March 25, 2017

2. Bundesliga Matchday 34 Preview: Some Will Celebrate . . .

This is it! There will be no more 2.Bundesliga wraps or previews for a while after this one.

There there. You can dry your eyes on your national-flag t-shirt and let the World Cup in Brazil distract you from the void for a full month. By the time that is over, it’ll seem like the new season is but a few moments away!

But, before we worry about all that, we do have the small matter of a huge final matchday as a going-away gift. A huge head-to-head pillow fight at the bottom of the table highlights Sunday’s slate, which also includes:

  • One home side looking for a win to clinch a trip to the Bundesliga and a party likely to put Saturday’s championship celebration in Bavaria.
  • Another home side in search of a win to at least maintain their spot in the playoff, while hoping the side in bullet point one slips on their way to promotion, in which case the playoff would not be needed.
  • A third club going on the road in need of some bad luck for the side in bullet point two and a pile of goals for themselves to have even the slimmest chance of a miraculous finish.

Play along at home by filling the biggest vessel you can find and be ready to dump it on someone’s head after 90 minutes of nine concurrent 2.Bundesliga matches of varying intensity. It’s matchday 34!

All matches this weekend are on Sunday and take place at the same time.

Dynamo Dresden : Arminia Bielefeld

(Hinrunde result 1:1)

This fixture between Dynamo Dresden and Arminia Bielefeld had been sitting tantalizingly at the end of the schedule, feeling like a big tease was more likely than the two long-time relegation-threatened sides staying close enough on points in places 16 and 17 to give us as a true relegation battle for the final day of the season.

Granted, the side that comes away happy Sunday will still have some work to do in order to retain their 2.Bundesliga status, but the other side leaves directly for 3.Liga with nothing more on which to hang hope of league survival.

No team has drawn nearly as frequently as have the host here, Dynamo Dresden. More than half of their 32 points have come from their 17 draws. Their five victories are also the league low. Even Energie Cottbus, which was relegated two weeks ago, won six times.

Fortunately for Dynamo, a draw would be enough to see them avoid the direct drop and play in the relegation playoff for the second year running.

This means, of course, that for Bielefeld to have any chance of staying in the league, they’ll need to score, something of which they’ve done precious little since the winter break. Bielefeld has scored just five goals in their last 13 matches, excluding the four scored against VfL Bochum. Even spread out more evenly, nine goals in 13 matches wouldn’t seem to offer much hope for league survival.

But what Bielefeld has managed since making a coaching change from Stefan Krämer to Norbert Meier is to cut down on the rapid pace of goals conceded. Arminia had allowed 44 goals in the 22 matches before Meier’s arrival. Surrendering twelve goals in eleven matches is not exactly dominant, but it’s a huge improvement and is a major factor in Bielefeld even having this opportunity on the last match day.

Then again, as was said, they have to score more than they allow Sunday or it’s straight back to the 3.Liga with them.

SC Paderborn : VfR Aalen

(Hinrunde result – Paderborn won 2:4)

By all accounts, SC Paderborn should manage a home victory against VfR Aalen Sunday to secure the direct trip to the Oberhaus as the 2.Bundesliga’s second-place finisher. The SCP has been overwhelmingly consistent since the winter break, stalking long-time second-place holder SpVgg Greuther Fürth throughout the 2014 portion of the season and finally passing them just weeks ago.

Paderborn outplayed Fürth in their head-to-head match on matchday 31, but had to settle for draw after conceding two controversial goals, so it does seem a bit of justice served for the Ostwestfaleners to now control the story.

Assuming the pressure of the moment doesn’t become too much for them.

Unlike Fürth, who had played their way out of the Bundesliga just over a year ago, Paderborn has never managed the

SCP is a collaborative effort
SCP is a collaborative effort

climb to Germany’s top flight. Nothing less than history is at stake for the team taking the pitch Sunday. The question will not be whether SC Paderborn is a better side than VfR Aalen; it will be whether Paderborn shrinks at such a big moment.

As for their guests with the power to spoil a hoped-for post-match celebration of direct promotion, Aalen has looked like a brand new squad the last few weeks. Coach Stephan Ruthenbeck appears to have opted to let his boys run free and have fun, and the players have responded, ending St. Pauli’s promotion bid with an 0:3 in Hamburg and then putting three more goals and a clean sheet to Union Berlin in Aalen’s home finale.

Aalen had scored more than two goals in a match just three times prior to their back-to-back three-goal efforts and has been held scoreless fifteen times this season.

Granted, both St. Pauli and Union were already on downward trajectories when Aalen spanked them, which is not something that can remotely be said about their opponent this weekend. Besides, will Aalen even be motivated to play spoiler? They’ve celebrated forty points, class retention, and a home finale over the last two weeks. Not to say the guest will play nice for their hosts and treat the match like a friendly, but the burning desire to achieve something that likely fuelled the last two weeks of results would be a surprise co-passenger on the trip to Paderborn.

