Stuttgart and Schalke belatedly discover stomach for survival fight | Andy Brassell

“On a day like today,” exhaled Stuttgart’s coach Sebastian Hoeness, “I told the boys they should go out to eat tonight, and they can have a beer as well. It’s part of letting your emotions out.” It was that kind of weekend at the bottom of the table, both for the Swabians and for Schalke, two huge clubs who have spent most of this campaign looking over their shoulders and not seeing much behind them – but two teams who, after this weekend, are very much alive and kicking.

When the Bundesliga coins its marketing strapline “football as it’s meant to be” they envisage a greater level of technical competence than these two show on a regular basis but in terms of pure adrenaline, no argument can be broached after the respective wins of two struggling giants at the weekend. Stuttgart had surfed the wave of a breathless end to their previous home game with Borussia Dortmund, going 2-0 down, playing almost an hour with 10 men and salvaging an improbable point via Silas’ equaliser, the very last kick of the game.

Here they moved out of the bottom three entirely with a win over Borussia Mönchengladbach that was their season in microcosm. Having opened the scoring with Serhou Guirassy’s neat finish – finally given after extensive VAR examination – they lost their striker when he suffered a freak injury via an accidental blow from Lars Stindl. Julian Weigl scored a penalty equaliser before another penalty – and VAR drama – with Ko Itakura finally sent off for a deliberate last-man foul on Tiago Tómas. Tanguy Coulibaly, set to leave at the season’s end, dispatched the winning spot-kick. They “trembled across the finish line,” as Bild put it. “Today,” said sporting director, Fabian Wohlgemuth, almost through gritted teeth, “there was more drama than maybe necessary.”

It has been quite the season; three coaches, the departure of Sven Mislintat and various states of personnel uncertainty but Stuttgart are now unbeaten in five under Hoeness. Just four league games in the former Hoffenheim manager already has more points (eight) than his predecessor, Bruno Labbadia, managed in 11 (six). The appointment of Labbadia, made after Mislintat’s November exit, was one that the former sporting director very publicly disagreed with. Remarkably, Stuttgart could still finish the season with silverware, with a DfB Pokal semi-final against Eintracht Frankfurt on Wednesday before a Bundesliga showdown at Hertha on Saturday.

Dortmund 1-1 Bochum
Dortmund’s 1-1 Friday draw with Bochum was little use to their old rivals Schalke. Photograph: Lars Baron/Getty Images

Never mind the very top-flight privilege of being part of Saturday night’s Topspiel, Schalke fans were already exhausted after watching Friday night’s game between Bochum and Dortmund, a game which in ideal circumstances they wouldn’t want either to win – but one thatleft them spitting feathers after VAR failed to help BVB – or them – out, nudging Bochum a point closer to safety.

Quite what this ending did to them is anyone’s guess. Schalke trailed to a goal by the in-form (and ex-Dortmund) Marvin Ducksch for Werder Bremen going into the last 10 minutes but even after the equaliser by on-loan Liverpool defender Sepp van den Berg, it was impossibly nervy. Ducksch threatened a late winner, Dominik Drexler chested it off the line (“it’s just luck that it hit my stomach and not my hand,” he confessed) then went up the other end to collect Rodrigo Salazar’s pass and dispatch a finish that trickled in for the winner, deep into stoppage time.

It felt emotional, but then again so does everything at the moment. Schalke were meant to be dead and buried, counting just nine points to their tally at the halfway stage of the Bundesliga. They have collected twice that number in the Rückrunde already. The work of their coach Thomas Reis has been extraordinary and this would be an escape to beat them all on a relatively low budget, with limited talent but maximum heart. The latter is what Schalke fans demand above anything else.

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Good night from GE 🔵⚪#S04 | #S04SVW

&mdash; FC Schalke 04 (@s04_en) April 29, 2023


The fixture list is unforgiving for Reis and company, with trips to Munich to face Bayern and to Leipzig in the remaining four matches. “Something has grown here,” said Reis with some satisfaction. “The boys on the bench are also cheering, even if they are disappointed at first that they’re not playing from the start.” Their calculus is complicated but relatively simple, starting with Friday’s trip to Mainz. Stuttgart can’t even rely on knowing what their calendar entails. As it stands if they finished 16th they would play three matches in five days, two legs of a relegation playoff either side of the Pokal final. They and Schalke both worked out this weekend that taking the bull by the horns is the best solution.

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Wolfsburg 3-0 Mainz, Bayern 2-0 Hertha Berlin, Schalke 2-1 Werder Bremen, Cologne 0-1 Freiburg, Eintracht Frankfurt 1-1 Augsburg,&nbsp; RB Leipzig 1-0 Hoffenheim, Stuttgart 2-1 Borussia Mönchengladbach. Union Berlin 0-0 Leverkusen, Bochum 1-1 Dortmund


Quick Guide

Bundesliga results


Wolfsburg 3-0 Mainz, Bayern 2-0 Hertha Berlin, Schalke 2-1 Werder Bremen, Cologne 0-1 Freiburg, Eintracht Frankfurt 1-1 Augsburg,  RB Leipzig 1-0 Hoffenheim, Stuttgart 2-1 Borussia Mönchengladbach. Union Berlin 0-0 Leverkusen, Bochum 1-1 Dortmund

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Talking points

Dortmund went into the weekend knowing they were guaranteed the title by winning the final five games – but that was never going to happen. They were held 1-1 in the derby at Bochum on Friday night though they had some justifiable complaints in the second half, notably the non-award of a penalty for Danilo Soares’ apparent foul on Karim Adeyemi. Edin Terzic and Sebastian Kehl were both furious, with the sporting director calling the VAR decision not to refer the incident to referee Sascha Stegemann for a possible penalty as “absolutely negligent, cowardly and completely wrong”. Stegemann apologised on Saturday on behalf of the officiating team. The vehemence of the BVB reaction betrayed a real tension, though, that was also evident in their play. To remain in this title race in the coming weeks they could do with recomposing themselves, and quickly.

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With Schalke’s late winner and the tightening of matters at the foot of the table, Bochum would have actually been in the bottom two had they not held on. They defended doggedly, a vast improvement on last week’s capitulation to Wolfsburg.

Friday night’s result meant Bayern had a chance to go back on top by beating rock-bottom Hertha in Munich on Sunday afternoon – which they took, but by goodness did they make heavy weather of it. Despite (or, who knows, maybe because of) the presence of Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeness in the stand, the champions were relatively uninspired Tons of possession and corners came to nothing, and it took until the 69th minute for Serge Gnabry to smartly head them in front – his first goal in nearly three months. The excellent Kingsley Coman added a second though Leon Goretzka’s booking, meaning he misses next week’s trip to Werder Bremen, is a blow.

Serge Gnabry ended his goalscoring drought to take Bayern Munich back to the summit.
Serge Gnabry ended his goalscoring drought to take Bayern Munich back to the summit. Photograph: T Kieslich/FC Bayern/Getty Images

Union and Leverkusen played out a drab goalless draw in the capital, which pretty much finished the chances of Xabi Alonso’s side pulling off a stunning Champions League qualification through the league (they still have the Europa League route, with the semi-final against an injury-hit Roma on the way), while Freiburg won at Köln – just about – thanks to Ritsu Doan’s diving header. “The better team certainly didn’t win today,” admitted Christian Streich.

It’s a huge week for Freiburg. On Tuesday they face the other Pokal semi against Leipzig as they go for a first-ever major trophy – denied on penalties by this week’s opponents in last year’s final. Leipzig kept their top-four hopes alive, beating Hoffenheim by a goal scored by the fit-again Christopher Nkunku.

The Guardian