Bundesliga Focus – Pressure Mounting on Babbel

It has been a surprisingly rough ride so far this season for supporters of Stuttgart, but no-one is feeling the effects more than manager Markus Babbel. Following a week that saw two home defeats, the ex-Germany defender has had to fend off criticism of his leadership and will look to the weekend tie at Hannover to prove he is still the right man to help take Stuttgart forward. It is a sign of how quickly things can change in football, with Babbel being cast as the scapegoat for his team’s stuttering start so soon after he was hailed a genius for masterminding an end-of-season run that saw Stuttgart finish third last term – having rejuvenated them from a similarly bad start.

Babbel has been in charge at Stuttgart since November, when he took over from the departed Armin Veh. Originally seen as a temporary solution, Babbel was handed a permanent two-year deal in May following a spectacular run after the winter break that saw the team originally struggling in mid-table storm through to take an unlikely Champions League place. Given that form, Stuttgart officials would have been mad not to have given Babbel the job, but are starting to question their decision following a dismal start to this season that has seen the side lose five of their first nine league games. Combine that with a lacklustre start to their Champions League campaign and you can see why a win at the weekend is a must for Babbel’s men.

It was never going to be easy for Babbel to follow in Veh’s footsteps. The former Stuttgart manager, and now Wolfsburg boss, was an incredibly popular figure with the fans having delivered the Bundesliga title in 2007 and not many expected the inexperienced Babbel to come close to matching that achievement. However, last season’s escapades led many to believe that Babbel could keep Stuttgart in the title frame for this season, but those ambitions have surely been crushed with the side sitting in 13th position on eight points – just one point ahead of second bottom Monchengladbach.

Registering just two league wins has been a disappointment, but the manner of last week’s 2-1 home defeat to Schalke has been the catalyst for the criticism of Babbel. Following that weak showing, Stuttgart needed to show an improvement in the mid-week Champions League fixture at home to Sevilla but, instead, put in a performance that once again highlighted the struggling side’s frailties and lost 3-1. Despite having the better of the game, Stuttgart managed to concede three sloppy goals and left supporters pointing fingers of blame at weak areas of the side that Babbel has failed to address over the summer.

The most prominent of those areas is in goal. Jens Lehmann’s howler that led to Sevilla’s second goal was loudly booed, and fans clearly aren’t convinced that the former German international is Stuttgart’s best option between the sticks. Many are surprised that Babbel has stuck with Lehmann considering his impending retirement and recent poor discipline (Lehmann was suspended after the Week 6 clash with Koln because he was attended the Munich beer festival without permission) and have questioned why Stuttgart didn’t sign a replacement in the summer, considering the big money received from the sale of Mario Gomez.

Other players criticised are captain Thomas Hitzlsperger and new striker Pavel Pogrebnyak. Neither started Tuesday’s game and both have suffered from poor form recently. Hitzlsperger is taking flak from all sides this season having been constantly booed during Germany’s international with Russia last week, and taking heavy criticism for his lack of creativity for Stuttgart. Meanwhile Pogrebnyak – signed from Zenit in the summer – is struggling to fill the goal-scoring boots of Mario Gomez, having managed just two goals in eight appearances. Many supporters feel the club could have done more to entice Klaas-Jan Huntelaar to the Mercedes Benz Arena and, as expected, Babbel is taking the brunt of the fans’ frustration. A win in this weekend’s trip to Hannover would do a lot to ease the pressure on Babbel, but some feel the writing may already be on the wall for the ex-Liverpool man.

Meanwhile, Bochum were expected to name a new manager this week but appear to be leaning towards keeping caretaker Frank Heinemann until the end of the season. Bochum sacked former boss Marcel Koller after the Week 6 home defeat to Mainz, having picked up just four points from the opening six games. However Heinemann, who is a popular figure amongst the players, has doubled their points tally in his three league games in charge and it is believed he is being given extra time to prove he can turn the struggling side’s season around. A change could still happen in the next few weeks, but for now it seems Heinemann is getting the nod. It will be a tough task for anybody to keep Bochum in the league though, as their side appear to lack the necessary talent to survive.

Elsewhere, Hoffenheim’s long-running saga with summer signing Prince Tagoe has taken some positive developments. Tagoe – signed from Saudi Arabian side Al Ettifaq – hasn’t been able to train with his new club after a DFB (German FA) doctor declared that his medical had showed up a heart condition that could prove dangerous. Since then, it appears Tagoe’s condition has gone into remission with his heart returning to normal, so it has been agreed that the striker can return to professional football after a recovery period if he passes another medical. Hoffenheim sporting director Jan Schindelmeiser said: “We’re delighted to see that there is a possibility it could be in remission and, if the results of the new tests are positive, then we would be happy to integrate him back into first team affairs.”

Bundesliga Week 10
Saturday October 24, 2009
Bayer Leverkusen OFF Borussia Dortmund – 14:30
Bayern Munich vs. Eintracht Frankfurt – 14:30
Borussia Monchengladbach h vs. Cologne – 14:30
Hannover 96 vs. VfB Stuttgart – 14:30
Mainz vs. SC Freiburg – 14:30
TSG Hoffenheim vs. Nurnberg – 14:30
Sunday, October 25 2009
Hertha Berlin vs. Wolfsburg – 14:30
Schalke 04 vs. Hamburg – 16:30
VfL Bochum vs. Werder Bremen – 16:30

Bundesliga Focus

Bayern’s big weekend – October 17
Pressure mounting on Babbel – October 24

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