Stuttgart v Koln – Mercedes-Benz Arena at 16:30 live on BT Sport Europe
Stuttgart are one of the Bundesliga’s behemoths that underperformed in 2014/15 and I’m expecting the Swabians to bite back this season. Champions as recently as 2007, the club quickly fell into crisis and came ever so close to relegation.
Dutch firefighter Huub Stevens eventually kept the Reds afloat before leaving in the summer, paving the way for a whole new approach under the stewardship of Alex Zorniger. The former RB Leipzig boss has earmarked European qualification as this term’s aim and his no-holds-barred attacking philosophy should at least make Stuttgart an entertaining watch.
The squad has been largely untouched bar the arrivals of two goalkeepers in Mitch Langerak and Przemyslaw Tyton with the Swabians hierarchy keen to continue blooding youngsters from their impressive youth academy. Filip Kostic, Daniel Didavi and Daniel Ginczek can all play decisive roles whilst Christian Gentner’s leadership and Serey Die’s aggression has the potential to push the Reds into the top-half.
Only relegated Paderborn picked up fewer points at home than Stuttgart last year but 13 of the 19 points they accrued at the Mercedes-Benz Arena came in their final five fixtures. Zorniger knows an improvement must be sought if the Reds are to come anywhere close to puncturing the top-six.
Koln head south for their trip to Stuttgart eager to avoid the dreaded second season syndrome. The Billy Goats were bland, most the time boring, but effective in their first season back in the big time. Led by experienced Peter Stöger, Koln didn’t spend one week inside the bottom three thanks to their impeccably organised, defensively resilient style and effective counter-attack.
Main striker Anthony Ujah and centre-back Kevin Wimmer moved on this summer but Stöger invested the money wisely, with Leo Bittencourt, Frederik Sörensen, Milos Jojic and Anthony Modeste the most eye-catching arrivals.
Rarely were the Billy Goats outclassed last season and even more scare were goal-heavy games. The visitors racked up an unprecedented nine goalless encounters and 13 clean sheets but were also held scoreless on 15 occasions. It means Sunday’s duel with Stuttgart should be an intriguing tactical contest between polar opposite ideologies.
My preference is to put faith in the hosts off a -0.50 Asian Handicap start at 2.10. The Swabians showed their potential by racing into a 4-0 first-half lead against Manchester City in a pre-season friendly and should the talented young guns be given license to express themselves, Stuttgart can start looking upwards rather than down.
Neither of last term’s stalwart centre-halves are around for Koln and Stöger’s side will be playing for a point. The visitors lost six of their 11 trips to teams that finished above them in 2014/15 and a similar conclusion looks likely this weekend.
Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: Stuttgart -0.5 @ 2.10
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