Five talking points from Matchday 26

Matchday 26 of the Bundesliga brought some fixtures which were direct duels in the table, mostly at the bottom. Friday night saw Werder Bremen visit Freiburg, who hadn’t won at home for over two months. Christian Streich’s side were looking for some momentum after last week’s excellent 4-1 victory at Eintracht Frankfurt while Werder are trying to put some daylight between them and the relegation spots. The pick of Saturday’s matches was the crucial relegation battle between Stuttgart and HSV while the evening match saw Borussia Mönchengladbach welcome a sliding Hertha Berlin. On Sunday, Leverkusen hosted Hoffenheim and yet another relegation duel between Nürnberg and Eintracht Frankfurt.

Freiburg, Stuttgart gain momentum in relegation battle as Nürnberg, HSV falter

Off the back of an excellent victory against Eintracht Frankfurt last week, Freiburg were in desperate need to get all three points against fellow strugglers Werder Bremen. With HSV facing Stuttgart and Nürnberg hosting Eintracht Frankfurt, a victory or a defeat would go a long way either way for their hopes to stay in the Bundesliga. The reaction from the team couldn’t have been better, as Julian Schuster’s second goal in as many games put the home side in the lead at the break. The game was over before the hour mark, as Felix Klaus and Ahmed Mehmedi scores six minutes apart to put the game beyond Werder’s sight. Nils Petersen tried to make things interesting with 20 minutes to go but the lead was enough to see Freiburg out of the relegation spots and into safety. For now.

Meanwhile, Stuttgart earned a huge victory against HSV, allowing them to move out of the relegation zone and leapfrog their rivals out of the bottom three places. A lone goal by Alexandru Maxim with 20 minutes to go was enough to get all three points against 10-man HSV, who had Hakan Çalhanoğlu sent off for two yellows on 56 minutes. HSV now drop to the relegation-playoff spot, one place ahead of Nürnberg, whose good Rückrunde form seems over as they have now lost four on the bounce. Eintracht Frankfurt were their slayers this week, winning the match 2-5, with six goals coming in the second half. At 0-3, Der Club managed to pull it back to 2-3 with 20 minutes to go but Javier Pinola’s red card after that allowed Eintracht to score two further goals and move up to 12th place in the table.

Huntelaar, Schalke in form, eye second place ahead of Revierderby.

Schalke fans are probably thinking how their season might have gone had Huntelaar not got injured at the beginning of the season and missed almost the whole Hinrunde. They wouldn’t have challenged Bayern for the title but considering how inconsistent the other teams at the top are, they might have been able to sit comfortably in second place. Huntelaar has 8 goals in the 9 games we have played since the Winterpause, 6 of which in the last 3 matches. This weekend Der Hunter was on target once again, this time against relegation-bound Eintracht Braunschweig. Leon Goretzka had put Schalke in the lead in the first half and the Dutch striker doubled the lead on 66 minutes. Benjamin Kessel tried to make a game of it with 10 minutes to go but Ádám Szalai made sure of all three points four minutes into stoppage time. With Bayer Leverkusen losing once again this week, this time 3-2 at home to Hoffenheim, and Dortmund being quite inconsistent with the added distraction of the Champions League coming up, Schalke will be trying to put their good form to use and earn that second spot. They have already taken third from die Werkself and their bitter rivals Dortmund are just one point ahead now, with the Revierderby away on Tuesday.

Heroic Mainz hold Bayern longer than anyone else

There’s no doubt that this Bayern team is a scoring machine. Before this weekend’s match, 74 goals in 24 matches in the league plus another 45 in all competitions lead to the conclusion that Pep Guardiola’s men don’t exactly struggle to score goals. Thomas Tuchel can’t have gone into Saturday’s match with much hope of getting a clean sheet, never mind a point out of the game, but Mainz produced a heroic display that saw them keep the Bavarians out for 82 minutes, the most any time has managed against Bayern this season. Tuchel is known for his tactical swapping and changing and on this occasion his 4-2-3-1 that copied Guardiola’s seemed to work a treat. Mainz defended for most of the game but managed to make Bayern attack on the flanks and not through the middle and kept them out of their six-yard box, thus cancelling Mario Mandžukić for most of the game. Pushing full-backs Joo-Ho Park and Zdeněk Pospěch up high also unsettled Ribéry and Robben and while Bayern got 23 shots on goal, only 8 were on target. In the end, the resistance could not last and Bastian Schweinsteiger opened the score on 82 minutes. Four minutes later, Mario Götze added a second and put the game beyond reach for brave Mainz. However, despite the defeat and Gladbach putting them out of the Europa League spots, Mainz will take a lot from this excellent performance into next week’s away day at Braunschweig on the back of two consecutive away wins.

The rot continues at Leverkusen

If there could be a Jekyll & Hyde award in the Bundesliga this season, it might go with all likelihood to Bayer Leverkusen. Sami Hyypiä had his team playing effective football during the Hinrunde and went into the winter break in second place, four points ahead of Gladbach in third. Today, they are on the back of eight defeats in nine matches (1-1 draw at Hannover in between) in all competitions and this week’s 3-2 home defeat against Hoffenheim did nothing to dispel the bad vibes at the BayArena. Leverkusen neutralised Sejad Salihović’s early penalty and later Kevin Volland’s effort through Simon Rolfes and Stefan Kießling respectively but were left with no time to do likewise when Anthony Modeste put the visitors ahead one minute from time. However, they did have 35 minutes to go ahead but were unable to do so against the team with the worst defensive record in the division. Up next are Augsburg, who are currently stuttering with form and Leverkusen’s aspirations of Champions League football for next season require a win against the Bavarians, with Borussia Mönchengladbach now just two points away of fourth spot.

Englische Woche ahead

We don’t have to wait until Friday for more Bundesliga action. The so-called Englische Woche is back with matches on Tuesday and Wednesday evening. The most notable fixture is the Revierderby that will be taking place at the Signal Iduna Park in Dortmund, as Dortmund take on Schalke on Tuesday night at 2000 CET. The result is a direct dispute for second place and Schalke should be slight favourites going into the match, a prediction based purely on form. The pick of the matches on Wednesday is the relegation battle between Nürnberg and Stuttgart, which could see one of the two teams leave the danger spots if they manage to get a result, a similar case scenario to HSV-Freiburg, also on Wednesday evening. However, at the top of the table, Bayern München could mathematically become champions if they win at the Olympiastadion in Berlin against Hertha. If they only manage a draw, they can still become champions if Dortmund do not win and even if they lose they can still be crowned as long as the Revierderby ends in a draw.

 

Header courtesy of Getty Images

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Aleix Gwilliam

Is a 27-year-old living in Barcelona who gets more pleasure from watching German lower-league football than from going to watch his hometown team at the Camp Nou every other week. Passionate about European football, its history and culture, you can follow him on Twitter at @AleixGwilliam

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