The burning question ahead of Sunday’s Hamburg-Stuttgart clash was whether the visitors would stick with coach Bruno Labbadia in the event of a loss. The issue became moot as Stuttgart won 1-0.
It was Stuttgart’s first match since an angry tirade by Labbadia in which he more or less told reporters to kiss his a…er…behind. And Big Bruno’s team came out fast and furious, putting hosts Hamburg under pressure in their own stadium.
In minute15, a Stuttgart counter-attack left striker Vedad Ibisevic one-on-one with Hamburg keeper Rene Adler, but the striker totally misfired.
And a quarter of an hour later, Stuttgart went ahead deservedly. After Hamburg lost the ball in their own half, Stuttgart reacted, and Ibisevic poked home a textbook cross by Martin Harnik. The lead was overdue.
Stuttgart were outhustling Hamburg, who looked little like the team that had taken 10 points from its previous four games. Aside from a speculative blast by Milan Badelj that rocked the crossbar just before the break, the hosts were nowhere to be seen in the first half.
The visitors were also the livelier side after the restart, although crisp passing and possession did not translate into goals. In minute 65, 19-year-old midfielder Raphael Holzhauser almost changed that, making Hamburg’s defense look old with some nifty dribbling.
It was one of a number of Stuttgart chances to put the match to bed. Meanwhile, as the second half wore on, Raphael van der Vaart got a couple of dangerous looks from distance, and a Stuttgart defensive lapse 10 minutes from time almost gifted Hamburg an equalizer.
But Stuttgart got the three points they deserved, and Big Bruno can be certain of hanging on a bit longer in southern Germany. For their part, Hamburg missed the opportunity to jump to fourth in the table. They remain in 10th.
The standings make for unusual reading right now. Bayern are in danger of disappearing completely from sight in first. Second-placed Frankfurt and third-placed Schalke have opened up a gap, while fully two-thirds of the league can be described as mid-table – including one of the teams involved in Sunday’s early match.
Half empty, half full
Sunday’s first game was an example of what happens when teams try not to lose, rather than win. Crass individual mistakes had put the brakes on hosts Nuremberg’s early-season momentum, and at home to Augsburg, it was clear that their main priority was to avoid any howlers.
That was hardly surprising as four straight defeats had seen some questioning Nuremberg coach Dieter Hecking’s position.
As a result, it was a conservative match with little of note happening in the first half. In minute 26 keeper Rafael Schäfer came out of his area to hit an extremely ill-advised lateral pass. Timm Klose cleared the ball in front of an onrushing Augsburg attacker. But the scene was a reminder why Nuremberg were reeling after a bright season start.
At the same time, Augsburg showed why they came into the match with the Bundesliga’s third-worst offense, failing to exploit the hosts’ nervousness.
After the break, Schäfer stayed in the dressing room with an injured hamstring and was replaced by 19 year old Patrick Rakovsky. He caused a minor stir in minute 60, when he fumbled a corner, but Augsburg were unable to pounce.
Rakovsky made up for that in minute 67, when he parried a point-blank header to deny the visitors. And that was all she wrote for scoring opportunities in this goalless draw.
All in all, the Sunday results were symptomatic of a season with an unusual number of thus-far mediocre teams. Only four points separate fourth-placed Dortmund from Nuremberg all the way down in 15th. Even last-placed Wolfsburg are - theoretically - only one round away from escaping the relegation zone.