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FEATURE | Bundesliga relegation battle – the fight for the drop

Six games remain in this Covid-19 suffering Bundesliga season. Six games with so much to play for. Although it’s not mathematically secure in the race for the title, all eyes should be facing towards the foot of the table.

We were treated to an emphatic basement battle last weekend where Mainz 05 took all three points from FC Köln leaving just five points separating Mainz in 14th (28 points) and FC Köln in 17th (23 points) with Schalke propping up the table (13 points) with Hertha Berlin and Arminia Bielefeld also in the thick of it.

With the end in sight, Schalke are unfortunately looking as good as gone. As for the other four teams, to use the old cliché, we could be looking at six massive cup finals. Here is a detailed look at the upcoming fixtures for each club and the probability of their survival.

1. FSV Mainz 05 – 14th, 28 points

Form can tell us a lot about a team, naturally a team in good form will be a team that is easily backed to survive the drop. What happens though when that team in good form meets a tough run of fixtures? Die Nullfünfer have been incredibly impressive in the Rückrunde. They find themselves in the top five of the back end of the season, picking up a vital 21 Points from their past 11 games. Bo Svensson has transformed the side initially led into this campaign by Achim Beierlorzer. The issue at the Opel Arena is that their tough final four games has potential ruin the fine progress made by the Danish Trainer.

Mainz’s Final Six Matches:

Hertha BSC (H) PP
SV Werder Bremen (A)
FC Bayern München (H)
Eintracht Frankfurt (A)
Borussia Dortmund (H)
VFL Wolfsburg (A)

Highlight the final four games and there is the worry. Karnevalsverein (The Carnival Club) find themselves bottom of a few of the stats boards for the Bundesliga so far this season. Most notable being their average of 42% Possession per game, the worst in the league. In three of the reverse fixtures of their last four games they have left to play, Mainz had less than 40% possession. Now, possession doesn’t win you games and against better quality teams you are also not expected to do so, but perhaps a tricky ending is on the cards.

This puts a mountain of pressure on their next two fixtures to collect important points. With Hertha BSC up next (editors note: at the time of writing, Hertha BSC weren’t undergoing a 14 day quarantine), this fixture being arguably the most valuable game for either side. If Mainz pick up at least four points in their next two fixtures, you are looking pretty much safe and setting your sights at passing the teams above. Dropped points in these games though and we are looking at a difficult month of May for Svensson’s side.

Hertha Berlin – 15th, 26 points

Money can’t buy you happiness, especially if you’re on the west side of the capital. Hertha just haven’t managed to impress at all and deservedly are in the mix of this relegation battle. Recent resurgence of positive results may give The Old Lady a slight advantage going into this run in. Money spent has been the talk around the Olympiastadion as well as poor management on and off the pitch. Pál Dárdai  made his return to Berlin recently to replace Bruno Labbadia after a unimpressive first half of the season. Dárdai has again transformed the side to be more ruthless and proved this with victory over Leverkusen and holding Borussia Mönchengladbach to a draw last time out. The big issue now, the whole squad is having to quarantine and the next three games are postponed.

Hertha’s Final Six Matches :

1. FSV Mainz 05 (A) PP
SC Freiburg (H) PP
FC Schalke 04 (A) PP
DSC Arminia Bielefeld (H)
1.FC Köln (H)
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (A)

Hertha basically had it in their own hands to keep themselves a Bundesliga side next season. Victory over Mainz would have surely secured survival. Unfortunately, the DFL confirmed this week that their next three fixtures, Mainz, Freiburg and Schalke would be postponed following the coronavirus outbreak at the Berlin club. Hertha are currently in quarantine and now six games to play in a shorter space of time could pile on pressure and destroy their season. By the time these games are played, with results going against them, Hertha could already be 17th.

Last season Covid hit Dynamo Dresden badly as they squandered their final nine games in the space of a month. Dresden, also involved in a relegation battle, fell out of the 2. Bundesliga, picking up just two wins in a hectic month of June. The final six games just became a bigger mountain to climb. Falter to some poor results here and it could be a return to the 2.Bundesliga for the first time since 2013.

