What to watch in the Bundesliga

With just four Matchdays left in the Bundesliga season, the picture at the top of the table is getting clearer, but further down the many possible permutations make for exciting viewing.

Here are a couple of highlights to look forward to during Matchday 31.

Bayern could be crowned champions

Pep Guardiola’s side has been a class apart during this season, losing only twice and dropping points on only three other occasions to reach a massive 78 points from 30 matches.

Their record points tally, coupled with the seven-point lead over Borussia Dortmund, means the Bavarians can be crowned champions this weekend should they win away to Hertha Berlin and BVB suffer a defeat to away to VfB Stuttgart.

 

“In the first leg Hertha played defensively,” Pep recalls, “but I do not know how they will play tomorrow.”

After spending much of the season in third place, Berlin’s form has fallen off the proverbial cliff in recent weeks and whilst they are still in with a good chance of finishing at least fourth – Pal Dardai’s side can’t afford any slip-ups against the reigning champions.

History and recent form don’t bode well for the side from the capital, though.

Berlin have beaten Bayern on only nine occasions in the Bundesliga, with Die Roten winning 36, while 16 encounters have finished in a draw. Bayern won the most recent encounter – on Matchday 14 – relatively routinely, with Thomas Muller and Kingsley Coman scoring the goals in what turned out to be a comfortable win for the champions.

Berlin’s last victory in this tie was on over Valentine’s Day in 2009.

Meanwhile, Stuttgart are also massive underdogs in their match against Thomas Tuchel’s men.

Whilst BVB are just about guaranteed to finish second, Jurgen Kramny’s side are only one position ahead of the relegation zone and after gaining only two points from their last five games, they might find themselves in the bottom three with three games to go.

Historically, Stuttgart have held their own against Dortmund, winning eight and drawing eight of their 29 matches since the turn of the century, but the last of those victories occurred way back in January 2010.

Taking the above into account, it seems as if Bayern may have to wait another week before being crowned German champions for a fourth successive year, although this season has been so unpredictable lower down the table, one simply can’t rule out Stuttgart getting one over Dortmund.

Ingolstadt can secure safety, Hannover may be relegated

FC Ingolstadt 04 host Hannover 96 on Saturday in a match with significant ramifications for both: a victory for the hosts will in all likelihood be enough to secure their top-flight status for another season, while anything other than a Hannover win will see Daniel Stendel’s side relegated for the fifth time in their history.

Admittedly, Ingolstadt haven’t quite breached the 40-point barrier yet, but with an eight-point lead over SV Werder Bremen in 16th place, Die Schanzer seem to be safe regardless.

The #Schanzer PK with Ralph # Hasenhüttl: “I was very pleased with the training week, the guys are hot!” # FCIH96

Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side have been in the top half regularly this season and after 30 matches find themselves in ninth – a position no team has ever been relegated from with four matches left in the season.

In their previous encounter, on Matchday 14, Hannover brushed Ingolstadt aside, winning 4-0 at the HDI-Arena after goals from Marcelo, Leon Andreasen, Kenan Karaman and Uffe Bech, but since then, Ingolstadt have been lower than 12th for only a week.

Since Daniel Stendel succeeded Thomas Schaaf earlier this month, Hannover have turned the proverbial corner, gaining four points from a possible six, including an impressive 2-0 win over VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach last time out.

However, it all might be a little too late for Hannover.

Although this match is clearly rather important for both sides, the stats suggest it won’t be much of a spectacle, at least not from a goal-scoring perspective. Hannover have scored 26 goals this season and Ingolstadt 27, the lowest figures in the division.

That said, both sides seem to be on an upward curve in that regard, with Hannover scoring twice in their last two matches, while Ingolstadt have found the back of the net at least twice in each of their last six home games.

European qualification taking shape

Bayern and Dortmund have been a class apart this season, but the battle for the two remaining UEFA Champions League berths and the two spots in the Europa League remains the closest in recent memory.

