Vroom Vroom: Stuttgart – Barça

The Hlebian Ballet Company: Grace and Art Combined

CL Preview: Stuttgart – Barça, Tuesday 2:45pmEST, Fox Sports en Español/Fox Sports HD Affiliate

Seventy-seven. That number sounds big even when you don’t know what the units are. Put on days and you’re suddenly looking at over 2 months. Seventy-seven days since we last played Champions League football. Seventy-seven days since we beat Dynamo Kiev. In that time we’ve won the Club World Cup, recorded infinity plus one injuries*, and have lead the league by as many as 5 points. And now we return to the tournament that cemented us as the team to beat, as the media darlings of last year. Finally.

I’ve missed you, my twice-weekly previews, with your absurd taxing of my mental capabilities (they are rather small, after all) and your always welcome taxing of my liver capabilities. When there’s no on-the-field action to distract them it seems like the Spanish rags can’t get enough of shouting Cesc! Ribéry! Ochocinco! But now we have something to consider between now and Málaga’s visit on Saturday.

And, indeed, it’s a trip to Stuttgart, to southern Germany. The city itself is located in the state of Baden-Württemberg and is known primarily for its vroom-vroom car industry: Porsche is headquartered there and even stole the city’s coat of arms and adapted it to its own needs when it was founded in 1931 (along with some of the Württemberg coat of arms. Mercedes-Benz and its parent company, Daimler AG, are also based in Stuttgart while Bosch is located just outside of the city in Gerlingen.

Stuttgart is, of course, a city beyond its industrial capacity and reputation. Started as a fort in the first century by the Romans near the River Neckar, Stuttgart was invaded by barbarians (I’ll admit something here: I am probably always going to liken these Germanic “barbarians” in my mind to Asterix and Obelix; I’m sorry**), and then finally founded as a proper city sometime in the 10th Century. Obviously there were inhabitants before that, but little is known about the Merovingian settlements that were replaced by large-scale horse breeding and eventually a city proper. The Battle of Lechfeld/Augusburg between the forces of Otto The Great and the Hungarian Bulcsú (homework assignment for those of you nerdy enough to care: did harka Bulcsú have a first name or not? If so, what was it?), which took place roughly 50 miles from Stuttgart on the outskirts of Augsburg, Bavaria, was probably one of the major reasons Germans settled in Stuttgart and eventually became leaders in the car industry. So while Otto may or may not have been the greatest guy in the world–Holy Roman Emperor and all that–he is indirectly responsible for the time I got to ride in a Boxter through the windy hills near Princeton, New Jersey at like a billion miles an hour, so that my hat is off to him.

After the Hungarians were displaced enough to stop invading and destroying things in the area, Stuttgart got to grow up and play with the big boys in 1321 when it became the royal residence of the Württemberg princes, who ended up becoming Dukes of the Holy Roman Empire in 1495, thus making Stuttgart a Duchy. That word looks way too close to Douche-y for my liking, but I’ve never been big on royal titles anyway. Fast forward to 1803, when Stuttgart really became big time by becoming named the capital of Württemberg, a wholey different and more magnificent status than being a mere Duchy. I’m sure there were people who proclaimed that this would last forever, this stunning combination of a faithful citizenry and destiny. Then in 1805 pesky Napoleon Bonaparte came sweeping through, destroyed the Holy Roman Empire, and made Stuttgart the capital of the Kingdom of Württemberg. I’m sure Jon Stewart’s ancestors were all over that gaff from 1803, busting out the daguerreotypes of Count this and Duchy that snickering at the Frenchies and their upstart “Emperor”.

Stuttgart's Volksfest (Wikimedia)

Modern Stuttgart was no less a place of changing names and statuses, going from a major part of Württemberg monarchy’s landholding to the capital of the Free State of Württemberg during the Weimar Republic, then in 1920 was suddenly thrust into the worldwide spotlight when it was made the capital of all of Germany after the Kapp Putsch attempted to destroy the Weimar Republic and reinstall a monarchy. It didn’t last very long and all and Stuttgart returned to being its regional capital. During the Cold War, Stuttgart became the home of Patch Barracks, the headquarters for the US European Command.

