With Bayern Munich set to clinch their sixth consecutive Bundesliga title at the weekend, attention will turn to the battle for the European places and perhaps more importantly, the battle to avoid relegation from the top flight of German football.
With six matchdays still to play, the situation at the bottom of the table is still very fluid with six teams probably still in the mix to be relegated to the Zweite Liga. The seemingly unlikely ‘Great Escape’ is still mathematically on for Köln, while Hamburg may be a club in turmoil, but the Bundesliga Uhr is still ticking at the Volksparkstadion.
Mainz seem to be in free fall and are struggling to see where their next potentially vital three points are going to come from, whereas VfL Wolfsburg find themselves very much in a déjà vu situation having escaped last season by the skin of their teeth.
You’d think that both Freiburg and Hannover would be safe, but they are precariously close to the bottom three and would be extremely foolish to take anything for granted in the coming weeks.
So, what is in store for those clubs are the wrong end of the table?
How long can that clock keep ticking? HSV have been leading an extremely charmed life over the past few season with two relegation play-offs behind them and a last gasp winner on the final matchday of last season keeping them from a third straight appearance in the winner-takes-all game.
Another abysmal season has been served up this time around and the Rothosen have it all to do as they currently sit bottom with a full eight points to make up before they are safe. The current mood can only be described as poisonous with new coach Christian Titz (the third of the campaign) banishing both Mergim Mavraj and Walace to the U-21’s and only sparing talisman Kyriakos Papadopoulos from a similar fate after the Greek defender apologised for criticising the new coach.
The HSV Ultras seem ready to explode and in recent weeks we’ve seen increasingly ominous threats directed at the players. New trainer Titz has thrown a number of raw youngsters into the fray and it will be interesting to see if his tactic pays off or whether the unfair pressure is too much for the teenagers.
You wouldn’t bet on them taking all three points against the likes of Schalke, Hoffenheim, Frankfurt or Mönchengladbach, and potential wins against Freiburg and Wolfsburg just won’t suffice. So, I believe this could just be one season too far for Hamburg and they will be ultimately punished for the poor way the club has been run over the past few years.
The dinosaur is soon to be extinct.
(a) VfL Wolfsburg
(a) Eintracht Frankfurt
(h) Borussia Mönchengladbach
The Billy Goats are still kicking and there is still a faint chance that they could pull off the seemingly impossible and avoid the drop. Their situation looked beyond redemption as the Bundesliga entered the Winterpause. One win from 17 matches left the Domstädter 11 points clear of safety and all hope seemed to be lost.
However, Stefan Ruthenbeck has lifted them off the foot of the table and the club have shown in glimpses that they have the ability to get the points required to achieve safety. Unlikely wins against RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen raised the hope at the Rhein-Energie Stadion, but disappointing losses to Stuttgart and Werder Bremen have hindered their resurgence. Last weekend’s 6-0 mauling at Hoffenheim exposed once again their weakness and it will be interesting to see how Ruthenbeck rallies his troops.
On the plus side, the fans are very much still behind the club (unlike what we’re seeing at Hamburg) and despite a horrible season, the players are still the same ones who achieved European football last season.
They face three potentially massive games against fellow strugglers Mainz, Freiburg and Wolfsburg and their future in the top division will largely rest on the outcome of those games.
It could well be that the Geißböcke claw themselves up to 16th and then have to try their luck in the relegation play-off.
(a) Hertha Berlin
(h) Bayern Munich
(a) VfL Wolfsburg
For so long it had looked like Köln and Hamburg were the shoe-ins for automatic relegation, but Mainz now look like they are in free-fall towards the Bundesliga trapdoor. The Nullfünfer have only won twice in the Rückrunde and have failed to score in their last four matches leading to an increasing sense of foreboding at the Opel Arena.
Trainer Sandro Schwarz has a huge task on his hands to inspire a last-gasp improvement from his side to keep them from ending their nine-year stay in the Bundesliga. The fear is though that he simply doesn’t have the quality at his disposal to launch a sustained push in the final six games.
Their next three fixtures will ultimately decide their fate as they face Köln, Freiburg and Augsburg. They will not want to be facing RB Leipzig, Borussia Dortmund or Werder Bremen on the final day in desperate need of three points.
The Karneval season is over, but it could well be that the Bundesliga carnival is over for Mainz this season.
(h) RB Leipzig
(a) Borussia Dortmund
(h) Werder Bremen
This wasn’t part of the script for Wolfsburg following their relegation play-off win last season over Eintracht Braunschweig. That was supposed to be a wake-up call for the Volkswagen-backed club, but like Hamburg, they seem not to have learnt from past mistakes.
The Wölfe are on their third trainer of the campaign with Andries Jonker fired and Martin Schmidt surprisingly walking of his own accord. Bruno Labbadia finally found a club willing to entrust him after being linked with every job under the sun, but unlike Tayfun Korkut over at VfB Stuttgart, he’s been unable as yet to find the magic formula to lift Wolfsburg clear of the danger zone.
On paper they have the players to get them out of the hole they are in with the likes of Daniel Didavi, Yunus Malli and Maxi Arnold all quality footballers, but it these very same players that have underperformed to put the club where thy currently are.
The worrying things is that they’ve now gone eight games without a win and have scored just four goals in that time. Wolfsburg are in a rut and much like last season, it looks like they are going to be sucked into the bottom three by the end of the season unless a dramatic turnaround happens.
(a) Borussia Mönchengladbach
(a) RB Leipzig
The Breisgauer will be wise enough to know that it is not over until the lady who doesn’t conform to societies norms about the perfect figure, but is happily curvy nonetheless, sings. With six games left Christian Streich’s side have a four point cushion over Mainz in 16th, so it is too soon for Freiburg fans to stop nervously biting their fingernails.
Like Mainz, they have only picked up two wins in the Rückrunde so far, but looking at their remaining fixtures, their destiny is very much in their own hands. Freiburg face fellow strugglers Wolfsburg, Mainz, Hamburg and Köln in their next four fixtures. To say each if those games is a ‘relegation six-pointer’ is no overreaction.
They will however in all likelihood have to play at least two of those matches without key striker Nils Petersen, who looks set to be banned following his bizarre red card against Schalke.
(h) VfL Wolfsburg
(a) Borussia Mönchengladbach
With a six-point cushion over Mainz in 16th it would seem at first glance that Hannover don’t have too much to worry about, but a closer inspection shows the Niedersachsen club need to keep their eye very much on the ball if they are to avoid an immediate return to Bundesliga II.
After finishing the Hinrunde in a respectable 11th with an eight point advantage over the bottom three, the Rückrunde has been harder going at like Mainz, Andre Breitenreiter’s side find themselves hitting the skids at the wrong time in the season.
Hannover have lost their last five matches on the bounce so find themselves in the midst of their worst run of form this season. The other worrying factor for die Roten is that they have a tricky set of fixtures to end the season. All six games are against sides above them in the table, while the teams immediately below them all play each other so one or more of them could pick up vital three points.
Werder and Stuttgart are on good runs right now, while it would be folly to expect a win over Bayern. Hoffenheim and Bayer Leverkusen will be desperate for points in their bids for European football, leaving Hertha Berlin the only relatively straight-forward encounter.
It could well be ‘squeaky bum’ time for Hannover 96.
(h) Werder Bremen
(a) VfB Stuttgart
(h) Bayern Munich
(h) Hertha Berlin
(a) Bayer Leverkusen
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