Plus, we already know Aalen will be short-handed Sunday. Offensive catalyst Robert Lechleiter suffered injury a few minutes after delivering service in the first of two Joel Pohjanpalo goals against Union and will be out until November. Mainstay central defender Oliver Barth will miss just his second match of the season with a knee injury. Team captain Leandro Grech will serve a suspension for getting his fifth yellow card last weekend. And, finally, keeper Jasmin Fejzic will not play, instead heading to national team service for Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Paderborn would seem to be relatively fully armed for the contest, with only Elias Kachunga’s fifth yellow preventing Andre Breitenreiter from fielding the same team that won 0:2 at Erzgebirge Aue seven days before the big finale kicks-off.

But, it’s still 90 minutes that must be played. Certainly, Paderborn will prepare as if Aalen is as hungry for the points as Fürth would be, especially knowing any dropped points would likely mean dropping to third.

SpVgg Greuther Fürth : SV Sandhausen

(Hinrunde result – Fürth won 1:3)

For the longest time, direct promotion seemed like it was SpVgg Greuther Fürth‘s to lose. Then, they lost it, just a few weeks before season’s end. After losing their last home match 1:2 on an extra-time goal by 1860 München, it won’t be enough for die Kleeblätter to simply dispose of fading SV Sandhausen Sunday to reclaim the spot they had held since the beginning of December, but it is all they control come Sunday.

Which probably means a fairly long day for the guests, who have been outscored 7:0 in the last three matchdays and appear content to limp into summer with their spoils of staying in the 2.Bundesliga after their surprisingly strong defensive performance for much of the season prevented a second consecutive relegation.

Sandhausen’s chances in Fürth will not be helped by a few key absences down the middle, as both central midfielder Simon Tüting and central defender Florian Hübner will sit and watch having both earned their fifth yellow cards last weekend in the 0:2 home finale against FC Ingolstadt.

What does Azemi have in store for the finale?
What does Azemi have in store for the finale?

Of course, none of that is relevant as Fürth’s Ilir Azemi alone has outscored Sandhausen the last four matches by a 6:3 margin. The red-hot Kosovo national has emerged in the Rückrunde as a reliable goal-scorer, with 12 of his 13 goals on the season coming since matchday 22, helping Fürth maintain their top-three status.

Sandhausen coach Alois Schwartz says that, despite the seeming difficulty of the task, he expects his team to “make life as difficult as possible” for Fürth as they did two weeks prior in a Sunday trip to Paderborn, which was scoreless for an hour before Stefan Kulovits collected a pair of fouls in a span of three minutes to cut Sandhausen to ten men. Paderborn scored six minutes later en route to a 2:0 which propelled them into second place as Fürth’s loss to 1860 had come on Friday.

But, regardless of the effort of Sandhausen, Fürth simply must be the better club on Sunday. Sandhausen spent last summer preparing for 3.Liga, while Fürth was retooling a Bundesliga side with an eye on a quick rebound from a last-place finish and relegation. Playing at home as the only side with something to lose should be enough to make this match as lopsided at the 0:6 final hour last weekend at Energie Cottbus.

But . . . beware whatever it is that kept the first half-hour scoreless. The ball is round.

Fortuna Düsseldorf : 1. FC Kaiserslautern

(Hinrunde Fortuna won – 0:1)

“The Lauterner will definitely not win against us by such a high margin that they will be able to catch Fürth. They won’t win at all.”

Essentially, Fortuna Düssledorf‘s wildly successful interim coach Oliver Reck has no fear of delivering motivational quotes that could also by used by his opponent. He is, after all, just the interim coach.

For now. . .

Contrasting how Reck has led Fortuna to 13 points in the five matches of his second interim stint of the season with the nine points coach Lorenz-Günther Köstner managed in his nine matches before his illness called Reck back into action, do not be surprised if the move is made permanent sooner rather than later.

The three-point deficit to third place for 1. FC Kaiserslautern can naturally only be closed if the Red Devils pull off a victory in Düssledorf Sunday while Fürth loses at home to Sandhausen. The six-goal deficit in goal differential, however, means that Kaiserslautern can either hope Sandhausen soundly beats Fürth by several goals or approach the match within their control with a mind-set to scoring in bulk, which clearly is the inspiration for Reck’s cavalier statement.

Or, is even that cavalier?

Reck surely knows the same thing everyone else has noted about their guests this weekend: Kaiserslautern struggles with finishing chances. Were they capable of consistently putting on the offensive displays needed, even against lower competition, it’s unlikely they’d have fallen out of the top three back in February with a three-match losing streak in which they mustered but a single goal.

Despite Reck’s promises of the match not becoming a “spectacle,” it might just be the most worth of a watch for those who enjoy a wide-open offensive match. Kaiserslautern will have to sacrifice some defensive scenarios in favor of attack, while Fortuna has sh0wn that they can bite on the offensive end, tallying 14 goals during Reck’s second coming. The result here may ultimately have no factor in promotion by the end of the day, but nobody will know that for sure until it’s well under way. Expect fireworks.

By the way, the man along the touchline for Fortuna when they ended Kaiserslautern’s streak of seven home matches without a loss?

You again?!
You again?!

Playing out the string . . .

