The Bundesliga is back following the most recent international break, and Sunday sees a mid-table clash between two decent sides as Stuttgart hosts Werder Bremen at the Mercedes-Benz Arena.
Stuttgart were beaten in their last game before the break, as they lost 4-0 away to Bayern Munich. The contest was pretty much over before it even got going, with Die Schwaben conceding three goals in the opening 23 minutes and a fourth before half-time. It was a harsh reality check to Stuttgart, but the club still have genuine European aspirations as they're currently sat only four points behind 6th place Bayer Leverkusen.
Bremen also lost two weeks ago, falling at home to Wolfsburg. The away side went up 2-0, and even though Kevin Möhwald was able to pull one back for Die Grün-Weißen, it was not enough on the day. There’s no reason for Bremen to worry just yet, as they are seven points clear of the bottom three, but they know that they still need to pick up some wins to avoid a late-season fight for survival and boost their confidence going into a potentially deep DFB-Pokal run.
Stuttgart were dealt a major injury blow last weekend, as star man Silas Wamangituka suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament which has ruled him out until October, meaning he’ll miss the rest of this season and the beginning of the next.
He joins a few players on Die Schwaben’s treatment table. Nicolás González and Orel Mangala are both out with thigh injuries, while Hamadi Al Ghaddioui and Clinton Mola are recovering from ankle and hip problems respectively. Momo Cissé and Lilian Egloff are seen as doubts for the contest as well.
Things are a bit better for Bremen, but they’ll still be without a few key players of their own. Josh Sargent is suspended due to yellow card accumulation, while Miloš Veljković picked up a groin injury on international duty and Nick Woltemade is still dealing with a knee issue, so none of them will feature. Then there’s reserve goalkeeper Luca Plogmann, who has been deemed as questionable for Sunday.
Stuttgart: Kobel, Mavropanos, Anton, Kempf, Klimowicz, Castro, Endo, Ahamada, Sosa, Kalajdžić, Coulibaly
Werder Bremen: Pavlenka, Toprak, Moisander, Friedl, Gebre Selassie, Eggestein, Möhwald, Schmid, Augustinsson, Füllkrug
Ones to watch
One of Stuttgart’s key players this season, Saša Kalajdžić has been in spectacular form as of late.
His last month and a half was truly something. Scoring in seven straight Bundesliga games, the Austrian grabbed eight goals in that span as Die Schwaben only lost one of those contests.
Standing at 6’7”, Kalajdžić is much more than just a big man. He’s surprisingly quick and agile, which allows him to get past defenders and open up space for himself in the final third. The forward still makes the most of his height, though, serving as a real threat in the air.
Kalajdžić’s remarkable run came to an end last weekend in Stuttgart’s loss to Munich, but there’s plenty of reason to believe that the forward could kickstart a new scoring streak on Sunday.
There’s going to be added pressure on Kalajdžić for the rest of the season due to Wamangituka’s aforementioned injury. However, if his recent form is anything to go off of, then the forward will likely be up to the challenge.
It’s time for Milot Rashica to step up.
Much has been said of Bremen’s star man this season. From a potential move away in the summer to a pair of injuries during the campaign, it’s been a long year for Rashica. He’s been improving ever since finally returning to the starting lineup, and the winger does have five assists to his name this season, but he’s still yet to score.
Die Grün-Weißen have been patient with Rashica, but things now have to change. The club needs him to be at his best if they want any chance of making the most of this season. Their focus isn’t really on the Bundesliga, to be fair, as they are seven points clear of the bottom three and 10 points behind a potential Europa League qualifying spot.
Bremen’s true sights are set on the DFB-Pokal.
Their quarter-final matchup against Jahn Regensburg takes place on Wednesday, and a win there would set up a semi-final tie at home to RB Leipzig on April 30th. Die Grün-Weißen have reason to dream, but they’ll likely need Rashica to rediscover his top form if they want any realistic hope of raising silverware at the end of the campaign.
That’s why this weekend is big for the Kosovo international. A stellar performance would give him a needed confidence boost going into the remainder of the campaign, while another poor showing could lead to further worry about Rashica.
Pressure makes diamonds, and Bremen will be hoping that the pressure put on Rashica’s shoulders is what gets him firing at an elite level once again.
Last time out
It wasn’t the prettiest contest the last time these two sides faced off, but Stuttgart were still able to pick up a win versus Bremen at the Wohninvest Weserstadion.
Die Grün-Weißen really should have taken an early lead when Yuya Osako got past the opposition backline, but his strike from inside the area flew over the crossbar.
They would rue that miss at the half hour mark when Stuttgart took the lead from the penalty spot. Wataru Endo was fouled in the box by Tahith Chong, and Silas Wamangituka stepped up to convert the resulting spot-kick.
Die Schwaben sealed the result in the final minutes, as a mix-up at the back allowed Wamangituka to steal the ball before eventually kicking it into the back of an empty net. He took his time to do so, though, as he waited for Jiří Pavlenka on the goalline before finally scoring from close range, starting a small skirmish in the process.
Bremen did pull one back at the very end, though. Lumping the ball into the area, a header from Nick Woltemade towards goal was then headed past Stuttgart goalkeeper Gregor Kobel by Davie Selke. It was too little too late, though, as Die Schwaben held on to secure all three points.
How to watch
Those in the UK will be able to watch the contest on BT Sport 1, while those in the United States can see the game on ESPN+.