High-flying Borussia Dortmund have been the talk of the Bundesliga this year, producing ruthlessly efficient performances and making a mockery of predictions that the title race in Germany could be tighter than ever. Dortmund have established a double digit lead at the top of the table, winning 15 of their 19 league games while conceding just 12 goals.

But while Jurgen Klopp’s men have deservedly snatched much of the spotlight, two former Bundesliga champions slumped in the other half of the table might yet provide the surprise story of the season. The campaign is only just past the halfway point, but Stuttgart and, to a lesser extent, Wolfsburg are currently relegation candidates.

Not so long ago, these proud clubs were peering down at the rest of the Bundesliga. In fact, Wolfsburg were champions as recently as 2009 and played in last year’s Champions League, while Stuttgart claimed their fifth Bundesliga title in 2007 and have also tasted football at Europe’s top table. It would represent a remarkable downturn in fortunes if either dropped to the second tier of German football, yet supporters of these teams are bracing themselves for a tough few months ahead.

The league table makes for gruesome reading at present for fans of both teams, especially Stuttgart, who are stuck in the relegation zone, without an away win and on to their third manager of the season. Bruno Labbadia is the latest in the hot seat, but results are not improving. Scoring goals has not been a major problem so far, but it is a defence which has leaked 36 already that looks culpable.

And so it was somehow fitting that the league schedule pitted Stuttgart against high-flying Dortmund at the weekend. The 1-1 scoreline pleased the former far more than the latter, which just reflects the vastly different directions in which these two sides are heading.


On the bright side, Stuttgart have managed to hold onto striker Pavel Pogrebnyak, who scored the vital late equaliser against Dortmund, and appears to have postponed a possible move to the English Premier League. The Russian’s goals could yet help his side survive. But elsewhere it has been a tale of failure. Beyond the defence, World Cup winner Mauro Camoranesi, who was expected to be a key man this season, has struggled for first team football following his move from Juventus in the summer. The 34-year-old has submitted a transfer request and could leave soon. However, should Labbadia’s squad remain intact as the season enters February, he will be confident there is enough talent within the ranks to avoid the drop – if defensive holes can be plugged.

Wolfsburg, on the other hand could well struggle for goals having lost their most prized asset, deepening the gloom. Edin Dzeko’s big-money switch to Manchester City was a substantial cash injection, but it may have pushed the club closer to heartbreak. The 2009 champions continue to persist with former Middlesbrough and England manager Steve McClaren despite the team looking lacklustre throughout the campaign. McClaren cannot point to a lack of backing as reason for Wolfsburg’s struggles – the club added Brazilian midfielder Diego and Danish centre back Simon Kjaer in the summer at a combined cost of €28M. To add further perspective to their season, Dortmund, with 47 points, have more than double Wolfsburg’s tally of 23.

In fact, Wolfsburg have appeared more like relegation candidates than title challengers. A 1-0 victory over Mainz on Saturday lifted the club into 11th, which is rather misleading considering they began the weekend just above the drop zone, only for a string of results to fall their way. Nonetheless, only four points separate McClaren’s side from the danger zone and they have scored just 26 goals – fewer even than bottom club Borussia Monchengladbach.

Wolfsburg are still adjusting to the post-Dzeko era and it remains to be seen whether a low-scoring team can cope without their most prolific striker. The task will only get tougher too, with upcoming games against Dortmund, Hannover and Hamburg. All three currently find themselves in the top six.

For both Stuttgart and Wolfsburg, this season’s woes were never in the script. Dortmund’s Klopp even picked out Wolfsburg as one of the favourites for the Bundesliga title back in September and, while the same could not be said for Stuttgart, a relegation dogfight was not on the cards either. Instead, the two teams have combined for a staggering 17 losses and just two away wins.

And so as the season ticks on, the struggles for Wolfsburg and Stuttgart present an intriguing Bundesliga subplot. If Dortmund continue to canter towards the title, expect all eyes to be on a gripping relegation scrap.