Before the major world wars and the founding of the car companies, however, there was September 9, 1893 and the founding of a small sports club that was eventually (in 1912) called Verein für Bewegungsspiele Stuttgart 1893 e. V., or VfB Stuttgart for short. The team began well enough, winning minor championships until the 1930s when they began dominating their regional Baden-Württemberg league. The Bundesliga as we know wasn’t organized until 1963-64, so VfB’s relative lack of trophies is not something to hold against them. They have three championships to their name (83-84, 91-92, and 06-07) as well as some Cup Winners Cup runners-up to be proud of. They also have 2 “German League” titles from before 1963 that are the equivalent of the Bundesliga title.

The same year they joined the regional Württemberg league–1933–they built the Adolf-Hitler-Kampfbahn, which is now the Mercedes-Benz Arena. It currently holds only 52,000 because of its track, but is slated to hold up to 63,000 sometime in 2011 when remodeling is done (with the track removed). It was the site, if your memory is good enough to remember such things, of the 2006 World Cup third place game between Germany and Portugal as well as 4 group matches and England-Ecuador in the round of 16.

Last season Stuttgart were third overall, finishing with 64 points, 3 behind second-place Bayern Munich and 5 behind champions Wolfsburg. Their top scorer was Mario Gomez with 24 goals, who accounted for almost 40% of their 63 total league goals (he has since moved on to Bayern Munich). They currently sit in 9th in the Bundesliga with 31 points from 23 matches, putting them 18 points behind joint leaders Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich. They are, however, on somewhat of a tear, having won 6 of their last 7, which is insane considering they’d won just twice in the previous 16. This past weekend they put a manita on Cologne in an away match (1-5), with Cacau grabbin 4 goals that put him top of their goalscoring chart with 6 total. He’s followed by Pavel Pogrebnyak with 5. They have 32 goals for and 30 against.

A lot of people will claim that domestic form has nothing to do with continental form, but I disagree in at least one way: they’re coming in as ready for us as they’ll ever be and it’s now going to be a fight against a resurgent team rather than a team with its tail between its leg. Obviously Cacau is dangerous (55 goals in 167 league games–a goal every 3 games, or roughly Pedro’s current rate), but Pogrebnyak is typically their lone striker and has notched enough goals this year to make him a point of concern for Guardiola. And if you’re a stathead, his total league goals in all leagues and all teams is 59 in 162 matches–better than Cacau.

Against Colonge they appear to have played a 4-5-1, which probably means they’ll be bringing the heat against us in a similar formation. This is nothing new, of course, because pressuring us with midfielders is basically the only way to survive, so what’s far more interesting to me is who might be playing. For the first 66 minutes against Cologne, there was a particular player–number 23–who can’t help but catch the eye of any Barça fan. Yes, I’m talking about Hleb. The Hlebmeister. The Hlebinator. He Who Doth Hleb.

Yeah, that guy. He’s played in 20 of their 23 matches, recording, and imagine this: zero goals and only 1 assist. Oh that Hleb, he’s so Hleb. I hope he gets put out on the left and runs into King Carles on a full-blooded roar to the ball. I realize that he’s still technically a Barça player on loan, but come on, I just really want to see him get tackled to the ground and look up in dazed confusion as Puyol laughs. I don’t want him to get hurt, but I do want him to have his backside muddied a little bit by both the ground and the sheer terror of seeing the maned one bearing down on him like one of Stephen King’s trucks.

