As Germany’s “most efficient” and “steady” 34-game league campaign begins drawing to its annual exciting climax, it is worth pointing out that the country is beginning to find itself back in “flavour of the month” territory. However, with attendances averaging numbers most of Europe can only dream of, Bayern Munchen back on the Champions League map and a World Cup less than two months away, try and spare a thought for the less fortunate, soon-to-be forgotten, cast away clubs of the relegation trap door.
For them there will be no Bernabau in May, South Africa in June or Bundesliga title party. Only the harsh confines of less TV revenue, attendance shortages and sponsorship struggles await the arrival of Germany’s culled elite. And with just four games remaining the race to avoid the country’s harshest isolation booth is about as certain as Tiger Wood’s marital vows.
- Koln are staying up
Things are not quite so rosy for what lies beneath however. And with a tense ending ensured it’s any three from five for the drop, with third bottom holding the bonus card of a demotion/promotion playoff against the second division’s third place finisher.
What Hertha Berlin would give for a redemption playoff. Propping up the table has now become second nature to the Easterners and relegation is surely a question of when rather than if. Lying bottom and five points off the playoff safety net the task may seem daunting, yet not impossible. However, despite an ability to chalk up the occasional thoroughbred performance (four of their five victory’s this season have been by three or more goals), Hertha face all the top three clubs in their final few matches and without back-to-back wins all season it’s a safe bet where they’ll be found next year.
- Olympic Stadium, Berlin: 2. Bundesliga football?
Losing the boys from the capital will represent a sad day for the League. With Hertha gone it means the Bundesliga will be completely monopolised by teams from the old West Germany. Not exactly a model of equality and balance that sees the 74,500 capacity Olympic Stadium banished to 2. Bundesliga.
Looking up, Freiburg currently sit three points clear of Hertha and with fellow relegation candidates FC Nurnberg coming to town this weekend, never will the words “six-pointer” appear so vivid. However, with just one win in their last 16 league encounters, Freiburg are showing the kind of form that will lead last season’s 2. Bundesliga champions straight back where they came from.
A victory over Nurnberg would breathe new life into their survival bid though. And with three of their final games at home against opposition whose season’s are winding down Freiburg are in with more than a decent chance of staying in the division, plus defying calls branding them a yo-yo club.
Despite being two points above Freiburg and occupying the playoff spot, Hannover 96 will be rather envious of their relegation compatriot’s run-in. With forthcoming away trips to title challengers, Bayern Munchen and Bayer Leverkusen, the Saxony club really have their work cut out if they wish to continue their eight-year stint in the top flight.
- Hannover 96: Difficult run-in
A horrible run of nine straight defeats that coincided with goalkeeper Robert Enke’s tragic suicide pulled Hannover into the bottom three. However, a resilient return of three wins from their last seven, including last weekend’s unexpected 4-2 victory over Schalke, have given huge hope to Die Roten and if they manage to emerge from their next two tough fixtures intact a possible final day relegation, winner-takes-all battle with VfL Bochum looms.
Bochum will be keen to avoid this scenario, but a horrible run of just one win from their last 12 outings suggests they could suffer late heartbreak. Just one point clear of Hannover and level on points with Nurnburg, Die Unabsteigbaren’s next two fixtures are crucial. Away to Koln, who still require a win to ensure safety mathematically, followed by a home fixture with Europa League chasing VfB Stuttgart, will hold a four point target if Bochum wish to sidestep a final day shootout against Hannover.
Licking their lips at the sight of that final day fixture will be Nurnberg and they will see this weekend’s trip to Freiburg as an opportunity to nip relegation in the bud. With Bochum and Hannover both to face Bayern Munchen and the latter also playing Leverkusen, they can rest easy that safety is well within their capabilities.
- Will Bochum finish bottom?
After Freiburg, Der Club round their season off with home fixtures against Borussia Dortmund and Koln, while a difficult trip to Hamburger SV represents their penultimate match. Not tasks that are insurmountable and two wins from four should secure Nurnburg their Bundesliga status.
So will it be the East’s sole representatives, Freiburg’s popular style, Bochums “Unrelegatables”, Bavaria’s Nurnberg or resolute Hannover? Form and fixtures may make certain outcomes predictable, but you never quite know with the Germans.