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PREVIEW | Eintracht Frankfurt in strong position to qualify for Champions League despite Adi Hütter’s coming departure

As the season fast approaches its end, every game has added importance. Matchday 28 produced another thrilling round of matches, but what awaits us this weekend? We pick out five of the biggest talking points.

1 | Borussia Mönchengladbach vs Eintracht Frankfurt – the Adi Hütter clash

Eintracht Frankfurt’s 4-3 victory over Wolfsburg consolidated their place in the top four. Despite Borussia Dortmund’s 3-2 win at Stuttgart, the Eagles remain seven points clear and with Augsburg, Mainz, Schalke and Freiburg still to play, they are in a strong position to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

This coming Saturday, they face Borussia Mönchengladbach, who have flattered to deceive so far this campaign. Currently in eighth, the best they can realistically hope for is a spot in the Europa League. However, despite Frankfurt’s clear ascendancy, at least this term, manager Adi Hütter has made the shock decision to move to Die Fohlen in June to replace the outgoing Marco Rose.

The 51-year-old’s choice is perplexing. Frankfurt have an exciting squad at their disposal, and participation in European football’s premier club competition would likely enable them to hold on to star players such as Filip Kostic and André Silva. Gladbach do also possess a good group of players, but they will be far more susceptible to losing big names in the summer. A bigger budget may well be on offer from Max Eberl, but whether that will be enough to replace what they lose remains to be seen.

The clash this weekend, therefore, is one to keep an eye on. There is likely to be frustration from Frankfurt’s point of view, especially as they remain in search of a new Sporting Director after Fredi Bobic’s announcement that he too will leave in a couple of months. For now, though, Frankfurt’s players must concentrate on the job hand – a Champions League spot is too big a carrot to ignore.

2 | Friedhelm Funkel takes charge at FC Köln

The manner of Köln’s defeat against Mainz during matchday 28 was hard for Die Geißböcke to take. After coming from 1-0 down to lead to 2-1, they were in front for less than five minutes when Karim Onisiwo levelled before Leandro Barreiro struck in injury time. The reaction of captain Jonas Hector in the immediate aftermath of the clash, as well as during his post-match interview, displayed how much the defeat hurt.

There had been rumours before the game that a loss would lead to Markus Gisdol’s dismissal – it was, therefore, no surprise to see Köln announce his exit within hours of the final whistle. Horst Heldt moved quickly to replace him with Friedhelm Funkel, one of the most experienced managers in Bundesliga history – only five men have taken charge of more matches in the division.

Funkel’s most recent job was with Fortuna Düsseldorf, where he spent four years between 2016 and 2020. He is clearly still capable of good work – he helped Düsseldorf earn promotion to the top flight and led them to an impressive 10th-placed finish during the 2018/19 campaign. 

His credentials are obvious, but he could struggle to have a real impact in such a short amount of time. Köln are currently three points away from safety in 17th place and have just six games left to turn things around. A Rhein derby against Bayer Leverkusen is followed by the visit of RB Leipzig. The last four outings, therefore, against Augsburg, Freiburg, Hertha and Schalke are likely to decide their fate, and Funkel has no time to lose in his preparations.

3 | Bayern Munich face Wolfsburg after Champions League exit

Despite having 17 shots on target to their opponents’ eight across the two legs, Bayern Munich were knocked out of the Champions League on Tuesday by Paris Saint-Germain. While the Ligue 1 champions should have scored during Bayern’s 1-0 victory at the Parc des Princes, it is the Bavarians who should have been out of sight at the Allianz Arena. With a fit Robert Lewandowski at their disposal, it is hard to see them losing 3-2 at home as they eventually did.

Their exit from European competition means they now have just the Bundesliga to play for. As it stands, they are five points clear of Leipzig with six games to play. This weekend, they will take on Wolfsburg, a side that has been defeated on just four occasions in the top flight this campaign, away from home. It is a difficult test for Bayern, and one of paramount importance – with Leipzig facing a far easier task at home against Hoffenheim, Hansi Flick’s men cannot afford to slip up.

These last few games of the season may be Flick’s farewell tour as the rumours surrounding his potential departure to the German national team continue to circle. With six trophies already to his name as Bayern boss, he has already proven his worth, but there is no doubt he will be looking to add a seventh. The Mia San Mia motto by which the club abides demands nothing less.

4 | Union Berlin and Stuttgart battle for a Europa Conference League spot

Union Berlin and Stuttgart have been two of the biggest surprise success stories in the Bundesliga this season. Die Eisernen have avoided the dreaded second-season syndrome after staying up relatively comfortably last season and are currently enjoying life in seventh place. Stuttgart are just one point behind in ninth in their first term back amongst the elite, with their style under Pellegrino Matarazzo earning plaudits across the country.

As such, both teams are in the battle for a place in European competition next term – few would have expected that at the start of the season. However, rather than playing for a spot in the Champions League or Europa League, their performances between now and the end of the campaign could see them compete in the inaugural Europa Conference League. Sixth place in the league would usually secure qualification for that competition, but if RB Leipzig or Borussia Dortmund win the DFB Pokal, seventh will be rewarded.

The two sides’ approach to potential participation, though, is somewhat at odds. While Stuttgart Sporting Director Sven Mislintat has said his side would approach the tournament with “full fervour” should they make it, Union’s star man Max Kruse has already shared his disdain for a third continental competition.

This weekend, the two sides face off in a game that could go some way to deciding who is the lucky side to enter the first edition of the Europa League Conference – or unlucky, depending on which way you look at it. History perhaps awaits.

5 | Hertha Berlin enter 14 day quarantine period

Thursday afternoon saw relegation threatened Hertha Berlin announce three positive tests for Covid-19, one being head coach Pál Dárdai, his assistant Admir Hamzagic and attacker Dodi Lukebakio. Arne Friedrich would take charge of training and their match against Mainz but a fourth positive case, defender Marvin Plattenhardt, means that Hertha and its staff will enter quarantine with their games against Mainz, Freiburg and Schalke postponed.

Jon Radcliffe

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