Fighting to Avoid the Drop: What Can We Expect During the Rückrunde?

With just four minutes on the clock, Nürnberg were close to restoring their overwhelming three-goal advantage over Hannover for their first win of the season but rattled the woodwork for the sixteenth time so far this season (league highest). What followed next was a typical illustration of the dismal Hinrunde that the Franconians had, as Mame Biram Diouf snatched the equalizer with virtually the last kick of the match after reducing the deficit with a clear offside strike.

Surprisingly enough, Gertjan Verbeek didn’t find his team at the bottom of the pile, despite the fact that they are the only side in Bundesliga history to stay winless after the first round of matches, much to the hard time that new boys Eintracht Braunschweig are experiencing on their return to the Bundesliga after decades of  absence. Torsten Lieberknecht vowed to step down from his managerial position following a hapless start to the campaign, but fans showed their support ahead of the Lower Saxony derby against Wolfsburg and this forced the architect behind the Lions’ rise to first division football to stay put at the club. Even though the immediate effect resulted in their first win of the season, they are still everybody’s favorites to get relegated. However, if the previous seasons of Bundesliga taught us anything, the table at the end of Hinrunde should not be anything to go by in terms of final league results. Nevertheless, we take a look at the clubs who’ll fight to extend their stay in German’s top flight league.

Eintracht Braunschweig

Why they’ll stay up: If one thing is to come to the rescue of Eintracht Braunschweig, it has to be their tendency to pick up crucial wins when you least expected them to. Wolfsburg won all their three home matches prior to their defeat against their local rivals; Bayer Leverkusen were on the trail of Bayern Munich before slumping to a lacklustre defeat at Eintracht-Stadion; and Hoffenheim scored in every single match but one before their visit to Braunschweig on the last Hinrunde matchday, which reflects a glimpse of hope for the promoted side after another hard-fought win. The fighting spirit of the club, a dazzling performance from Leverkusen-loanee Karim Bellarabi, and dedicated fans, who remain behind the club in dark times; can lift the team off the bottom of the standings in the coming year.

Why they won’t: Before the start of the season, Torsten Lieberknecht admitted it would be a more surprising story than their promotion to the Bundesliga if his inexperienced team avoided relegation at the end of the season. The aggregate Bundesliga appearances in Braunschweig’s squad is a mere 447, which is not even one third of the total appearances by the second most inexperienced side in the league, Freiburg (1320). Former Mainz all-round midfielder Marco Caligiuri only needs two more league matches to reach the 100 mark, but he has struggled to replicate the versatility he produced at his previous club before picking up an injury, which ruled him out for the latter stage of the Hinrunde. Last season’s top scorer Domi Kumbela has only scored two goals this season, although both of them being match-winners, and to top it off, they’re the only side whose losses are counted in double figures.  (12).

 

1. FC Nürnberg 

Why they’ll stay up: When one sees that second-placed Bayer Leverkusen lost four matches in the Hinrunde, they would wonder how Nürnberg, who have only lost six, are in the relegation zone. In fact, under the guidance of Michael Wiesinger, Nürnberg remained unbeaten for nine consecutive matches right after the winter break last season. This season, the Bavarians were the first ones to deny Borussia Dortmund all three points and they also put on a stubborn defensive display before a late Robbery – the Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben fearsome combination – show at Allianz Arena. The last few weeks before the Winterpause further give a cause for optimism to Nürnberg faithfuls as they could easily have registered their long-awaited first win of the season in any of the last three league matches (against Mainz, Hannover, and Schalke). Their overall performances are improving greatly, so now it’s time to break the curse, which even might happen at the first time of asking in the Rückrunde when they entertain fellow relegation-threatened side, Hoffenheim.

Why they won’t: It’s easy – zero wins, zero percent of chance to stay in the league. Despite the late signs and having players like skillful Japanese midfielder Hiroshi Kiyotake and up-and-coming youngster Josip Drmić in their squad, Nürnberg have failed to find the winning formula since their exit from DFB-Pokal at the hands of SV Sandhausen. Central defender Per Nilsson, who was the team’s top scorer last season, is joint second this term in that regard with three goals after Drmić, which shows they still struggle to get the best out of their strikers. Summer arrival Daniel Ginczek is fighting to return to full fitness and Czech international Tomáš Pekhart is still searching for his first goal of the season.

 

SC Freiburg

Why they’ll stay up: Exactly a couple of seasons ago, Christian Streich made his Bundesliga debut with a priceless win against Augsburg  in the opening matchday of the Rückrunde. The charismatic coach collected twice as many points after that as the Breisgau-Brasilianer picked up their form from the first half of the season on their way to achieving safety. After a fairytale run last season, which saw them qualify for the Europa League narrowly missing out on the Champions League, they returned to the wrong end of the table due to losing most of their star players to fellow league sides in the summer. However, Freiburg fans are still counting on Streich’s man-management skills and nurturing youth talent. One other thing which might prove to be decisive for Freiburg’s season is their exit from Europa League, which takes off the pressure of playing twice a week with a short squad.

Why they won’t: Admir Mehmedi lifted his goal-tally for the season to five after his brace helped Freiburg to their first home win of the season against Hannover on Matchday 17. Despite that, the team’s strikers overall performances are not satisfying enough to help their cause of avoiding the drop. Along with the Swiss striker, summer signings are not performing to the expectations and the fact that familiar faces like Julian Schuster and Jonathan Schmid are struggling with injuries are not contributing to the cause . They conceded too many early goals and Oliver Baumann’s bad day at the office against Hamburg served as a highlight for a miserable Hinrunde for Freiburg.

 

The rest

Eintracht Frankfurt have also been the victim of a traumatic second half of the season in previous years, like when they get relegated at the end of 2010-11 season after a seventh-place finish in the Hinrunde. The Eagles are finding it hard to collect league points this season, going without a win for ten matches before their surprise victory against Bayer Leverkusen on Matchday 16. Ironically, they topped their respective group in Europa League by collecting the same amount of points in six matches of the continental competition than in seventeen league matches. They are placed only one point away from the relegation zone and with the knockout stage match against Portuguese giants Porto in Europe and the fourth round DFB-Pokal match against Borussia Dortmund around the corner, it will be interesting to see how Armin Veh’s side cope with the pressure of competing in three fronts.

The latest managerial shift saw long-serving Mirko Slomka relieved of his duty from Hannover, as they unveiled Tayfun Korkut as their new head coach after losing all their matches away from home in the first half of the season. Along with inconsistent Hamburg and free-scoring Hoffenheim, Hannover’s first target will be avoiding the unlikely drop. As expected Werder Bremen are still struggling to find their rhythm after a horrendous start to the calendar year, but a late winner against Bayer Leverkusen in the final matchday before the Winterpause eased the pressure from Robin Dutt.

Bayern Munich’s unparalleled run at the top of the standing leaves little room, if any, for competition to the salad bowl, which means the relegation battle and chase for a European places will be the ones which will caught the Bundesliga spectators’ eyes when the league resumes in late January. For the time being, Braunschweig, Nürnberg and Freiburg are in the relegation zone, but they hope the table will not stay the same when May comes.

 

Header courtesy of fupa.net

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Eskender born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Despite the geographical differences, he's interested in every detail of German football, if not any kind of football. Wolfsburg's industrious away win at Hamburg started his Bundesliga obsession back in 2005. You can also follow him on Twitter @eskeBMG

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