Speaking of mud, has anyone seen a recent match at Stuttgart? I caught one a few weeks ago and it was a sloppy mudpit thanks to the constant snow and footballing. Assuming no improvements, that means a field quite similar to what we dealt with against Atletico Madrid, which, if you read or heard my reactions to that match, you know that I’m not pleased with the state of pitches we’ve been taking to outside of the Camp Nou, so I hope that Stuttgart mans up, to use a bad turn of phrase, and puts out a real field for everyone to play on. It doesn’t have to be sparkling and wide and a red carpet to the quarters, but it should be playable–passing more than 5 yards on the ground shouldn’t be a gamble as to whether or not the ball will hit a divot.

But who do we, the reigning Champions League, um, champions, take to this match? We’re missing Keita, Abidal, Alves, and Xavi, right? Well…

Valdés, Pinto, Puyol, Maxwell, Piqué, Milito, Chygrynskiy, Touré, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Bartra, Jonathan Dos Santos, Jeffren, Messi, Bojan, Pedro, Alves, Ibrahimovic, Henry.

Wait, Xavi and Alves? Holy crap! And Bartra! And JDS! No Keita and Abidal still, but damn, we’ve got Xavi and Alves? I doubt they’ll start, but they’re in the squad and that has to be a boost for everyone else. Another player giving the squad a boost is Ibrahimovic, who is listed as probable by El Mundo Deportivo. I’m thinking that he’ll play, which is a big boost for us despite what I considered to be an effective match by Bojan against Racing. Without Ibra, we did lack some inside-the-box versatility, though our wing play was a bit better. And for the record, I prefer Messi as a winger–his in-the-hole role (take us to rhyme factor 9, Scottie!) wastes his speed and compresses their defense when we should be spreading them out–so I’d like to see a front line that utilizes space more than possession. What Guardiola will think, probably, is that I’m a moron and should stick to writing news bits instead of sticking my nose into his tactical world, but I do think that if we’re without Xavi, we need to play a wider game rather than a short give-and-go game.

And yes, I’m going to echo Kevin’s sentiment from earlier today about Busi being given the Xavi role and Yaya and Iniesta play the, uh, Yaya and Iniesta roles. That frees Messi a little bit, but I still want to see Ibra moving a lot more in front of the midfield to give them some space. For instance, at one point in the Racing match, Bojan broke through onside for a ball that was laid in front of his diagonal run (by Busi I believe, though I’m not sure)–that he was incorrectly called offside is what kept him from going one-on-one with the keeper. Ibra is obviously capable of making that run, but he’s not a super speedster, so his runs aren’t as effective as Bojan’s, in an odd way. He does, of course, provide a physical presence that Bojan simply can’t, but he is slower and holds the ball up more. I’d like to see him get back to his early-season trickery (such as this–note the Ray Hudson freakout) and I don’t know why he’s not as effective in that sense. I’m sure Hector can explain at some point…

So, then, my squad: Valdes, Puyol, Pique, Marquez, Maxwell, The Yaya, Busi, Iniesta, Henry, Ibra, Messi.

Very similar to the starting lineup against Racing, but replacing our little Cuddly Toy with a Man-Size Swedish Ninja. Seems like a nice trade. “No fair!” Stuttgart is yelling in the background, but we’re ignoring them for the moment. They’re not canon fodder by any means, but they’re not the strongest team in the world and we should be able to get by them without an Iniestazo. But going to sleep against them would be a horrendous move because anything can happen over the 180 minutes of this tie.

Official prediction: 1-2, goals by Ibra and Messi. Barça gives up a lame late goal as we take our foot off the pedal.

Time: Coverage starts at 8:30pm local/Stuttgart (kickoff at 8:45), 2:30pm EST/New York. Check your local time here.
: In the United States, this match is on live on Fox Soccer en Español, but can also be seen live in English if you have DirectTV (and the correct package, I believe). The game will be re-shown in English on Fox Soccer Channel at 5pm. Update! The game is also being shown live on your local Fox Sports affiliate (in my case MSG+), which means the match will be in high definition. (H/T Lukeisamazing)
: ~37F (2.8C) dropping steadily throughout the match, 30% chance of rain. Update 2! The temperature estimate has been raised to 45F (7.2C) and holding steady throughout the match. That is good news.

