Stuttgart took a step towards Bundesliga safety with a dominant 5-1 win over hapless Hannover on Sunday. DW's Matt Pearson says players like Mario Gomez and Benjamin Pavard give them the edge on their relegation rivals.
While commitment, composure and organization are often critical in relegation battles, an extra bit of class always helps.
Players of genuine quality, particularly in both boxes, naturally become rarer as you get further down the table. But in Benjamin Pavard and Mario Gomez, Stuttgart have two players at opposite ends of their careers and the pitch capable of pulling them out of a mire of their own making.
Gomez slid home the fourth minute opener to get his side going and his movement caused trouble to a woeful Hannover defense while Pavard, who will move to Bayern Munich in the summer, was as assured as ever, though rarely under any genuine pressure.
Two of the club's January signings also made an impact, with 18-year-old center back Ozan Kabak (€11.5 million from Galatasaray) twice powering home headers from corners and Steven Zuber (on loan from Hoffenheim) notching his third and fourth goals in the last three games, as well as providing the smart reverse pass for Gomez.
As well as Stuttgart played in patches on Sunday, it must be said that Hannover were truly awful. Defensive mistakes came thick and fast, several players looked uncomfortable in unfamiliar positions and they failed to even touch the ball in Stuttgart's box in the entirety of the first half.
Bigger challenges will follow immediately with Borussia Dortmund, Hoffenheim and Eintracht Frankfurt their next three opponents ahead of crucial games against Nuremberg and Augsburg in April.
Stuttgart coach Markus Weinzierl will know that a first win since mid-December hasn't solved all his club's problems and that Gomez, for all that his instincts remain, is not the reliable poacher he once was. But the 33-year-old's experience and nose for goal could prove critical against those around Stuttgart in the relegation picture.
Much of the team that finished seventh last term remains and maintaining the belief gained through the club's biggest win since 2016 will prove critical to finding that kind of form once again.
Too often this season, Stuttgart have crumbled under any kind of pressure, with defensive errors all too frequent and no-one, until Zuber's arrival, capable of lightening the goalscoring load on Gomez. That Zuber is the club's second top scorer having joined in January tells its own story. But the control and purpose they showed on Sunday offered some evidence that the Swabians are capable of turning their fortunes around.
Of course, there have been plenty of sides judged "too good to go down" before being relegated and Stuttgart cannot purely rely on their extra quality if they want to reel in Augsburg and Schalke and escape the relegation playoff spot. But it might just help.