By Kevin Hatchard.
The Bundesliga season’s entering the home stretch, and with Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg seemingly certain to qualify for next season’s Champions League, there are two places left at European football’s top table. Just seven points separates third-placed Borussia Monchengladbach from seventh-placed Hoffenheim, and after a mid-season renaissance, Borussia Dortmund could make a remarkable recovery.
Borussia Monchengladbach (3rd, 40 points)
Why they might make it: Lucien Favre’s men have defended superbly since the winter break, keeping four clean sheets in six league games. The Foals’ exit from the Europa League could also prove beneficial.
Why they might not: Gladbach’s attacking players are struggling for form, with Max Kruse and Raffael still waiting for their first goals of 2015. Favre’s men also may come unstuck against direct rivals – they have taken just five points from a possible 18 against the current top six.
Bayer Leverkusen (4th, 36 points)
Why they might make it: When their attack catches fire, and players like Hakan Calhanoglu, Heung-Min Son and Karim Bellarabi hit top gear, they can overwhelm most sides. Die Werkself are tough to beat at home, losing just twice in 17 games at the BayArena.
Why they might not: Fielding so many youngsters is laudable, but as a result Roger Schmidt’s Bayer lack consistency. They have managed back-to-back Bundesliga wins just twice all season, and they often lack the killer instinct which can turn draws into wins.
Schalke (5th, 35 points)
Why they might make it: Since taking the coaching reins from Jens Keller, former Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo has made Schalke a more organised outfit that makes fewer errors. The Royal Blues have improved defensively and have collected 27 points from 16 league games.
Why they might not: Di Matteo’s tactics can be far too cautious, such as in Schalke’s timid 3-0 derby defeat at Borussia Dortmund. With such a defensive set-up, Schalke find it tough to chase games when they go behind.
Augsburg (6th, 35 points)
Why they might make it: Augsburg are exceptionally well coached and organised by rising star Markus Weinzierl. The squad is packed with experienced players, who perform consistently without being hailed as star names.
Why they might not: Weinzierl doesn’t have a deep squad, and doesn’t often deviate from his preferred 15 or 16 players. Injuries are, therefore, starting to take their toll; and considering Augsburg have won just two of their six league games in 2015, it looks like they’ve hit the wall.
Hoffenheim (7th, 33 points)
Why they might make it: In Roberto Firmino and Kevin Volland, Hoffenheim have two of the most sought-after young players in the Bundesliga. Both forwards are finding their form at the right time, and have scored a couple of goals each since the winter break.
Why they might not: Much was made of Hoffenheim’s defensive upgrades in the summer, and although Markus Gisdol’s men shipped just seven goals in their first nine games, they have leaked an average of two goals per game since.
Borussia Dortmund (10th, 28 points)
Why they might make it: Jurgen Klopp’s men are on a roll, with four league wins on the bounce. They were superb in their Revierderby win against Schalke, attacking relentlessly and wearing their opponents down. Talismanic forward Marco Reus has been in sensational form since signing a new long-term deal, and the injury curse which has besieged Die Schwarzgelben is finally being exorcised.
Why they might not: Dortmund’s horrendous “Hinrunde” has left them no margin for error, and they are eight points off the top four. If BVB drop more than a handful of points, they’ll fall short.
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