The fans in the stands of the Stuttgart Arena will focus their attention mainly on the collection of highly gifted footballers on the pitch. There is plenty of it in the top game of the 13th Bundesliga matchday between VfB Stuttgart and Bayer Leverkusen on Sunday (3:30 p.m./DAZN).
But above all, the encounter between the third-placed team and the leader is also the meeting between the two newly promoted coaches this season: Leverkusen's Xabi Alonso, who has turned the mostly talented but often sedate Bayer team into a title candidate since he joined in October 2022. And Stuttgart's Sebastian Hoeneß, who shaped the team that was almost relegated last season into a top team.
Not many would have believed that the nephew of Bayern patriarch Uli Hoeneß could do that after his first coaching position at TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, which parted ways with Hoeneß in the summer of 2022. But the 41-year-old, who only played lower-class football himself, managed to take the players along with him with a mixture of professional competence, but also approach and social skills.
Hoeneß relies on trust
“One thing is simply important to me, that is communication, the leadership of the team,” explained Hoeneß recently. "I think there's a lot of potential there." The team around top scorer Serhou Guirassy and his strike partner Deniz Undav follow him on his path. Even players who sit on the bench don't criticize.
Hoeneß also gave VfB a possession style of football and intense pressing that put the opponents under enormous pressure. This was seen on Wednesday in the 2-0 win in the DFB Cup, when Borussia Dortmund barely had time to build up the game in an orderly manner.
And when Stuttgart have the ball, they quickly get in front of the opponent's goal with quick combinations via the technically highly gifted Chris Führich and Enzo Millot or the six-man Angelo Stiller, brought in from Hoffenheim by Hoeneß.
The professionals also feel the trust that Hoeneß places in them. He even asked winger Führich to consciously take risks. He encouraged him to "try things. And then two balls go into the upper tier and then he should take the third one and not despair," the coach told the 25-year-old. VfB was also able to compensate for the loss of several key players during the summer break.
After this rapid development, it is not surprising that dad Dieter Hoeneß, once a national striker, recently said that his son has “all the prerequisites” to one day coach a Champions League club. And that record champions FC Bayern, whose second team Filius Sebastian led to the third division title in 2020, is reportedly closely monitoring the Munich native's development.
Alonso: improver with discipline
Like Hoeneß for the Swabians, Xabi Alonso, who is a year older, is also a stroke of luck for Bayer. The former world-class player, who played for Bayern for three years, is also a maker of improvement as a coach. The 42-year-old has sparked euphoria among the Europa League round of 16 with his motivation, his detailed work and his great specialist knowledge.
The former world and European champion basically kissed awake the team around striker Victor Boniface and the recently ailing super technician Florian Wirtz, who were still unbeaten in all competitive games this season. He also exemplifies his discipline. The Spaniard has continually improved his knowledge of German and thus his connection to the team. "He is brutally honest with us. The coach makes sure that we classify everything correctly," explained midfielder Granit Xhaka, who plays a central role in Alonso's direction.
The Leverkusen fans love their coach from the Basque Country. And his work is also appreciated in the club management. The contract, which originally ran until 2024, was extended until 2026. And sports director Simon Rolfes is sure that the sought-after coach will stay at Leverkusen beyond the current season, even though Alonso is repeatedly talked about as Real Madrid's new coach next summer.
If the two coaches continue like this with their teams, then they could meet not only in the Bundesliga but also in the DFB Cup. Both clubs are in the quarter-finals. A final between VfB Stuttgart and Bayer Leverkusen in Berlin would have its charm.