Going into the matches last week a mere six points separated 17th place Eintracht Frankfurt from 9th place Köln, which meant that there were still (theoretically) nine teams facing an uncertain future in the top flight. Even more incredible still is the gap between 13th place Darmstadt and Frankfurt was but one single solitary point.
The results on the weekend did very little to ease the nerves of those teams at the bottom of the table. Wins for both Ingolstadt (vs. Schalke) and Hamburg (vs. the hapless Hannover) were crucial in dragging themselves away from the pack. Draws for both Köln and Stuttgart also helped their causes, but perhaps not enough so that they can breathe easy just yet.
As for the real bottom of the table, that’s where things still remain incredibly interesting.
Darmstadt and Hoffenheim managed marginal point increases with draws in their respective matches while Bremen, Augsburg, and Frankfurt all tasted defeat at the hands of their opponents. Hoffenheim’s draw, which was against Köln, was perhaps of some significance as it pushed them level on points with Bremen but ahead in the table with a slightly higher goal differential. Something like this could very well spell the difference between top flight and second division football next season.
Considering how clustered together these teams are, I thought it might be a bit interesting to find out if there was some “magic number” point total that a Bundesliga club would need to reach in order to retain their spot in the league for the next season. Of course this number is purely arbitrary and doesn’t take into account the total goals for and against records of each team, which is looking more and more likely to be a determining factor in the final standings. But bear with me for now.
I took a look at point total data from the past seven Bundesliga seasons, as the new relegation format (with the playoff) was introduced in the 2008-09 season, to determine (roughly) the amount of points that teams would need to reach in order to be guaranteed relegation, the playoff spot, and outright safety. I wanted to make the distinction between the playoff spot and safety even though, only on two previous occasions, has the team in the relegation spot actually been relegated (Energie Cottbus in 08/09 and Hertha BSC in 11/12).
Here’s what I found.
Relegated Automatically Playoff Spot Guaranteed Safety
Highest Point Total: 34 Highest Point Total: 35 Highest Point Total: 37
Lowest Point Total: 26 Lowest Point Total: 27 Lowest Point Total: 28
Median Point Total: 30 Median Point Total: 31 Median Point Total: 32
These numbers indicate that the race to beat the drop will almost invariably end in a photo finish. There are of course outliers – this season it’s poor Hannover who are all but assured relegation as they sit nine points adrift of 17th place with five matches to go. So out of the remaining candidates, who is likely to “get to 32”? Who is likely to survive?
SV Darmstadt – 13th Place – 29 Points (-13 GD)
Remaining schedule: @ Hamburg, v Ingolstadt, @ Köln, v Frankfurt, @ Hertha, v ‘Gladbach
If at the beginning of the season you’d have told Darmstadt that they’d have a fighting chance to stay in the league I imagine they’d have taken the offer with no conditions. They very well could have been clear of this relegation mess had they been able to hold onto leads in the final minute of recent matches – late equalizers conceded against Bremen, Augsburg, and Wolfsburg turned nine points into three. The remaining schedule isn’t awful though, especially the next two matches. If Darmstadt can manage four points against Hamburg and Ingolstadt it would take them to 33 points and just past the “safety threshold” with four matches to play. Expect to see Die Lilien in the league next season.
TSG Hoffenheim – 14th Place – 28 Points (-13 GD)
Remaining schedule: @ Frankfurt, v Hertha, @ ‘Gladbach, v Ingolstadt, @ Hannover, v Schalke
To say Hoffenheim’s season has been disappointing is an incredible understatement. After a very respectable mid-table finish last season, an absolutely dreadful first half cancelled any plans of a repeat. However die Hoffe have seen a resurgence under schoolboy manager Julian Nagelsmann. Having taken over in early February, the 28 year-old Nagelsmann has guided Hoffenheim to a 4-2-2 record and, more importantly, four table positions up the ladder. Whether it is Nagelsmann’s proficiency as a manager or just the fabled “new manager bump”, Hoffenheim are in a very good position to avoid relegation. The remaining fixtures could be tricky but there are a few opportunities against Frankfurt, Ingolstadt, and especially Hannover to grab the maximum points and take a big step towards safety.
Werder Bremen – 15th Place – 28 Points (-19 GD)
Remaining schedule: v Augsburg, v Wolfsburg, @ Hamburg, v Stuttgart, @ Köln, v Frankfurt
Werder are in serious trouble. Already with the worst defence in the league they have arguably the trickiest schedule of the teams in relegation danger. They can set themselves up nicely with a win vs Augsburg this weekend but then face a tough set of four fixtures where getting favourable results will require some effort, especially considering that the majority of their remaining fixtures are at home (where they have a much worse record than away) and they face a fiercely contested Nordderby. Some small consolation for Werder is that they play Wolfsburg four days after what is sure to be an emotionally charged match midweek at the Bernabeu for Dieter Hecking’s boys, but it seems that the bad may outweigh the good here.
FC Augsburg – 16th Place – 27 Points (-12 GD)
Remaining schedule: @ Bremen, v Stuttgart, @ Wolfsburg, v Köln, @ Schalke, v Hamburg
Before the season kicked off I predicted that Augsburg would struggle and actually slotted them in the relegation playoff spot. While broken clocks are right twice a day, it isn’t entirely surprising. Augsburg’s European adventure took a serious toll on their domestic campaign as they had their worst spell of the season from late September to early November at the same time as they were playing Europa League group stage matches. They had a bit of an uptick in form at the end of the Hinrunde but haven’t been consistently earning enough points to be comfortable. However, Augsburg’s solution is actually quite simple – do better than Bremen for the remainder of the season. I told you it was simple. Augsburg’s remaining fixtures nearly mirror Bremen’s exactly and if they play those teams better than Bremen it will all but assure them a higher league position. None of the fixtures are more important than this week’s as they host the Green-Whites on Saturday afternoon.
Eintracht Frankfurt – 17th Place – 27 Points (-15 GD)
Remaining schedule: v Hoffenheim, @ Leverkusen, v Mainz, @ Darmstadt, v Dortmund, @ Bremen
Frankfurt have been on a steady decline since the middle of the Hinrunde and now see themselves as technically the worst team in the league not named Hannover. While that may be a bit of hyperbole the truth of the matter is die Adler are facing an uncertain future in the league especially given that three of their remaining fixtures are against Leverkusen, Mainz, and Borussia Dortmund. However it is the other three fixtures that give Frankfurt hope for survival as they are all against direct relegation rivals. Some positive results against these sides, starting with Hoffenheim, could prove vital in securing safety.
Of course the teams hovering just above could very well get dragged down into this mess. That’s what makes this season’s relegation battle so incredibly dramatic!
My prediction is that joining Hannover in the automatic drop will be Frankfurt and Augsburg will do just enough to edge Bremen out of the relegation playoff spot. What’s your call?
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