March 25, 2017

Match Day 33 Preview: Consequences Aplenty in Penultimate Bundesliga Weekend

You don’t have to be ESPN’s Uli Hesse to recognize that there remains plenty of drama for the remaining two match days of Bundesliga action. But if you’ve not yet read his report from earlier this week, you might not be fully aware of just how historic a finish is in the cards.

Hesse looks at the two season-ending fixtures to be contested by the table’s current bottom four and points to the potential for two direct relegation-deciding matches on the final match day has happened just once, and that was way back in 1969.

Certainly, fans of a certain age of clubs in Köln, Nürnberg, Dortmund, and Offenbach remember it well, but even they would benefit from taking a look at Hesse’s piece from their individual places of relative comfort, as none face such dangers this season (Though, Kickers Offenbach are about to face a fight for a 3. Liga spot as runaway winners of their regional league.)

Even with the league title salted away by FC Bayern München a few weeks ago, the relegation race does not own all the remaining plot lines for the Bundesliga, leaving plenty of reason for keeping tabs on multiple games on Saturday, when all nine matches are being contested simultaneously.

Hottest Tickets

VfB Stuttgart : Hamburger SV

Remarkably, the HSV has followed a five-match losing streak with seven points from their last three and can secure their place in next year’s Bundesliga with a win at relegation-rival Stuttgart.

Stuttgart, however, hold the confidence that comes with having already beaten their guests once this season, 0:1 in Hamburg, and the added burst of motivation that comes from desperation. Anything less than a win for the hosts could theoretically see Stuttgart sent directly to the second division.

Stuttgart fans planning a white-out for Saturday’s match. “Every individual is the 12th man! Everyone in white against the HSV!”
FC Schalke : SC Paderborn

It’s hard to imagine a club sitting in a European place two matches from season end being under more pressure than those fighting against relegation so late in the day, but the Royal Blues of Gelsenkirchen are definitely feeling as much heat as anyone right now.

Since downing Borussia Mönchengladbach on match day 20 to rise to third in the table, Schalke has won just twice, beating Real Madrid in Madrid, though not by enough to avoid being bounced from Champions League, and getting two late goals to turn a 1:2 deficit on its head against league doormat Stuttgart just two weekends ago.

Last weekend’s 2:0 in Köln dropped Schalke to sixth in the table, just two points beyond the reach of seventh-placed Borussia Dortmund, who’d relish little more than the chance to compound their rival’s misery by snatching away their European spot. Whether you regard it as “responding strongly to” or “cracking under the pressure of” the deepening crisis, club management suspended a trio of high-profile players from club activity, openly questioning their commitment to the club.

Despite the drama, Schalke can take a big step toward booking their European tour for next season by dispatching promoted side SC Paderborn at Veltins Arena. The SCP gave Schalke a tough match in the Hinspiel, falling 1:2 via a 78th minute Roman Neustädter goal.

Paderborn’s minus-32 is a significantly worse goal-differential than that of any of the clubs currently fighting against the drop, leaving everyone at the SCP well aware that they’re unlikely to come out ahead of anyone with whom they’re level on points. Sitting in a direct-relegation spot (17th), leaves Paderborn desperate for all the points they can get before hosting Stuttgart in what could be a do-or-die season finale.

Less Heat; Still Compelling

FC Augsburg : Hannover 96

Augsburg has a chance to earn their first UEFA tournament berth in front of their home crowd with even just one point this weekend.

Hannover, though, is unlikely to be in a sharing mood, currently in the knot of three clubs level on 31 points and sitting in the relegation-playoff spot.

The FCA took advantage of FC Bayern’s Barcelona focus last weekend, taking three points in Munich and leapfrogging the flagging FC Schalke to take commanding control of their Europa League chances.

After spending much of the Hinrunde in contention for European placement, Hannover has crashed into the relegation fight via a failure to win a single one of their last 16 matches, dating back to December 16. The last team to fall to the red shirts? FC Augsburg.

VfL Wolfsburg : Borussia Dortmund
Two more Bundesliga match days to earn that European berth as Jürgen Klopp’s going-away gift to the BVB.

Wolfsburg has already secured their group-stage spot in Champions League. How much they can rally behind the idea of securing the (incredibly irrelevant) vice-championship, which has been the property of their Saturday opponent the last two seasons, will be a big factor in how exciting this match will look.

