HAMBURG, GERMANY - MARCH 03: Vedad Ibisevic of Stuttgartcelebrates scoring his goal with Martin Harnik during the Bundsliga match between Hamburger SV and VfB Stuttgart at Imtech Arena on March 3, 2012 in Hamburg, Germany. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Stuttgart have built an impressive squad and are ready to challenge for the top.
Team: VfB Stuttgart
Manager: Bruno Labbadia
Key Additions: Daniel Didavi (loan returnee), Tunay Torun
Key Losses: Julian Schieber, Timo Gebhart, Khalid Boulahrouz
2011-2012 Finish: Bundesliga 6th
2012-2013 Prediction: Stuttgart finished last season in 6th place just one point behind Bayer Leverkusen which was a big improvement over the year before when they finished 12th. The opportunity arose in January 2012 for Stuttgart to improve their squad by adding Hoffenheim and Bosnian international Vedad Ibisevic to their squad. Sporting director Fredi Bobic and manager Bruno Labbadia jumped at the opportunity. Ibisevic did not disappoint and ended his first six months in Stuttgart with 8 goals and 7 assists. His ability to link up with his teammates is what makes him stand out above Cacau as the number one forward at the club. The other great signing they made in January was bringing in right back Gotoku Sakai from Japanese club Albirex Niigata. He did not make an appearance in the first three matches, but he started and went 90 minutes in the remaining 14. The first six matches were at left back and the remaining eight were at right back. He played so well that the club decided not to renew the expiring contract of Khalid Boulahrouz.
It's difficult for me to be too excited with Stuttgart's moves this summer. Daniel Didavi returns from his Nürnberg, and promising young forward Tunay Torun joins from Hertha Berlin. Didavi will add some depth to a talented midfield, and while Torun may not get a lot of playing time this season, he's definitely one to watch for the future. As I said above, Khalid Boulahrouz left the club on a free transfer and joined Sporting Lisbon. The emergence of Sakai made him expendable. Timo Gebhart and Julian Schieber have also left the club, but the depth of Stuttgart's midfield make the loss of both of them acceptable.
If there's one player that you want to watch on Stuttgart, it's definitely Martin Harnik. The attacking midfielder had a fantastic 2011-12 picking up 17 goals and 8 assists. He built upon a solid 2010-11 when he had 9 goals and 9 assists. The Austrian is part of a dangerous attacking trio with Shinji Okazaki and Tama Hajnal that will sit behind Ibisevic. Stuttgart worked quickly in January 2012 to extend Harnik's contract through the summer of 2016. He'll be the focal point of the attack this season, and the addition of Ibisevic will make Harnik much more difficult to defend. His ability to find an open player in a scoring position is second to none on this team. Harnik's 2012-13 season could be really special.
Stuttgart are in for their best season since Mario Gomez was banging in goals for the club. If the defense tightens up at the back, they could have something special on their hands. The depth in midfield is very impressive, and they have several players that can hit double digits in goals this season. If Ibisevic can stay healthy, there is a very good chance that will top his remarkable 2008-09 season (He only played 17 games due to an injury!) when he racked up 18 goals and 7 assists. There are big things ahead for Stuttgart this season. I see them pipping Schalke and taking over the 3rd place spot.