*The Yaya counts for infinity minus five, thus the math.
**I’m not the least bit sorry. I love Asterix and Obelix. If you’re like “But they’re Gaelic, not Germanic!” I also don’t care about that. Shut up it’s my reference. Perhaps a more appropriate link would have been Astèrix als Jocs Olímpics.

Updates reprinted here:
1. The game is also being shown live on your local Fox Sports affiliate (in my case MSG+), which means the match will be in high definition (H/T Lukeisamazing)
2.  The temperature estimate has been raised to 45F (7.2C) and holding steady throughout the match. That is good news.

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in Germany with his wife and daughter.


  1. tyler
    February 22, 2010

    hahaha that Hleb picture makes me laugh everytime I see it!

    Honestly I think the key to us getting deep into the champions league is how the on field relationship of Ibra and Messi plays out. We all know they are efficient strikers and we also know with every team practically guaranteed to flood our midfield we must be able to take advantage of every chance we get up front. That means Ibra and Messi have to be able to understand each other’s positioning, pace, and ability to strike when our heavenly midfield sends us a gift from above (or the middle i guess). We’ve seen them do it earlier, and they are both obviously amazing players, now we just need to see them gel together.

  2. February 22, 2010

    what does hlebbed mean?
    btw, the key to win this match is, not to play chiggy, simple as that.
    just kidding(50%)
    we should play with the same formation except ibra in for bojan if he is fit enough, if not cameo appearance is enough as he should fully rest.

    • February 23, 2010

      Being Hlebbed is an ill-defined term, but I think the generally accepted definition is having your attack slowed to a near crawl for no apparent reason.

      A play can be Hlebbed in a variety of ways, including meaningless back passes when there’s an open attacker in front of goal, pulling the ball back and slowly dribbling towards your own keeper when there’s an open teammate behind you, or a meaningless series of circular moves with the ball that result in a net advancement of zero but give your team the runaround while they try to position themselves for a pass that will never come.


      • Blow-Grenade
        February 23, 2010

        That is awesome!!!! I think I have just been Hlebbed.

  3. Jnice
    February 22, 2010

    No one thinks Yaya answering some questions in Catalan for the first time is cool? Not even Iniesta or Messi answer questions in Catalan even though they understand it and take questions in it. I think it is just further proof of his dedication to the team and further proof of intelligence. He speaks what, English, French, Russian, Castellano, Catalan, an Ivory Coast dialect, and probably a bit of Greek.

    Video: *http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amK2b1fCHws

    As for the match, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the lineup you put out, Isaiah.

    • February 22, 2010

      That’s actually an awesome video. He speaks really quickly in Catalan too, which is really cool. That’s one of the tougher aspects of learning a new language: speed. Yes, he stutters a bit in it, but I kinda, um, do that in, um, English.

      So now The Yaya is our new Rosetta Stone instead of Eidur? That’s awesome.

  4. Eduard
    February 22, 2010

    There are no favorites in football. However, Stuttgart will score from a header and we’ll tie it up with another. Final score 1-1.

  5. February 22, 2010

    Update! The game is also being shown live on your local Fox Sports affiliate (in my case MSG+), which means the match will be in high definition. (H/T Lukeisamazing)

    • Miguel
      February 22, 2010

      dude! you’re so right on. it’s on fox sports west for me(l.a. bitch!) in beautiful hd. i’ll have to forego listening to the game in espanish but f it.

  6. Miguel
    February 22, 2010

    great read. off hand i’d keep an eye on the two serie a imports: molinaro(juventus) & kuzmanovic(ex-fiorentina).

    don’t know if my liver’s been prepped enough for this game. i’m quaffing a beer every time hleb gets put on his ass by puyi.

  7. segun
    February 23, 2010

    barca wil surely get an away goals

  8. Helge
    February 23, 2010

    Wow, I gotta go to the university in 2 min, so I don’t have much time, but:
    Your CL previews are pure class, Isaiah, simply amazing! I’d like to know, seriously, how much time did you invest in this preview?

