And so the end is near. The climax to a pulsating, rollercoaster ride of a Bundesliga season is nearly upon us. Next weekend will bring fans of Germany’s top flight their final taste of regular season action, before the trials and tribulations of the play-offs get underway.
With the exception of the relegation and play-off spots, things are beginning to fall into place in the Bundesliga table. Despite their dreadful form of late, Bayern Munich’s title triumph was inevitable for some time, while the identity of the teams joining them in the Champions League spots has been evident for a month or so now.
In the race for the other European places, Schalke now have a spot in the Europa League confirmed (among plenty of madness), while it seems likely that they will be joined by rivals Borussia Dortmund, and European newboys Augsburg, this despite disappointing losses for the latter two sides this weekend.
And so it is at the bottom where all is still to play for. A heartbreaking late defeat to Schalke means it will be some final day effort if Paderborn are to avoid relegation. However, who will join them in the other automatic relegation spot and the play-off is anyone’s guess. Heading into the final day, Hamburg sit in 17th, while Stuttgart are a place above in 16th, but with four of the bottom five facing off on the final day, it is likely that those spots will see plenty of changes next weekend.
Who will head into that final game in buoyant mood, and who will be hoping to bounce back from a disappointing week?
Kevin De Bruyne – Wolfsburg’s 2-1 win over Borussia Dortmund on Saturday may have seemed like a routine three points which continued The Wolves’ return to winning ways. But those with a fine eye for detail (or users of social media), will have noticed that there was something exceptional about the first goal of the game. While scoring inside 41 seconds was mightily impressive in itself, it was not goalscorer Daniel Caligiuri who was gaining the plaudits. The praise instead went to Kevin De Bruyne – who set up the goal. This was no routine assist though for the Belgian, but rather his 21st of the Bundesliga campaign. In reaching this figure he has now broken the record for the most assists in a Bundesliga campaign, while in reaching the incredible number he also surpassed the number of assists by any player in Europe’s top five leagues. It has been a tremendous season for the Belgian, and keeping hold of him this summer may be a big challenge for Wolfsburg.
Nils Petersen – Nils Petersen took a step closer to guaranteeing himself the title of ‘Best mid-season transfer’ this weekend, as his late winner sunk Bayern Munich, giving Freiburg a massive three points in their bid for survival. It was the attacker’s eighth goal in 11 games since joining the strugglers during the winter break, with five of those strikes coming in appearances as a substitute. Petersen’s contribution to Freiburg’s efforts to preserve Bundesliga status has been invaluable and further raises the stock of a player who has been there or thereabouts for many years now. The real frustration for Petersen, and indeed his clubs, must be his failure to stay fit, with the 26-year-old picking up injuries at an alarming rate. It is very much a case of ‘What could be’ with Petersen, who could surely be playing at a higher level than a relegation scrap if he avoided lengthy spells on the sidelines. For the time being, though, Freiburg Coach Christian Streich will be happy to take any contribution they can get from the former Bayern Munich man.
Stuttgart – Non-movers from the section after this weekend’s victory over Hamburg. The 2-1 win saw the home side come from a goal down, thanks to strikes from Christian Gentner and Martin Harnik, securing a vital three points as they look to avoid relegation to the second tier of German football. It leaves Huub Stevens and his men in 16th place, occupying the play-off spot, and with Paderborn to come on the final day, they are very much in control of their own fate. Should the Swabians stay up, it will cap an incredible turnaround for a side who appeared doomed a few weeks ago. Even heading into the game against Hamburg, Stuttgart were rooted to the bottom of the pile. They have given their supporters hope, and now they will look to finish the story, complete with fairytale ending.
Borussia Mönchengladbach – Just four years ago Borussia Mönchengladbach were in a play-off fighting for their place in the Bundesliga. Fast forward four years and they are in a completely different position. Saturday’s 2-0 win over Werder Bremen was the latest in a very impressive set of results. Lucien Favre has performed very well as Gladbach’s manager and has taken them to heights that did not seem possible in the last few years. The latest height being a place in the Champions League. A glance at the league table since the winter break tells you all you need to know about the form Favre’s men have come in to. If the Bundesliga campaign started in January, then Borussia Mönchengladbach would be top of the table, five points ahead of their nearest rivals Wolfsburg, and a staggering eight ahead of champions Bayern Munich. They have come this far already, now it is time for Gladbach to show next season that they can fight on several fronts.
