The destination of the Bundesliga title has realistically been known for months, and the Champions League places were doled out weeks ago, so the burning issue in Germany’s top flight remains the fight for survival.
In a scrap of unprecedented ferocity, no-one has yet been relegated, and we go into the final Saturday with six teams still in danger. It’s been a drama that even the world’s best thriller writers would struggle to conjure up — and the denouement could be the most gut-wrenching of all for some and the most exhilarating for others.
Hertha Berlin (13th, 35 points)
Hertha were looking good a few weeks ago, with former midfield hero Pal Dardai taking to coaching like a duck to water. His motivational and organisational skills yielded a seven-match unbeaten run in March and April, but a tough fixture list has seen them collect just one point from their last four games. Only an extraordinary sequence of results would see them slip into the bottom three, but a point at Hoffenheim might be needed to guarantee safety.
Freiburg (14th, 34 points)
Freiburg’s dramatic 2-1 win over champions Bayern last weekend has boosted their survival hopes, and another remarkable escape is on the cards for inspirational coach Christian Streich. They should be well clear, but they have an incredible capacity for shooting themselves in the foot, having blown leads in the 88th minute or later on six occasions. A point at Hannover will be enough.
Hannover 96 (15th, 34 points)
Hannover could hardly have picked a better time to register their first win of 2015 than last weekend. Michael Frontzeck’s first victory since taking the reins was a 2-1 success at Augsburg, and it ended a 16-match winless run. There was fanciful talk of European qualification back in mid-November, but now only a victory against Freiburg at the HDI Arena will guarantee safety.
Stuttgart (16th, 33 points)
The Swabians have been in trouble all season after the return of coaching hero Armin Veh proved to be a disaster. He had won an improbable title with VfB in 2007, but that magic dust proved to be in short supply this term, and he was sacked in November.
Irascible Dutchman Huub Stevens is now trying to save the club from the drop for the second season running, and a run of four home wins in five has propelled Stuttgart into the relegation play-off spot. Stevens’ men negotiated a trial by fire last week as they came from behind to beat fellow strugglers Hamburg 2-1; and they visit rock-bottom Paderborn knowing a win will rubber-stamp another startling piece of escapology.
Hamburg (17th, 32 points)
After staying up by the narrowest of margins last season, Hamburg’s Bundesliga status once again hangs by a gossamer thread. Despite doing some sensible transfer business in the summer, HSV have palpably failed to get the best out of their players, and the fact they are on the fourth coach of the season speaks volumes.
Bruno Labbadia seemed on course to drag the club clear after victories against Augsburg and Mainz, but a crushing defeat in Stuttgart has left “The Dinosaur” facing Bundesliga extinction for the first time ever. Hamburg must beat Schalke at the Imtech Arena — and even that may not be be enough if Stuttgart win at Paderborn and then there’s a draw between Hannover and Freiburg.
Paderborn (18th, 31 points)
Paderborn have the smallest budget, the smallest stadium, and they don’t even have proper training facilities. The fact that SCP are still alive going into the final round of matches is a small miracle, and if Andre Breitenreiter’s men can beat Stuttgart, they’ll secure a play-off place if Hamburg fail to beat Schalke.
Paderborn looked safe in mid-table at Christmas, having actually topped the standings after four matches. Things went sour just after the winter break, as Breitenreiter became too cautious in his tactics, and they failed to score in nine of their first ten games of 2015. That potentially catastrophic loss of form will be forgotten if Paderborn can pull off one last magic trick in a season of surprises.
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