Bundesliga Preview | Week 34: Erling Haaland bids Borussia Dortmund farewell as relegation battle goes down to the final day

The Bundesliga season comes to a close on Saturday as the final nine games kick off at 15.30, as is tradition. Here, for the last time this campaign, we take a look at some things to keep an eye on before the chaos begins.

1 | Robert Lewandowski’s last game for Bayern?

Bayern Munich are not used to losing star players in their prime. Thiago Alcântara and David Alaba are perhaps the only two in recent years who sought pastures new when they still had plenty to give the Bavarians, while the likes of Mats Hummels, Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben had already peaked by the time they moved on.

The Bundesliga champions were rocked this week, though, by reports that Robert Lewandowski will not sign an extension to his current contract, which runs out next summer, and that he is looking for a transfer at the end of this term. The Poland international is believed to have been upset by Bayern’s pursuit of Erling Haaland, who has all but completed his move to Manchester City, with the number nine worried he is set to be discarded.

While there has been unfounded speculation about Lewandowski’s future in the past, there is now a real danger that the trip to Wolfsburg could be his last in Bayern colours. Since signing on a free transfer from Borussia Dortmund in 2014 – probably one of the ‘Roten’s’ best ever transfers – he has found the net an astonishing 343 times in 373 outings and has topped the Bundesliga’s goalscoring charts six times. Were it not for Gerd Müller, Lewandowski would be the German top-flight and Bayern’s most prolific goalscorer of all time, although he did manage to beat ‘Der Bomber’s’ record of 40 strikes in a single league campaign 12 months ago.

Understandably, Bayern are preparing for a future without the former Lech Poznan forward – after all, he is 33 years of age and will not be around forever. However, he has shown no signs of slowing down and, at his current level, he will be almost impossible to replace. The club’s supporters will undoubtedly hope the forward and the club can agree to prolong his stay at the Allianz Arena.

2 | Schick on edge of Leverkusen history

Last weekend, Bayer Leverkusen avoided any final-day tension as they beat Hoffenheim 4-2 away from home to secure third spot and a place in the Champions League group stages next season. Patrik Schick was influential, as he has been all campaign, scoring twice to take his season’s Bundesliga tally to 24 goals.

At home against Freiburg on Saturday, the Czech Republic international has a chance to write his name into ‘Werkself’ history. Only Stefan Kießling has managed more than Schick’s current haul in a single term, meaning one strike at the BayArena will give the 26-year-old the joint record.

Labelled as a wonderkid, it is only now that Schick is showing the true extent of his ability. We saw a glimpse of that at Euro 2020, as he finished the tournament with five goals, but he has now managed to perform across a ten-month campaign. Unsurprisingly, this is his most prolific season to date and, at the age of 26, Leverkusen fans must be excited for what the future holds.

Ultimately, Gerardo Seoane’s side have achieved their pre-season objective, and they could still have a say in who picks up the last Champions League spot. A win for Freiburg would see them finish in the top four if RB Leipzig lose against Arminia Bielefeld, so Leverkusen should not relax just yet. As such, Schick may have ample opportunity to equal, or even beat, Kießling’s leading number.

3 | All to play for at the bottom

At the bottom of the table, the fate of three clubs is not yet known. Arminia Bielefeld know they will, at best, be playing in the relegation play-off, and must beat RB Leipzig to have any chance of survival. However, for VfB Stuttgart and Hertha Berlin, there remains plenty of uncertainty.

As it stands, Hertha are in pole position to avoid a two-legged affair against third from the 2. Bundesliga. They sit 15th in the table, three points above Stuttgart, and need just a point from their last fixture to confirm their top-tier status for another season. However, against runners-up Borussia Dortmund, that is easier said than done and, at the Signal Iduna Park in front of the ‘Schwarzgelben’ supporters for one last time, Erling Haaland may feel he has a point to prove.

If they lose, they will be relying on FC Köln to get something away at Stuttgart. The ‘Geißböcke’ have plenty on the line themselves as they aim to qualify for the Europa League, but that clash was separated by just one goal back in December, meaning there could be some nervy moments for the ‘Alte Dame’ supporters keeping an eye on the outcome. A Stuttgart win and a Hertha defeat would see the ‘Schwaben’ overtake Hertha due to their superior goal difference.

Ultimately, results across the past couple of weeks will be Hertha’s downfall if they fall below Stuttgart, not what happens in Dortmund. They were 1-0 up at Bielefeld until the 91st minute, when Joakim Nilsson equalised with his side’s only shot on target of the game, while they lost 2-1 at home to a Mainz side with the second-worst away record in the division. All Felix Magath can do is hope his side has enough about them to keep Dortmund at bay.

4 | Erling Haaland’s goodbye

As mentioned earlier, Saturday will be Haaland’s final game in black and yellow. While the transfer is not yet 100% complete, it is only a matter of time before the Norway international moves to Manchester, with Dortmund receiving a paltry €60m for his services. Given that they received almost 50% more for Jadon Sancho, they will be frustrated that they have not cashed in better on a prime asset.

Haaland’s time in the Ruhr has been a whirlwind. There was plenty of hype surrounding his signature from Red Bull Salzburg in January 2019, and he delivered immediately, scoring a hat-trick in 34 minutes from the bench on his debut against Augsburg. Four goals in his next two games followed, and he has rarely taken his foot off the gas since. The 21-year-old will leave Dortmund with at least 85 goals in 88 games, and will be looking to add to that against Hertha.

For Dortmund, his departure will undoubtedly lead to familiar questions. They remain the Bundesliga’s best chance of halting Bayern’s dominance given the quality and finances at their disposal, but whenever they seem to be getting close, a star talent departs and Hans-Joachim Watzke and Co must start from scratch. Dortmund have moved quickly to sign Karim Adeyemi, the 20-year-old German international, from Red Bull Salzburg, but the reported interest in Sebastien Haller is an indication they are willing to move slightly away from their transfer policy of signing young players with a high sell-on value.

First, though, the ‘Schwarzgelben’ must say goodbye to Haaland. While he could not deliver a league title, he netted twice in the 4-1 victory over Leipzig in the DFB Pokal final last May, Dortmund’s first major trophy in four years, and his deadly finishing deserved better from those around him. Given his track record, you expect another goal or two may be on the way before the curtain call.

5 | Battle for the Europa League

Like the race for the Champions League and the relegation battle, the second of two Europa League spots is still up for grabs. In contention are sixth-placed Union Berlin and seventh-placed FC Köln, with the ‘Unioner’ currently in pole position.

Union’s task is simple – beat Bochum at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei, and they will end the season at least in sixth, and could even move one place up if Freiburg lose at Leverkusen. Anything other than victory would open the door for Köln, who travel to Stuttgart two points adrift of the Köpenicker.

Both sides, at least, are already guaranteed a spot in European football next term. For the ‘Eisernen’, it will be their second consecutive continental adventure, which further underlines the incredible job Urs Fischer has done in the German capital. Steffen Baumgart’s impact at Köln has been monumental, too, with them set to finish a minimum of nine positions above where they ended up last time out.

Eintracht Frankfurt’s performances in the Europa League show just how much can be achieved if teams take it seriously. Union and Köln’s fan bases will demand nothing less than 100% commitment, as the former displayed this season – for those supporters, European football is not something to be taken for granted, and they will want the players to show it the respect it deserves. As such, expect both teams to give it their all throughout the final 90 minutes despite already securing a top-seven finish.

By Jon Radcliffe.

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