    Oh, and I’m surprised that you know about Astérix, I’ve always been told he’s completely unknown in the US. I hope we’ll get the work done without the need of magic potions from Miraculix, which would be hard to find 🙂

    • Eduard
      February 23, 2010

      I believe they finally made a movie about Asterix, starting Gerard Depardu. The preview for it looked pretty good, almost just like the literature pieces. I always appreciated how they always made the Romans drunk with big, red noses.

  9. eklavya
    February 23, 2010

    Ray Ray freakin’ out is hilarious!
    “And look at the touch by Ibrahimovich! Are you kidding me?!”


    I hope we win by some 3 goals or something so that we can (safely)start Bojan in the return leg. That ought to be interesting.

  10. eklavya
    February 23, 2010

    Also Mourinho was fined 40,000€ plus a three match ban for all his crazy antics and drama murder scene acting he was doing yesterday at the touchline. Ha-ha. 🙂

  11. February 23, 2010

    And we are going to pay 30 M to bring Cashley Cole home, who is the best in the market. Says Sports.

    I changed my mind. I want us to spend every Euro we have on “Cesc! Ribéry! Ochocinco!”.

    • February 23, 2010

      I think I just vomited in my mouth a little. News like this should not be taken on an empty stomach.

      I too am in the camp of spending every euro on that triumvirate.

  12. Barcamaniac
    February 23, 2010

    Man-Size Swedish Ninja is spot on.


    • February 23, 2010

      He looks like he wants to murder that ball. Like put his fist through it and pull out it’s heart.

  13. Bill
    February 23, 2010

    Aaaaah, you managed to work in asterix & Obelix plus jon stewart into your piece? I’m loving it! Now, lets put in some tin tin and popeye next time, ok?

    • February 23, 2010

      Okay, next up: Stephen Colbert discussed The Calculus Affair and it’s impact on our midfield.

      As for Popeye, I have to admit I never watched much of that show or read any of the comics as a child, so I can’t make any references that aren’t something like “Olive Oil, give me some spinach…er…yeah.” cause I don’t know jack about Popeye.

  14. Bill
    February 23, 2010

    Hell no on Ashley Cole. He is a poor mans’ Abidal. Let them keep messing with each other’s girlfriends over there at Chelsea. By the way, has anyone been following the John Terry-Wayne Bridge saga? Really crazy. I passed through london and picked up their magazines, the story was all over the place! But the funniest thing about it was when Sepp Blatter put his two cents in, saying that he didn’t see what the big deal was, in south america, Terry would be applauded for his verility! Lmao. I loved it

  15. poipoi
    February 23, 2010

    let the champions league song be heard! I say we trash them tonight xD it would be a good idea to make iniesta and messi combine in one side of the pitch while busi and titi in the other

  16. JMo
    February 23, 2010

    the match is being shown at 5 pm on FSC also, so if you have normal FSC, and if you can wait that long, just watch it then.

  17. Kxevin
    February 23, 2010

    To answer a twice-posed question: Being Hlebbed is a lot like getting Rickrolled, only in footy terms. It depicts a certain, impressive degree of futility.

    For the record, I think that Hleb deserved another shot with us, and probably would have gotten it had he not talked his way out of town, thus Hlebbing himself. He and his agent are meeting with Txiki B. in Stuttgart to discuss the future.

    That The Yaya now speaks Catalan is awesome. Here’s hoping summer migration rumors are false.

    Apparently Ibrahimovic, Xavi and Alves all practiced normally with the rest of the squad. I would still roll out Saturday’s lineup to see how things go.

    As for l’affaire Cole, the major issue is that he is being fined for bringing disrepute to the club, when John Terry wasn’t, for a worse offense. I don’t know all the facts but prima facie, I’m calling bullshit on that one.

