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PREVIEW | Will Hertha Berlin continue their great escape? A dress rehearsal for the DFB Pokal final & more

There is plenty on the line during matchday 32 as we rapidly approach the end of the Bundesliga season. Here, we take a look at five things to keep an eye on this weekend.

1 | Wolfsburg vs Union Berlin – Pokal results provide a boost to the visitors

RB Leipzig’s and Borussia Dortmund’s passage to the DFB Pokal final had an indirect impact on Union Berlin. With those two sides guaranteed European football next term – or in Die Schwarzgelben’s case, as good as – seventh place in the Bundesliga is now guaranteed a spot in the Europa Conference League, UEFA’s new tournament which will make its bow next season.

Union playmaker Max Kruse previously shared his disdain for the plans, but club president Dirk Zingler took up a different view. “If you manage to qualify for an international competition in the second year of the Bundesliga, that would be a huge cherry on a very fat cream cake that we are already eating this year”, he said.

An appearance in Europe would be the latest stunning achievement for a side that continues to surprise, but they face several big obstacles in their quest for qualification. They are eighth as it stands, and their final three fixtures come against sides above them in the table.

First up are Wolfsburg, who are pursuing an even bigger goal – a place in the Champions League. Three defeats in their last four matches have seen their buffer over fifth place reduced to just two points, and speculation surrounding the future of manager Oliver Glasner is an unwanted distraction. A win for Union, especially with Borussia Mönchengladbach facing Bayern Munich, could put them in the ascendancy ahead of two proverbial cup finals against Leverkusen and Leipzig.

2 | Borussia Dortmund vs RB Leipzig – Pokal final dress rehearsal

The two Pokal finalists reached the showpiece in contrasting fashion. Leipzig needed an extra-time, injury-time winner from Emil Forsberg to defeat Werder Bremen 2-1 after a tense 120 minutes, while Dortmund hammered Holstein Kiel 5-0 even without the injured Erling Haaland. The Norwegian, at least, appears to be available ahead of the Bundesliga clash between the two sides in a dress rehearsal prior to the meeting at the Olympiastadion.

From a Dortmund perspective, the game this weekend at the Signal Iduna Park is perhaps more important than the one in Berlin. They will be desperate to eat at the Champions League table next term, both in order to hold on to their star players and also give Marco Rose the best possible chance of immediate success. Three points here would keep the pressure on Wolfsburg and Eintracht Frankfurt going into the final two matchdays.

Leipzig’s predicament may play into the hands of Edin Terzic’s men. Although they are mathematically still in the title race, they must hope Bayern fail to win another game between now and the end of the season – even three draws would get the Bavarians over the line. Their Champions League place is secure, too, so Julian Nagelsmann could use the game as an opportunity to experiment ahead of the final.

3 | Schalke playing for pride

After 33 consecutive years in the German top flight, Schalke’s relegation to the 2. Bundesliga is finally confirmed. Die Königsblauen have endured a difficult few years, but few could have foreseen a collapse of this magnitude from one of the country’s biggest footballing institutions.

Schalke have already rung the changes as they look to bounce straight back from the second tier. Peter Knabel has come in as technical director, while former Mainz sporting director Rouven Schröder has taken up the same role at the Veltins Arena. The Gelsenkirchen-based outfit have already made a transfer statement with the signing of Simon Terodde, the 2. Bundesliga’s top goalscorer of all time. Dimitrios Grammozis is likely to oversee plenty more changes to his playing squad by the time they kick off next season in July.

Before then, though, Schalke still have four games to play in the German top flight as they finish off their sorry farewell tour. There is next to nothing to play for – they are guaranteed to finish bottom of the table. Now, all that is left is to salvage some pride and perhaps have a say in who joins them in the second tier. 

This weekend, they face a Hoffenheim side that are almost safe from the drop. It has not been a good campaign from Die Kraichgauer’s perspective – unless they can stage an unlikely turnaround, this will be the first time in five seasons they have finished outside the top half. Before the season is out, Schalke will also play Hertha Berlin and Köln, two sides who are struggling at the wrong end of the table. A positive result for Grammozis’ team in either of those matches could condemn their opponents.

4 | Werder Bremen vs Bayer Leverkusen – Kohfeldt’s side must put cup hurt behind them

Bremen crashed out of the Pokal semi-finals against Leipzig in crushing fashion as Forsberg’s late effort broke their hearts. Although their opponents were clearly the dominant force – Nagelsmann and co enjoyed 66% possession and managed 28 shots to 12 – Die Werderaner put up a show of resistance and hard work that has been missing in recent weeks in the Bundesliga.

Such a defeat is hard to forget, but Bremen must do so immediately as they face a perilous predicament in the league. Seven losses in a row in the top flight have seen them drop to 14th in the table with just three games left to play. Next up is Bayer Leverkusen, who remain in the fight for a Europa League spot.

Even a strong end to the season may not be enough to see Kohfeldt keep his job. The performance against Leipzig, though, at least indicates there is still hope left for the former German Manager of the Year and his players, and they must now illustrate that once more against a stronger opponent. Otherwise, Frank Baumann will be unable to justify keeping Kohfeldt on in the long term.

5 | Hertha BSC continue their great escape

Hertha’s Bundesliga catch-up mission has got off to a very good start. Monday’s 1-1 draw with Mainz, one of the division’s form sides, was followed up with a comfortable 3-0 win over Freiburg on Thursday. Pal Dardai’s men have wasted no time in getting up to speed after returning to the action following an enforced break due to a coronavirus outbreak. However, they cannot afford to get complacent as the games continue to come thick and fast.

Next up this weekend is Arminia Bielefeld in what is another huge clash. Hertha’s victory in midweek saw them leapfrog Bielefeld, but they are only ahead on goal difference. With five games remaining, a draw would not be the end of the world, even if that could see them drop back into the relegation play-off spot. A defeat, though, would be disastrous.

Although Die Alte Dame are unbeaten in five matches in the Bundesliga, Dardai’s men are likely to play cautiously once more. Only against 10-man Mönchengladbach, with whom they played out a 2-2 draw, did they come out on top in terms of possession during this run without defeat. The next week will likely decide whether Hertha survive – they travel to Schalke on Wednesday before hosting Köln next Saturday. A win against Bielefeld would provide another confidence boost.

Jon Radcliffe

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