  • The farewell tour for 1.FC Köln finishes at the Volksbankstadion in Frankfurt, where the 2.Bundesliga champions reportedly will arrive with 8,000 fans in tow. Considering the home facilities of FSV Frankfurt has a capacity of 12,500, making it fortunate the hosts finally secured their league status last weekend in Bielefeld. (Hinrunde result – Köln won 2:0)
  • Not quite the season they had in mind, but 1860 München is just one win away from bettering their 2012-13 point total. Hosts Union Berlin are largely looking for a soft landing spot after a second half of the season that started with a hint of “Hey, maybe we could get promoted” and quickly spiralled into a disappointing string of blown leads. With coach Uwe Neuhaus on his way and just one of the sixteen players to have logged over 500 minutes this season under the age of 25, expect some retooling in Berlin this summer. (Hinrunde result – München won 2:1) 
  • Both St. Pauli and Erzgebirge Aue can already boast of an improved points total from last season, though each has also lost three of its last four matches, removing the Hamburg side from the promotion chase and endangering Aue’s shot at finishing in the middle, rather than again toward the bottom, of the table. Both clubs have been held scoreless their last two matches. Aue’s six goals conceded in those matches is slightly less depressing than the seven surrendered by St. Pauli, though, while St. Pauli was lamenting what was lost, Aue was celebrating the continuation of their second-league existence. (Hinrunde result – St. Pauli won 0:2) 
  • The somewhat-squirrelly season for VfL Bochum will end with their being guests of Karlsruher SC. Unlike last year when Bochum used a late surge to avoid relegation, Peter Neururer’s club bounced around the table for much of the early season before slowly drifting toward the bottom.  The second-weakest home side in the league used a pair of home victories in matchdays 28 and 30 sandwiched around a draw in Kaiserslautern to get just enough points to keep from falling completely into the drop zone, despite following that stretch with three consecutive losses. Karlsurhe, on the other hand, have not lost in six matches and only just last week was officially eliminated from the promotion chase in just their first season since returning from 3.Liga. (Hinrunde result – 0:0) 
  • A point for FC Ingolstadt would lift die Schanzer off the floor of the home table and equal their point total from last season.  A fifth home victory, though could lift the Bavarian club into the middle of the table, potentially finishing as high as ninth which would be a marked improvement, especially in light of the shambolic start under coach Marco Kurz. Ingolstadt took a whopping seven losses in the nine league matches under Kurz and were buried in last place. Since Ralph Hasenhüttl took over in matchday 11, the club has lost just five. Energie Cottbus had the opposite happen to them with their early coaching change, dropping six of their first 13 matches under Rudi Bommer, only to have replacement Stephan Schmidt lose eight of nine matches on his watch. Jörg Bohme won three of his four matches as the interim coach, but has since lost five of seven since taking the full-time job, which will not be his next year in the 3.Liga, as they decision has been made for the parties to go their separate ways. (Hinrunde result – Ingolstadt won 1:2)

 

Matchday 33 Table

Club Matches W D L GF:GA Diff. Pkt.
1 - 1.FC Köln 33 19 11 3 53:18 35 68
2 - SC Paderborn 07 33 17 8 8 61:47 14 59
3 - SpVgg Greuther Fürth 33 16 9 8 62:38 24 57
4 - 1.FC Kaiserslautern 33 15 9 9 53:35 18 54
5 - Karlsruher SC 33 12 14 7 47:33 14 50
6 - TSV 1860 München 34 14 8 12 39:40 -1 50
7 - VfR Aalen 34 12 11 11 38:37 1 47
8 - Fortuna Düsseldorf 33 12 11 10 41:42 -1 47
9 - FC St. Pauli 33 13 8 12 42:47 -5 47
10 - SV Sandhausen 33 12 8 13 29:33 -4 44
11 - 1.FC Union Berlin 34 11 10 13 47:49 -2 43
12 - FC Ingolstadt 04 33 10 11 12 32:33 -1 41
13 - FC Erzgebirge Aue 33 11 7 15 40:52 -12 40
14 - FSV Frankfurt 33 10 8 15 44:51 -7 38
15 - VfL Bochum 34 10 7 17 29:45 -16 37
16 - Dynamo Dresden 33 5 17 11 34:50 -16 32
17 - Arminia Bielefeld 33 8 8 17 37:56 -19 32
18 - FC Energie Cottbus 33 6 7 20 35:57 -22 25

Matchday 33 Results

1.FC Kaiserslautern - 4:0 - Dynamo Dresden
1.FC Köln - 4:0 - FC St. Pauli
TSV 1860 München - 2:0 - VfL Bochum
Arminia Bielefeld - 0:0 - FSV Frankfurt
FC Energie Cottbus - 0:6 - SpVgg Greuther Fürth
VfR Aalen - 3:0 - 1.FC Union Berlin
Karlsruher SC - 2:2 - Fortuna Düsseldorf
SV Sandhausen - 0:2 - FC Ingolstadt 04
FC Erzgebirge Aue - 0:2 - SC Paderborn 07
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Randall Hauk is a freelance writer living in the United States while covering German football. He is currently the publisher of Planet Effzeh, an English-language site covering 1. FC Köln. He wrote about the German national team for the Telegraph as part of their World Cup Nation coverage.

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