Since returning to the top flight for this season, Stuttgart have worn almost every mask of form. Now, under a new head coach, they are picking up results that suggest they're here to stay. But how are they doing it?
With 10 points from their last four games, Stuttgart are fourth in the Bundesliga's table of recent form. The club is six points off the relegation spot and a healthy 13 off the bottom two. Given that Tayfun Korkut's appointment as head coach at the end of January was met with more bewilderment than excitement, the Swabians' turnaround appears nothing short of a major surprise.
Of course, the arrival of a new head coach can often breathe fresh life into a team - but Stuttgart haven't revolutionized their style of play. Three consecutive 1-0 wins have left the opposition unable to breakthrough. Timo Baumgartl and Benjamin Pavard look very solid and the once wobbly Ron-Robert Zieler now has the same number of clean sheets (eight) as Bayern's Sven Ulreich. But has Korkut really made this side more defensively stable?
At one point earlier in the season, under previous head coach, Hannes Wolf, Stuttgart had conceded the second-fewest goals from open play in the league. The 2-0 defeat to Leverkusen on Matchday 15 was the club's first at home all season - and at that point they had only conceded four at home too.
Fortunes turned on two games
Things changed when Stuttgart lost 1-0 to Hoffenheim, a fairly even, tactical affair that the Swabians should have got a point from. But they were thrown out of sync after making two injury-enforced changes. Mark Uth scored late and the following weekend Stuttgart turned one point into none when Chadrac Akolo missed a last-kick penalty against Bayern. Two poor performances against Mainz and Schalke spelled the end of Wolf, and Stuttgart-born Korkut was called to the save the day.
The last time Tayfun Korkut enjoyed such a strong start as the coach of a new team? As head coach of Stuttgart's U19s, he also won three and drew one of his first four games. Perhaps his connection with the club gives him an edge. Perhaps Korkut has offered less flexibility and more steadfastness than his predecessor. Perhaps the team has benefited from the emergence of Erik Thommy, a player who has started all of the last four games, has come from nowhere and is the first to training and the last to leave.
Maybe Stuttgart are just a little luckier at the moment. But it is worth remembering that the line between winning and losing is very fine indeed - particularly in a Bundesliga campaign in which the team finds itself just six points above the relegation-playoff spot and eight points short of a spot that would qualify them for Europe.
Korkut's next four games as head coach of Stuttgart's U19s ended with one draw and three defeats. Perhaps there's a lesson there too, but when Stuttgart travel to bottom-of-the-table Cologne on Matchday 25, it's worth remembering the fixture earlier in the season. Stuttgart won - thanks to a 94th-minute winner. That's how fine the line can be between collecting three points - or just one.