin Harnik and Shinji Okazaki, two consecutive wins have put them back in the driving seat for a top-two group finish.
Having seen their side compete in the Champions League as recently as 2009/10, Stuttgart's fans went into the current campaign looking forward to rubbing shoulders with some big European names once again. The journey thus far has been anything but straightforward, however. As well as slipping toward the nether regions of their Europa League group, VfB's domestic form also suffered, and they found themselves as low as 15th in the table in early October.
Recently, though, Bruno Labbadia's charges seem to be coping well with the burden of added fixtures, and the englische Wochen are becoming ever more negotiable. They are now up to seventh in the Bundesliga on 22 points, which, incidentlally, is exactly the same position and points tally as last season, when they were not participating in Europe. With their customary improvement after the winter break perhaps still to come, the fans may allow themselves to be quietly confident for the season ahead.
In spite of that underwhelming start to the season, head coach Labbadia sees the European campaign as a boost to the team and a club as a whole. Before the tie, the 46-year-old spoke of just "how much the players can take from a game like this."
What they want to take from it of course is the necessary result, against a side they surprisingly lost to on an evening to forget in in Norway. The remit is clear: win against Molde and they will be in the bowl for the last 32. “We’re not thinking about the league, only this game,” says striker Martin Harnik. “It’s up to us to get ourselves through.”
Stuttgart: Ulreich - Sakai, Tasci, Niedermeyer, Boka - Kvist, Kuzmanovic, Gentner - Okazaki, Harnik - Ibisevic
Molde:Pettersen - Linnes, Steenslid, Forren, Simonsen - Hestad, Hussain, Ewlkrem - Stamneströ, Diouf, Chima