Lars Stindl/Hannover 96 – If Hannover do end up remaining in the Bundesliga, then much of that achievement will be down to Lars Stindl. The midfielder may have already ensured his own Bundesliga status with a move to Borussia Mönchengladbach next season, but he seems hell-bent on making sure that his current side will be in the league with him too. A brace in an excellent win at Augsburg was the latest feat in a very promising campaign for Hannover’s captain. In a disastrous second half to the season, Stindl has kept his side ticking over and come up with the goods when they have been so dearly needed. The two goals this weekend take his own personal tally for the season to ten strikes in 20 games, an excellent return for a midfielder, especially one playing for a struggling side.
Schalke – It is an indication of how bad a week this has been for Schalke, that even a win which secured both European football and a finishing position above rivals Borussia Dortmund, was not enough to convince. Indeed the win itself was relatively unremarkable and fortunate, with the hosts surviving a barrage of Paderborn attacks before breaking away and scoring a late winner. This came after a painstakingly awkward protest from their supporters at the end of a week which has seen turmoil within the club reach new levels. Players have been sacked and suspended, Roberto Di Matteo has been supported and undermined at the same time, and Sporting Director Horst Heldt has once again made a general fool of himself. To say that this is a massive summer for the club is not an exaggeration. Decisions need to be made for the good of Schalke, before this turns even uglier and destabilising than it already is.
Bayern Munich – It is difficult to really evaluate how disappointing recent weeks have been for Bayern Munich. Saturday’s loss at Freiburg was unacceptable, but qualifying it in the midst of a title-winning season is hard. Pep Guardiola’s men have now secured just one win in their last six games, with the manner of some of the defeats particularly surprising. Yes the Bavarians have secured another title, but it has been disappointing on other fronts. There is uncertainty over the future of the manager, while little has been done to invigorate an ageing squad. That factor is becoming increasingly important given that many of Bayern’s key players (the likes of Arjen Robben, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Xabi Alonso to name a few) are among those over 30. Regardless of Guardiola’s own future, work needs to be done on the current squad, with young and talented players required to balance out the experienced individuals. These last few weeks have been a warning of what could happen if they fail to act this summer.
Paderborn – Mathematically it is still possible that Paderborn could be a Bundesliga side next season. However, such an argument is beginning to look less and less likely and indeed, implausible, as the weeks pass. While they were incredibly hard done by in losing to Schalke at the weekend, that is what separates those that survive and those that fall. You only need to look at Hannover who have plucked a draw and a victory from Wolfsburg and Augsburg respectively to see that difference. It is harsh on a side who have entertained and at times enthralled Germany’s top flight, but an immediate drop back down to the second tier now seems certain. A win against an in-form Stuttgart, plus needing other results to go their way mean they will probably have to start planning for life out of the Bundesliga.
The Pal Dardai Effect – At the beginning of April it appeared that Pal Dardai, a former Hertha Berlin midfielder and currently the national team coach of Hungary, had worked wonders, with Hertha Berlin moving away from the relegation battle and towards the comfort of a mid-table spot. While they still sit in 13th and will avoid relegation barring a ridiculous turn of events next weekend, the Pal Dardai effect seems to have worn off a little. Without a win in six games, Hertha have failed to kick on from what was an impressive run of form, meaning that questions will once again be raised over the summer about what exactly is the best way forward for a club who have underwhelmed in the 2014-2015 campaign.
Alex Meier’s Chasing Pack – When Alex Meier was ruled out for the rest of the campaign, it seemed almost certain that he would be surpassed at the top of the Bundesliga goalscoring charts. This would have been a great disappointment to the hipsters desperate to see someone relatively unusual and unexpected walk away with the title. However they can now rest easy, with it seeming unlikely that anyone other than the Eintracht Frankfurt attacker will be crowned as the league’s leading scorer. The failure of either Bas Dost or Robert Lewandowski to add to their tallies this weekend, combined with Arjen Robben’s own injury woes, means it is looking very likely that it will be Meier who takes the Bundesliga goal-scoring crown.
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