There will be no lack of motivation on the part of the guests, of course. Dortmund require at least a point to stay in the hunt for a European spot, the winning of which would come with the added treat of coming at the expense of Schalke. A victory could see the BVB pull even on points or pass their rival, should the Royal Blues drop points at home to Paderborn.

SV Werder Bremen : Borussia Mönchengladbach

Werder Bremen has been fairly public about their hopes of still reaching the Europa League for next season, but their minus-twelve goal-differential means they’ll have to pass two clubs to get there, leaving much of their fate in the hands of others.

Of course, what they can control is the outcome of their home finale Saturday against a Borussia Mönchengladbach side on a twelve-match unbeaten run.

Die Fohlen, though, are just two points away from securing their group-stage spot in Champions League and are unlikely to take their foot off the gas just yet.

While Bremen is unbeaten in four, they’ve been struggling through a soft stretch of schedule, falling to Stuttgart and drawing with Paderborn.

Mönchengladbach’s 36 points in the Rückrunde is tops in the league, five points more than either Bayern or Wolfsburg have collected in 2015.

SC Freiburg : FC Bayern München

Bayern has secured the league title and continues to fight injuries. Last weekend, Bayern couldn’t muster the effort to outclass their guests from Augsburg, while clearly conserving fuel for their midweek fight with FC Barcelona.

Beware a masked man . . . and a completely relaxed Bayern

SC Freiburg would love to similarly benefit from a reserved approach from Bayern to end a two-match losing streak at home and stay above the bottom three.

Not Quite Playing out the String . . .

Bayer Leverkusen : 1899 Hoffenheim

The best chance die Werkself had at grabbing a Champions League group spot escaped them last weekend when Mönchengladbach hammered them 3:0 at Borussia Park to open a five-point lead in the race for third place, leaving Bayer all but assured they’ll be facing a playoff tie to return to the competition next season.

Hoffenheim had been lingering in seventh place for months, refusing to admit verbally they were interested in moving higher, which has been largely mirrored by their on-pitch performance. With just five points from their last seven matches, the four points to sixth place is virtually out of reach.

FSV Mainz : 1. FC Köln

Mainz cannot go down, nor can they get into a European spot. They’re likely to be content with the job Martin Schmidt has done to steer the club away from the relegation fight into which they seemed headed under Kaspar Hjulmund earlier in the season.

So, too, are the folks in Köln seemingly contented with having secured their place in next season’s Bundesliga, even as their famously hopeful fan base is busy constructing scenarios through which the Billy Goats can get into Europe.

Hertha BSC : Eintracht Frankfurt

Hertha had been playing so well in rising from relegation fight to the middle of the table, one could be forgiven for having assumed they’d secured safety from the drop. A three-match losing streak, however, has kept the Berlin side from clinching their spot before the home finale this weekend.

Will John Anthony Brooks help Hertha celebrate class-retention Saturday?

That said, Hertha is 13th in the table with 34 points. It would require an incredibly unlikely series of results to return the BSC to the heart of the relegation fight for the final match day, but you also would expect that Pal Dardai is equally unlikely to let that be of comfort to his charges. Three points would finish the job, so expect a focused effort from the home side.

Eintracht’s chances at Europe are vastly more-theoretical than even Hertha’s danger of taking the drop. Frankfurt would have to win both of their final matches and hope the five teams ahead of them in the table to all drop enough points to let them leapfrog four of them and pull level on points with Schalke . . . who currently own a ten-goal edge in differential.

So, it’s not impossible, but . . . be content with that mid-table finish.

Disclaimer

There remains a chance that the seventh-place finisher will get a Europa League bid, through the DFB Pokal-winner berth. None of the above scenarios account for that, but be assured that any club that could still reach it is aware of the scenario, especially Borussia Dortmund, who would be secured of Europa League next year with a seventh-place finish, either as winners of the Pokal, or as the benefactor runners-up taking Wolfsburg’s spot because the VfL are in Champions League.

 

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Randall Hauk is a freelance writer living in the United States while covering German football. He is currently the publisher of Planet Effzeh, an English-language site covering 1. FC Köln. He wrote about the German national team for the Telegraph as part of their World Cup Nation coverage.