    If we could get Cashley for 20m, I’d do it. But not a Euro more. I know that people don’t like him, but he’s class, and a higher quality backup than Maxwell, who I like, but is pace deprived.

    • February 23, 2010

      “he’s class, and a higher quality backup than Maxwell”

      – Regardless if Cole is an actual world class quality or an EPL quality, is it possible to put “Cole” And “Backup” in the same sentence? I doubt.

      – we spent on Maxwell’s transfer less than half the salary Cole will demand. Something to take in consideration when we compare the two options.

      So as a backup, Maxwell is a better deal. As a starter, he is not even close to what we have. And 20 M is a very high amount of money to pay for a 30 years old player who -in my opinion- will perform catastrophically in the Spanish liga. Cesc for 50 M is relatively cheaper. Mascherano for 25 M is a steal. And Silva for 30 M will be too good to be true.

      The good thing is that its just a rumor. Luckily.

      • Kxevin
        February 23, 2010

        I think that with Maxwell, we got what we paid for. My preference is for a backup that puts pressure on the starter. I think that’s Guardiola’s preference, as well. Maxwell ain’t it, though he will certainly improve with more reps.

        Comparatively, price-wise, you’re right about the (albeit absurd) Fabregas price tag. But at 20m (no way that would happen), we’d be able to get two years out of him.

        • Jim
          February 23, 2010

          I don’t know, Kxevin. I was quite impressed by his technical ability on the ball. I think he has a place where we need offense on that side.

    • cliveee
      February 23, 2010

      I agree with another shot of Hleb with us. He could be extremely useful for us this season.

      also agree with Ramzi about the catastrophic Cole prediction in la liga.

  18. cliveee
    February 23, 2010

    lineup prediction:

    Alves Pique Puyol Maxwell
    Xavi Busquets Iniesta
    Messi Ibra Pedro

  19. Hilal
    February 23, 2010

    Not sure why people dont like Ashley Cole. If it is because of the way he left Arsenal for Chelsea, really, there was nothing wrong with it. He wanted to win and he wanted to get paid, neither of which was happening at Arsenal. Chelsea came along with a fat paycheck and the promise of trophies. Not sure why people give him shit for that, nothing wrong with being ambitous! The nick name Cashley Cole is a bit pathetic if you ask me, every single player wants to get paid and they want to get paid BIG.

    As for his quality on the pitch, i dont think anyone can really dispute that. He is a top quality player, maybe one of the best left backs in the world. Very attack minded, solid in defense and pretty damn skillful for an English player.

    • Hilal
      February 23, 2010

      Just to clarify, i am not saying we should get him, far from it. Abidal is better IMO anyways and Ashley Cole is def not sitting on the bench.

      • February 23, 2010

        There is no problem to be ambitious, want to move, etc…etc…etc…But there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Negotiating with another team (and a rival) secretly while you are wearing another teams shirt (and during the season) then starting enough conflicts in the dressing rooms to have the excuse to leave without taking the interest of the club you are serving in consideration is not only wrong, its shameful. Which makes him a Cashley, with five stars on his shoulders.

        As for his quality, He is a good fullback, that’s all. While Cole is considered as the best Left back in the world, Micah Richardson was considered as the best right back for a period of time.

  20. Kxevin
    February 23, 2010

    I think that Cole would kick ass in the Liga. He’s also physical, which I like. Yes, there would need to be an understanding about his role coming in. For sure.

    But at this point in his career, there’s no way he’s going to want to come to a club with an iron-plated gazelle at left back, because he will want to start. This, I think, irrespective of rumors, rules us out. I have no idea who plays left back for EE, so maybe he goes there. It would suck for us if he did, frankly.

  21. Barcamaniac
    February 23, 2010

    I’d hate to see Cashley in our colors for his Drogba-like behavior.

  22. November 6, 2010

    If you’re still on the fence: grab your favorite earphones, head down to a Best Buy and ask to plug them into a Zune then an iPod and see which one sounds better to you, and which interface makes you smile more. Then you’ll know which is right for you.

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