VfB Stuttgart has made a gigantic step towards remaining in the Bundesliga next season. On Thursday night, the Swabians beat 2. Bundesliga side Hamburger SV 3-0 at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Stuttgart. Konstantinos Mavropanos (1’), Josha Vagnoman (51’), and Serhou Guirassy (54’) were the scorers for Stuttgart. HSV also had a player, Anssi Suhonen, sent off in the 69th minute.
Despite expressing optimism, HSV head coach Tim Walter looked on in great disappointment during the post-game press conference. “We have to make the impossible possible now,” Walter said after the game. “The Volksparkstadion,” Walter added when asked what gives him hope ahead of Monday’s second leg.
Indeed, the HSV fans cannot be faulted for the result on Thursday. In fact, the noise generated by both sets of supporters made this a spectacle off and on the pitch. Some Stuttgart supporters will now travel to Hamburg with great optimism that they can remain in the Bundesliga.
Stuttgart head coach Sebastian Hoeneß and sporting director Fabian Wolgemuth, however, were quick to state that the Bundesliga relegation playoffs were far from over. “We have to go there and remain focused,” Wolgemuth said in the mixed zone. “I expect that they will come at us right away, throw everything they have at us trying to overcome the deficit,” Hoeneß added.
The Swabians will be aware that they are one of only three Bundesliga sides to have lost the relegation playoffs to a second-division side since the format was reinstated in 2008/09. Nürnberg (5-0 on aggregate against Energie Cottbus in 2009), Fortuna Düsseldorf (4-3 on aggregate against Hertha Berlin in 2012), and Union Berlin against Stuttgart in 2019 were the only 2. Bundesliga to win the relegation playoffs.
Stuttgart, in fact, went down in the most brutal fashion in 2018. VfB was relegated after a 2-2 draw at home and a 0-0 on the road at Köpenick, going down thanks to the away goal rule. That result has also produced the unlikely rise of Union Berlin from Berlin’s no.2 club to Champions League prominence—but that is a different story.
Away goals, at least, will not play a role on Monday. The Deutsche Fußball Liga (DFL), which governs the promotion playoffs between the two top divisions, has abandoned the away goal rule, mirroring a decision made by UEFA
It also means that a single goal in Hamburg by Stuttgart will end the tie. Hamburg, after all, needs to win the game by just a three-goal difference to force extra time and potentially penalties.
But even though Walter said all the right things following the game on Thursday, stating that he remains optimistic, that his side can use the home advantage, and that the Hamburg club will not stop fighting until the final whistle, his look spoke a thousand words. Whenever Walter was not speaking, the bench boss was looking into the distance, deflated, disappointed, after his club got not only crushed by Stuttgart but also thought that they were promoted last week only to find out that Heidenheim had won their game in the 11th minute of injury time.
In other words, this season threatens to be another soul-crushing campaign for HSV fans. Stuttgart fans, in the meantime, can be more optimistic. They are now likely to remain in the Bundesliga, and in Sebastian Hoeneß, they have one of the most exciting coaches in Germany in charge, who will be the first to underline that the job is not entirely done yet.
Manuel Veth is the host of the Bundesliga Gegenpressing Podcastand the Area Manager USA at Transfermarkt. He has also been published in the Guardian, Newsweek, Howler, Pro Soccer USA, and several other outlets. Follow him on Twitter: @ManuelVeth