VfB Stuttgart defeated FC Energie Cottbus 4-3 on penalties in a gripping DFB Pokal First Round tie at the Stadion der Freundschaft in Cottbus. Down 2-0 at the break, a goal by man of the match Josip Brekalo and an unfortunate José-Junior Matuwila own goal sent the game into extra time before a thrilling penalty shootout went the way of the Swabian side.
With Hamburg and Augsburg eliminated against lower league opposition, Stuttgart will be breathing a huge sigh of relief after squeezing past the spirited fourth tier side. Manager Hannes Wolf was missing three left-backs and will have learned plenty about his team as they prepare for their Bundesliga opener at Hertha BSC on Saturday.
Here are four thoughts from the encounter.
Left-back dilemma for Stuttgart
Hannes Wolf was without three left-backs against Cottbus with Emiliano Insúa, Dennis Aogo and Ailton all missing. Deciding to start with 19-year-old Dženis Burnić, the Dortmund loanee was clearly a weak link that Cottbus identified and targeted. Burnić couldn’t handle the pace and direct running of Cottbus winger Felix Geisler, but in fairness Burnić is a central midfielder by trade and was offered little assistance from the Stuttgart midfield.
An early moment of indecisiveness from Burnić left Ron-Robert Zieler in no man’s land, Fabio Viteritti accepting the gift by scoring the opening goal. Burnić wasn’t about to be let off the hook, beaten by Geisler whose cross just failed to pick out Streli Mamba. The stand in left-back decided to sacrifice his attacking intentions in an attempt to contain the onslaught, Stuttgart advancing in the end but Burnić and Wolf will be praying for one of the regular left-backs to return in Berlin.
Can Terodde step up?
One of the big questions for Stuttgart this season surrounds their 29-year-old striker Simon Terodde. Scoring 25 goals in consecutive 2. Bundesliga seasons, can he handle the step up in class and pressure in the Bundesliga? On the evidence provided in this game, the answer is a resounding no. Forgiven for being unable to steer a difficult chance on target in the 38th minute, his effort a minute later went miles over the bar.
It should be acknowledged that it was Terodde’s pass for Ginczek that was deflected by Matuwila for the equaliser, but the main contributions on display were heavy first touches and clumsy attempts to beat defenders. Showing a great desire to track back and help out in defence is commendable, but Terodde is ultimately be judged on scoring goals. Getting onto the end of crosses and putting chances away was his main route to goal last season, but if that avenue is denied it appears he may struggle.
Where to for Wolf?
With the left-back dilemma addressed, what else will Hannes Wolf have learned against Cottbus? Firstly, Josip Brekalo Is indispensable on current form, the 19-year-old left-winger easily Stuttgart’s best player in the first half and got the goal he deserved shortly after half time. Always eager to get involved and willing to cut inside, he played as a No. 10 in the latter stages and showed enough to suggest he will play an important role this season.
Secondly, Ebenezer Ofori was largely unconvincing in the holding midfield role with his clumsy foul giving away the free kick that led to Zimmer’s goal. Orel Mangala came on in extra time and despite playing limited minutes against a tiring opposition, the 19-year-old showed enough to suggest he might force his way into the team sooner rather than later.
Lastly, if Terodde does struggle in the top flight, is Daniel Ginczek a solid starting option? Replacing Takuma Asano in the 55th minute, Ginczek failed to get involved and missed a good chance to win it in extra time. New sporting director Michael Reschke might be busy trying to bring in another striker before September.
Credit to Energie Cottbus
Relegated from the Bundesliga in 2009, the eastern German club have rapidly descended down the divisions and currently find themselves in the fourth division. Making a flying start this season, Cottbus won their first three games by scoring 12 goals and conceding just once. Despite transfermarkt listing Cottbus’ squad value at a mere €2.7m and Stuttgart at €58.65m, there was little chance of Wolf underestimating his opponents with Viteritti’s opener an early wake up call.
Claus-Dieter Wollitz’s side showed energy, commitment, skill and belief that defied their fourth tier status. When Maximilian Zimmer’s 28th minute free kick put the hosts up 2-0 there was no thought of letting up as Cottbus pushed for a third. Even after Matuwila’s unlucky own goal tied the game at 2-2, there was no inferiority complex shown by the home side who continued to threaten into extra time with speedy striker Streli Mamba working his socks off.
Cottbus could consider themselves unlucky with referee Benjamin Cortus giving them absolutely nothing in extra time and a glorious chance to win it in the final minute sent wide. Viteritti was Cottbus’ most dangerous player but Mamba proved to be a particular nuisance up front, Stuttgart often resorting to cynical fouls in order to stop him. Substitutes Kevin-Okyere Weidlich and Björn Ziegenbein presented problems for the visitors but Wollitz’s decision to bring on Benjamin Förster in the 119th minute backfired, the striker sending his penalty wide which ended the contest.