BUNDESLIGA PREVIEW | Week 31: Can Union Berlin get revenge on RB Leipzig?

Less than a month stands between now and the end of the Bundesliga campaign, when the fate of all 18 clubs will be decided. But what should you look out for during matchday 31 of the 2021/22 season?

1 | Greuther Fürth on the brink

With just four games of the term left, Greuther Fürth are on the bink. Suppose Hertha Berlin, Arminia Bielefeld or VfB Stuttgart pick up three points this weekend. In that case, the ‘Kleeblätter’ must beat Champions League-chasing Bayer Leverkusen at home to give themselves any hope of Bundesliga survival. After amassing just five points from their opening 17 fixtures, it is something of a miracle that their relegation has not yet been confirmed, but, even if they manage to defeat the ‘Werkself’ on Saturday, they will only be prolonging their stay of execution.

Stefan Leitl’s men looked in trouble before a ball was kicked this season. Anton Stach, David Raum, Paul Jaeckel and Sebastian Ernst were all vital members of the squad that earned promotion, but they had all joined other clubs by the time Fürth travelled to Stuttgart Bundesliga’s opening matchday. The 5-1 defeat to the ‘Schwaben’ was a sign of things to come and, while victories over Union Berlin, Mainz and Hertha have helped them avoid a record-low Bundesliga points total, they are clearly out of their depth amongst the elite. Only two sides have averaged less than their 42.4% possession, while they have registered fewer shots on target than any team in the division.

It was a shock to see them finish second in the 2. Bundesliga, which is why Leitl should be applauded for even getting Fürth up, and it is positive to see the club’s hierarchy have not panicked and given the manager his marching orders. A season in the top flight will only help financially, and continuity is needed as they look to bounce straight back. Whatever happens this weekend, Fürth must concentrate on the future rather than dwell on the past.

2 | Post-Kramer era begins in Bielefeld

Many sides have bowed to pressure and made a managerial change will in danger at the wrong end of the table, but few have worked out for the better. However, Frank Kramer’s arrival at Arminia Bielefeld to replace Uwe Neuhaus was a stroke of genius, at least in the short term. After picking up 18 points from their first 23 games last season, the ‘Arminen’ amassed a further 17 from 11 outings to beat the drop on the final day.

Their success was built on defensive solidity, and remnants of that have remained this campaign – six sides have conceded more than Bielefeld’s 46 goals in the Bundesliga despite the North-Rhine-Westphalia outfit currently sitting in 17th. However, describing their attack as toothless would be something of an understatement. No other team has found the back of the net fewer than their 23 times, with only six players bagging more than once. One goal in seven games left Kramer as a dead man walking, and it was only a matter of time before he was given his marching orders.

Stepping into his shoes on an interim basis with four games left is goalkeeper coach Marco Kostmann, whose previous managerial experience consists only of three months at Hansa Rostock. He does at least have Michael Henke, who is well-respected in the game and has spent several years working with the legendary Ottmar Hitzfeld, as his assistant. Still, the mix-up feels desperate, giving little time for Kostmann to have an impact.

A challenging task awaits Bielefeld this weekend as they travel to FC Köln but, at this point in the season, every fixture must be viewed as an opportunity to pick up points. Under the new regime, Arminia must hit the ground running.

3 | Bayern can secure ten in a row – but Dortmund can spoil the party

This season has not lived up to expectations for Bayern Munich. An early DFB Pokal exit and a Champions League quarter-final defeat are far below the pre-season targets set for Julian Nagelsmann, and the last time they drew or lost as many as ten Bundesliga matches, as they have done this campaign, was during the 2011/12 season. However, some gloss will be added to the term if they can beat Borussia Dortmund on Saturday in Der Klassiker and clinch a tenth successive title.

For Dortmund, the end of this season can’t come quick enough. Champions League football is all but secure, although confirming their spot in the next edition of Europe’s premier club competition is all they have left to play for. Despite Marco Rose being expected to take Dortmund closer to the Bundesliga title, the ‘Schwarzgelben’ now look even further away from capturing German football’s top prize.

All they can do now is look to the future. While Erling Braut Haaland’s exit is imminent, the €75m Dortmund are set to receive from his transfer will surely be put to good use, and the arrival of Niklas Süle should add some solidity to the backline. Nico Schlotterbeck would provide another boost to next season’s title challenge if rumours linking him to the Signal Iduna Park have substance.

This weekend, though, little is on the line as Dortmund travel to Munich for what is meant to be the country’s most glamorous fixture. Rose and Co, however, can at least spoil the party at the Allianz Arena and lay down a marker ahead of next season. Still, Bayern’s title triumph is inevitable, and only a change in mentality and squad balance will move BVB closer to their rivals.

4 | Kohfeldt and Wolfsburg need strong end to the season

Wolfsburg are amongst the 20 biggest spenders in Europe this season, having splurged more money than any other team in Germany aside RB Leipzig. Therefore, a return of 34 points from 30 Bundesliga matches is massively underwhelming, and an example that money doesn’t buy success. Unsurprisingly, there have been more highs than lows, with the 6-1 defeat against Dortmund last weekend particularly disappointing. It was 5-0 by the 39th minute, and by the time Ridle Baku netted a late consolation, Wolfsburg’s opponents had probably already cast their minds towards the meeting with Bayern.

A six-point buffer over Stuttgart in the relegation play-off spot should be enough to stave off a nervy two-legged tie against third from the 2. Bundesliga, but the fact they are not yet safe illustrates their deficiencies. Mainz, Stuttgart, Köln and Bayern await in the remaining four fixtures, and the ‘Wölfe’ need a strong end to the season, if only to boost confidence ahead of next term.

The future of Florian Kohfeldt could also depend on how the rest of the campaign plays out. Once voted German Manager of the Year during his time at Werder Bremen, the 39-year-old has failed to get the best out of a talented group of players and, reporting to Jörg Schmadtke, who is hard to work with at the best of the times, his job is undoubtedly in danger.

There is plenty of quality in this squad and, backed financially by automobile giants Volkswagen, Wolfsburg supporters should expect better than one Champions League campaign in seven years. A good run of results over the next month will at least give hope they are moving in the right direction.

5 | Can Union get revenge on Leipzig?

Football is cruel, and few goals will have hurt Union as much as Emil Forsberg’s last-minute winner in the semi-final of the DFB Pokal on Wednesday night. The ‘Eisernen’ had even taken the lead through Sheraldo Becker, but ultimately succumbed 2-1 to the ‘Rotenbullen’ as they missed out on a second-ever appearance in the final.

It shows how far Union have come that losing to a side with a far higher budget should be viewed as a disappointment, but the side from the German capital continue to punch above their weight. Three consecutive Bundesliga victories have moved them back into the European qualification conversation, and they have the chance to exact immediate revenge on Leipzig as they return to the Red Bull Arena and the scene of the crime on Saturday.

The travelling support almost got Union over the line in midweek, and they will need the 7,000+ fans in full voice once more if they are to get anything against a team that Domenico Tedesco has rejuvenated. A draw would be a good result – Urs Fischer’s men are currently sixth in the table, one point ahead of Köln, with this their most difficult match left on paper. Fürth and Bochum at home should yield six points and, although the trip to Freiburg is a tough ask, a win is far from impossible.

Leipzig will be looking to cement their place in the top four with a victory, but rarely does a side have the chance to put demons of a loss to rest at the next possible opportunity. It promises to be another enthralling encounter between the two in Saxony.

Jon Radcliffe

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