Sunday’s 4-0 defeat to FC Augsburg felt like something of a seminal moment for Markus Gisdol’s Hamburger SV team. Rudderless and ponderous across the field, the northern Germans looked a defeated group of players. The few thousand who had travelled weren't holding back in venting their frustrations at the final whistle.
After competing in the relegation playoff in two of the last three seasons, Hamburg had made a marked improvement under Gisdol's stewardship, which began in October. A few weeks ago, the feeling was good. Hamburg had gone nine games without a defeat in the league before losing to Darmstadt. That, and the club's wretched form on the road has plunged the club back into the deep end.
Relegation this year, and the end of the club's never-been-relegated status would be devastating for the club and its supporters. If there is any consolation, the former European champions meet FSV Mainz 05, FC Schalke 04 and VfL Wolfsburg before the season comes to a close.
There are points to be won, but Hamburg hasn't shown much to suggest they have the stomach for the fight.
Bayern are champions – but still not delighted
FC Bayern München's 6-0 win over Wolfsburg on Saturday clinched the club's fifth consecutive league championship – the first club to do so in the Bundesliga era. The 10-point lead at the top will be too much for RB Leipzig to claw back in the final three games of the season. But while there was an attempt to enjoy the moment, it's fair to say that the mood at Bayern is slightly muted right now.
Defeats to Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund mean that Bayern's season will end with just one trophy. To most, that is still deemed to be largely acceptable. However, Bayern is another beast and under Italian head coach Carlo Ancelotti, the German champions were primed to peak in the Champions League until the quarterfinal defeat last month.
A decline was predictable following the exit of Pep Guardiola after Bayern's three most dominant domestic campaigns. But the performances have left a lot to be desired in the Bundesliga. Even at the business end of the season, Bayern have won two of their last five league games.
Bremen in pole position for Europe
There was no let up in SV Werder Bremen's rampant form of late, with a 2-0 win over Hertha BSC Berlin consolidating their place in sixth. For Alexander Nouri's side, European football is now a realistic target. On Friday, the River Islanders head to Cologne, and could feasibly knock the Billy Goats out of the running for a place in the top six.
A snapshot of the league table illustrates how Werder Bremen's season has turned around, so quickly. In the last five games, the northern Germans have won four. Over the course of a third of the season, Bremen are top of the form table, ahead of champions Bayern Munich. In Max Kruse, the club has a talent who has netted eight in his last six games.
It's hard to see how the wheels can come off given the sheer momentum Nouri has built in March and April. They might not need a superb finale, but the test of Cologne, followed by TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and Borussia Dortmund, should at least indicate whether or not Bremen are deservedly in Europe or taking advantage of a freak run of results.
Goretzka is indispensable to Schalke
As the season has progressed, there is one incontestable conclusion: Schalke must keep Leon Goretzka at the Veltins Arena beyond this summer. The 22-year-old, as shown in a sterling, all-encompassing display at Bayer 04 Leverkusen on Friday, is the key man in this side. He's a lynchpin, a leader, a perceptive player, all in one.
Since breaking onto the scene in Bochum, Goretzka's performances are dissected perhaps more than most. An average performance becomes a world class display, and the likes of England's big clubs are hot on his heels. But his development has clearly been aided by a consistent spell on the pitch, in a position which suits his game. He's not a defensive-midfielder, a number six, or a playmaker.
“We ONLY plan for next season with Goretzka,” emphasised Christian Heidel, the club's sporting director. The suitors will return eventually for Goretzka, but without Europe, the Royal Blues need to tie down their most prized assets to have any chance of returning to the big time. With his contract up in 2018, Schalke need to get to work as soon as possible.
Darmstadt are battling, but it is too late
SV Darmstadt 09's remarkable two-year stint in the Bundesliga will more than likely be concluded at Bayern Munich next weekend. The Lillies, promoted on a shoe-string budget, have admirably gone toe-to-toe with Germany's biggest clubs, but despite their recent so-called revival, the curtains will come down sooner rather than later.
But amid the prospect of relegation, it's important to find perspective. Darmstadt, a club with little first-tier experience, are in rude health. Sustainable development as a top 2.Bundesliga team is the realistic goal in the next few seasons with further improvements to infrastructure taking place over the summer.
The 3-0 win over SC Freiburg, a side with their own aspirations of Europe, encapsulated the work of Torsten Frings. A confident squad with speed on the counter is likely to cause problems in the Bundesliga. It's hard to imagine Darmstadt's squad will be decimated for next season, but there are still three auditions left. And if there is any chance, the smallest chance, of survival then Darmstadt will need to take on the champions on their home patch.
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