Arminia Bielefeld – 16th, 26 points

As an Arminia fan, you would probably happily take this scenario at the start of the season. To still have a chance of safety with six games to go, being the team with the smallest budget in the league is probably above expectation. What we are now starting to see though are the benefits of their managerial change. A win over Freiburg at the weekend for Frank Kramer, perhaps answering early criticism of his appointment in March. Strong performances from players like Ritsu Doan, Andreas Voglsammer and Stefan Ortega of late are providing the North Rhine-Westphalia side with a shot at glory of remaining a Bundesliga side next season.

Arminia’s Final Six Matches:

FC Augsburg (A)
FC Schalke 04 (H)
Borussia Mönchengladbach (A)
Hertha BSC (A)
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (H)
VFB Stuttgart (A)

Previously mentioned Stefan Ortega has almost single-handedly kept this side in the mix for survival. 117 shots saved and seven clean sheets to his name this season, showing signs of better suited elsewhere. Keeping hold of their shot stopper could be difficult, survival or not. Fixtures against Schalke and Hertha are the pick of the bunch here. 13 of their points have come against their four relegation rivals so far and you would imagine further wins here could guarantee them at least the Relegation play off spot. Arminia could be looking at a tougher overall last six games, but will lack of recent experience be their downfall in the end?

1. FC Köln – 17th, 23 points

The Domstadt (Cathedral City) side have failed to impress for the majority of this season. Markus Gisdol was unsurprisingly shown the exit door following the 3-2 defeat to Mainz last weekend. Replacing him, Friedhelm Funkel, a former Effzeh employee and most recently Fortuna Düsseldorf trainer. The new manager bounce kept them in the division last season as Gisdol experienced a great run of form before the Covid pause in the season, but since then it’s been somewhat a free fall. There is every possibility it could be too late for Funkel to salvage this season but it’s not completely over yet.

Köln’s Final Six Matches

Bayer 04 Leverkusen (A)
RB Leipzig (H)
FC Augsburg (A)
SC Freiburg (H)
Hertha BSC (A)
FC Schalke  04 (H)

Injuries have been an obvious demise of this season for Köln. Last weekend saw the full return of Sebastian Andersson, Sebastian Bornauw and Florian Kainz. Three players who can provide the quality to somewhat change the outcome of this season. Jonas Hector also has notably returned to form of late and proving he is still their leader in the middle. These players returning could be what gives the fans of Köln hope of survival. Three points away at this stage can always be extremely tough to turn around when the pressure is mounting. If they manage results from the first two difficult ties and secure wins against Hertha and Schalke in the final two games they might just be able to pull it off.

FC Schalke 04 – 18th, 13 points

It’s tough to make any claims about a revitalising final six matches for Dimitrios Grammozis’ side. The VELTINS Arena is more than likely hosting 2. Liga football next season. 10 points at this stage will in the end be far too difficult to scavenge. Grabbing only their second three points of the season, an early goal clinched a win over FC Augsburg. A win coming far too late to be counted for anything.

Schalke’s Final Six Matches:

SC Freiburg (A)
DSC Arminia Bielefeld (A)
Hertha BSC (H)
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (A)
Eintracht Frankfurt (H)
1.FC Köln (A)

A not so demoralising run awaits the side from Gelsenkirchen but Arminia, Hertha and Köln have more to fight for and Schalke could suffer when it comes to these fixtures. Ultimately a loss against Freiburg and Arminia will most likely give the much anticipated clarity of Schalke’s Bundesliga status. Far too many goals conceded and not enough scored has written the story of their season and that is unlikely to change. Schalke might use this time to prepare for the future as the second division creeps in closer to the former Seven Time German Champions.

All being said around the bottom five, we can’t completely ignore the three teams lingering above. Augsburg, Hoffenheim Bremen could still be caught and dragged through the mud. Bremen and Augsburg with slightly unfavourable run-ins, though one or two victories should see all three sides safe from automatic relegation at least.

Six Games to go. Five teams in the mix. It’s living up to another exciting end to a Bundesliga season. The relegation battle is heating up and we should see it explode in the coming weeks.

By Roy Campbell

 

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