Third-placed Bayer 04 Leverkusen (51 points) have been the ‘best of the rest’ for the most part, but they only narrowly lead Hertha (49) in fourth, with Mönchengladbach, 1. FSV Mainz 05 and FC Schalke 04 on 45 points, with only goal difference separating them.

Leverkusen, though, travel to Schalke on Saturday, and the form table suggests André Breitenreiter’s side’s European aspirations may come to an end on Matchday 31.

Seventh-placed Schalke can ill-afford to lose further ground to the four teams above them, but after dropping eight points in the previous three matches, the Royal Blues seems the likeliest of the European hopefuls to fall out of contention.

Leverkusen, meanwhile, can consolidate third place with a victory, and after winning the last five matches in succession without conceding, Roger Schmidt’s men are hitting their best form at the business end fo the campaign.

It is not all doom and gloom for Schalke, though. After this week’s match against Levekusen, they have winnable matches against Hannover, FC Augsburg and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim to follow.

Leverkusen, on the other hand, have an infinitely more difficult run-in, with matches against Berlin and Mönchengladbach coming up.

“I expect a very tight game . We again need a better performance than against Frankfurt .

A sixth successive win this weekend would make Leverkusen shoo-ins for third, but any dropped points could see them drop to fourth, only three points ahead of seventh.

Mönchengladbach and Mainz, meanwhile, are both expected to maintain the status quo with victories over TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and Eintracht Frankfurt, respectively.

Gladbach have won eight of the last nine games at Borussia Park, and although their form since the winter break hasn’t been great – they lie 11th in the form table with 16 points from 13 games – their disappointing results have all been achieved since the turn of the year.

Hoffenheim, meanwhile, have taken 20 points from their 10 games under Julian Nagelsmann and have won their last two away fixtures. They have never won away in three successive games.

Mainz may have only won one of their last five away games, but that win was the impressive 2-1 victory at the Allianz Arena on Matchday 24.

If Christian Heidel’s side is even remotely as good as they were against Bayern, they will have far too much firepower for a Frankfurt side that are eight points from safety, having lost 80 per cent of their matches under new coach Niko Kovac.

Final relegation spot difficult to predict

Hannover and Frankfurt seem doomed in the bottom two places, but any one of the next six sides could find themselves threatened with relegation should results go against them.

In terms of the relegation zone, the pick of the matches this week was undoubtedly Friday’s Nordderby, when Hamburger SV in 12th took on local rivals SV Werder Bremen.

Hamburger’s 2-1 win sees them end a two-game losing streak following losses to Dortmund and SV Darmstadt 98. Bremen on the other hand are teetering on the edge of relegation and the loss will not have done them any favours in regards to boosting their hopes of staying in the Bundesliga.

Yeeees! #Nordderby #nurderHSV

A photo posted by Hamburger SV (@hsv) on

Elsewhere, VfL Wolfsburg host FC Augsburg, and Darmstadt travel to the RheinEnergie Stadium for their match against FC Köln.

Wolfsburg go into the match in their worst slump of the season, dropping 13 points and conceding nine goals over the last five games. As a result of that poor run of form, Wolfsburg’s chances of European qualification has come to an end, while giving 14th-placed Augsburg a golden opportunity to put some daylight between themselves and the bottom three.

Additionally, Wolfsburg have won just two of their previous eight games at their VW Arena, while Augsburg have three wins, four draws and two defeats against the Wolves, a record only bettered by Bayern and Dortmund.

Köln’s victory over Mainz last week means the Billy Goats are now only one win away from the 40-point barrier and with a six-point gap to the relegation zone.

Darmstadt are in a similar situation, with their Matchday 30 win over Ingolstadt lifting them to 11th in the table going into this week’s fixtures.

Köln have taken more points from matches against Darmstadt over the last three seasons than any other side, and are expected to walk away with all three points again this time around, despite losing their last three home ties.

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