Just five matchdays remain before the Bundesliga season comes to a close, and everything is still up for grabs. But what should you look out for this weekend?
1 | Köln look to rub salt in Gladbach’s wounds
Few would have expected the ‘Geißböcke’ to be six points and three places above Borussia Mönchengladbach heading into the season’s final few weeks, but here we are. Led by the charismatic Steffen Baumgart, Köln’s high-press, high-intensity style has banished memories of survival struggles under previous bosses Friedhelm Funkel, Markus Gisdol and Achim Beierlorzer. Instead, qualification for European football is a real possibility and, in the build-up to the Rhein derby on Saturday evening, Baumgart has publicly urged his players to dream big.
Gladbach, meanwhile, will be desperate for this campaign to be over. Adi Hütter has failed to get a consistent tune out of his players, although three wins and a draw in the last four Bundesliga games is a step in the right direction. The departure of Max Eberl continues to loom over the ‘Fohlen’, and looking up at their fierce local rivals in the table will not make their situation any easier.
In the reverse fixture, Köln ran out comfortable 4-1 winners. They have a chance to make history at the Borussia-Park with another victory – the last time they beat Gladbach twice in a single season was during the 1989/90 term. Three points would also put pressure on Union Berlin and Hoffenheim, who sit directly above them in the table in seventh and sixth respectively. Local bragging rights would only be an added bonus given what is on the line.
2 | Bayern Munich must react to UCL defeat
Villarreal mustered just two shots on target across 180 minutes against Bayern Munich, but that is all the Spanish outfit needed to progress to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League. While the Bavarians bossed possession in both legs and racked up 47 shots of their own, only eight troubled opposing goalkeeper Gerónimo Rulli, which is particularly disappointing given Bayern have racked up 86 goals in just 29 Bundesliga games this season.
Such is the dominance the ‘Roten’ have exerted over German football across the last ten years, Bundesliga success is the minimum requirement. Julian Nagelsmann will ultimately be judged on his performances in Europe, and defeat over two legs to a side currently seventh in La Liga is a massive underachievement.
Having already been knocked out of the DFB Pokal – another underwhelming run that ended with an embarrassing 5-0 defeat against Mönchengladbach – Bayern have only the league title left to play for. They possess a nine-point lead over second-placed Borussia Dortmund, but the size of the gap is largely down to the latter’s misgivings. On Saturday, Nagelsmann’s men travel to Arminia Bielefeld, a game they are fully expected to win. It is a situation from which there is really little to gain for ‘FC Hollywood’ – a victory will not eradicate the nightmares of midweek, and a draw or a defeat could ignite a crisis at the Allianz Arena. Still, Bayern must show they remain ruthless domestically, even if European success will have to wait for at least another year.
3 | Hertha embark on crucial run of games
There was once a time when Hertha could look down at their city neighbours Union and mockingly complain they could barely see them in the distance. Times change, however, and now the ‘Köpenicker’ are miles ahead of the ‘Alte Dame’ both on and off the pitch. The 4-1 defeat Urs Fischer’s men handed out to Hertha last Saturday at the Olympiastadion was an illustration of the gulf between the two sides from a sporting perspective, while the banner unveiled by home supporters during that clash, demanding the departure of Lars Windhorst and long-term club president Werner Gegenbauer, shows the extent of the frustration directed towards the hierarchy and their glaring incompetence.
A reshuffle at the top seems inevitable, but there are more immediate problems to deal with. That latest defeat left them 17th in the table and staring relegation in the face. The next three games will undoubtedly decide Hertha’s fate, with meetings against fellow strugglers Augsburg, Stuttgart and Bielefeld to come. If Felix Magath and Co need results against Mainz and Dortmund in the final two games to secure survival, their goose will probably already be cooked.
The only positive Magath will have taken from the Union encounter and will look to reproduce versus Augsburg is his players’ desire and commitment. The difference between victory and defeat was quality in the attacking third, and Hertha will need the likes of Ishak Belfodil and Suat Serdar to step up as we approach the end of the term, especially with this week’s opponents winning three of their last five and gathering momentum. A tense affair awaits at the WWK Arena.
4 | Bochum close to Bundesliga survival
Four points from games against Hoffenheim and Bayer Leverkusen have further boosted VfL Bochum’s hopes of remaining in the Bundesliga, and they are potentially just 90 minutes from completing the job. If they can beat Freiburg at home on Saturday, defeat for Hertha at Augsburg and Bielefeld in Munich would secure Bochum’s top-tier status with four games to spare.
It is hard not to applaud the job Thomas Reis has conducted with the aptly nicknamed ‘Unabsteigbaren’ (unrelegatables). Bochum were among many people’s picks for the drop at the start of the season, but a healthy flow of points has kept them clear of danger throughout.
Getting the job done this weekend could prove tricky, though. Freiburg are another side whose performances this term have been surprising, and they are currently just three points behind RB Leipzig in fourth spot and the last UEFA Champions League berth. This season, Christian Streich’s XI have lost just three of their 14 games at home, while Bochum have only won thrice in as many matches on their travels.
Reis and Co may therefore have to wait another week before they reach their pre-season objective, but only a turn of events of epic proportions will see them end the term in the bottom two. Confirmation of survival is when the real hard work starts – second-season syndrome is a cruel mistress, and they would be far from the first team to succumb to its hunt for complacency.
5 | How will Frankfurt deal with Union trip?
Ten years ago, Eintracht Frankfurt were in the 2. Bundesliga earning promotion back to the top-flight. Their next decade has seen a DFB Pokal win and a Europa League semi-final, but the stunning 3-2 victory at the Camp Nou against Barcelona on Thursday perhaps topped it all. The fact a barely-believable 30,000 supporters made the trip to Spain, with ‘Blaugrana’ president Joan Laporta publicly lamenting the presence of so many adversary fans, only added to a remarkable evening.
Before the first of their two matches against West Ham for a place in the final, Frankfurt must face the reality of the Bundesliga. Next week, they host Hoffenheim, and will travel to Union Berlin on Sunday this matchday. Qualification for European competition through the league will be difficult, as they sit five points adrift of sixth with four games to play, and there are few more challenging places to go than the Stadion an der Alten Försterei. Following back-to-back victories, including that derby win last Saturday, the ‘Eisernen’ will be full of confidence as they look to secure continental football for a second consecutive campaign, and their home ground has long been a fortress thanks to their raucous home support.
Oliver Glasner and co will not admit it, but they will likely already be looking ahead to their meetings with the ‘Hammers’. Ultimately, they are three games away from a historic achievement and, should that come to the detriment of their remaining league form, the club’s supporters will hardly care. Therefore, it will be interesting to see what team takes the field in Berlin and whether they can match the performance that set Catalonia alight.