FEATURE | Bundesliga Preview – Week 27: Full stadium in awaits Borussia Dortmund in Köln as title race emerges

Matchday 27 of this Bundesliga campaign offers up plenty of captivating stories as the end of the season nears ever closer. Read on to find out what you should keep an eye on this weekend.

1 | Felix Magath era begins at Hertha Berlin

It seemed only a matter of time before Tayfun Korkut would be relieved of his duties at Hertha Berlin, and his fate was sealed following the 2-0 defeat to Borussia Mönchengladbach last Saturday. That was the latest underwhelming result in a series of ten games without a win and five consecutive losses. As such, the ‘Alte Dame’ now find themselves in 17th with just eight matches left to play.

With time of the essence, Fredi Bobic’s search for a third Hertha boss of the season needed to be swift. The process was indeed quick, although few would have expected Felix Magath to be the man to take the hot seat. The 68-year-old has not managed in the last five years, with him not being involved in the Bundesliga since 2012.

Magath does have a solid CV to fall back on. He has proven himself at the top of the Bundesliga, leading Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg to league titles, while he has also earned a reputation as a ‘fireman’ at the other end of the table. At the start of his managerial career, he developed a habit of helping clubs in relegations battles, steering Nürnberg, Eintracht Frankfurt and VfB Stuttgart away from the drop when they found themselves in deep trouble.

Unfortunately, that was more than two decades ago, and Magath has more recently become known as an eccentric coach with bizarre techniques. A short spell with Premier League side Fulham was particularly damaging, with anecdotes revealing he forced players to run laps at 01:00 in the morning and tried to treat injuries with cream cheese. Centre-back Brede Hangeland, club captain during Magath’s time in west London, called the German an “awful human being”.

All of which does not bode well for Hertha as they attempt to survive amongst the elite. Magath will not be in the dugout against Hoffenheim after testing positive for coronavirus, so it will be interesting to see what influence he has so far been able to exert. When he returns to the sidelines, the club’s supporters will hope he can tap into the experience that made him revered rather than laughed at.

2 | Greuther Fürth must improve top-five record

For 13 minutes against RB Leipzig last Sunday, it looked as though Fürth could cause an upset after taking a 1-0 lead through Jamie Leweling. Ultimately, they crashed and burned as the ‘Roten Bullen’ responded with six goals through as many different goal scorers to prevail 6-1. While defeat was not unexpected, the manner of their collapse will have worried Stefan Leitl.

It was the latest in a series of poor results against the Bundesliga’s top five this campaign. In seven outings against such opponents, the ‘Kleeblätter’ have lost on each occasion, scoring just six goals while conceding 30 – that works out at an astonishing five per match on average. The loss against Leipzig was also their fourth game in a row without victory and, although nine points is not an unbridgeable gap to 16th place and the relegation play-off spot, their already slim hopes of remaining amongst the elite get smaller with each passing match.

They host another top-five outfit in Freiburg on Saturday afternoon, who continue to exceed expectations. Anything less than a Europa League spot would now be a disappointment for Christian Streich’s side, while qualification for the Champions League remains a distinct possibility. They will be the favourites at the Sportpark Rohnhof this weekend, especially given Fürth’s aforementioned record.

3 | Full stadium awaits Borussia Dortmund in Köln

The Bundesliga lacks the wealth and glamour of the Premier League and La Liga, but the importance of supporters in Germany dwarfs that of their counterparts in Europe’s top-five leagues. Given Chelsea’s headline-grabbing situation, the 50+1 rule has garnered even more praise, as it did following the European Super League debacle, while German fans have long been lauded as amongst the most passionate and vocal across the continent.

Unfortunately, we have been unable to see their presence at stadiums across the country for the majority of the last two years as the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc. Unlike in England, where grounds have been full since the beginning of the season, only reduced crowds, often less than 50% capacity, have been permitted. However, the tide appears to be turning as we enter the year’s warmer months.

On Sunday evening, a packed RheinEnergieStadion awaits Borussia Dortmund. The ‘Schwarzgelben’ find themselves in an unlikely title race after closing the gap to leaders Bayern to just four points, but they face a Köln side that comes into this clash on the back of a morale-boosting derby win at Bayer Leverkusen. Steffen Baumgart’s men are also chasing lofty objectives – qualification for European football is not out of the question – and the vast majority of the 50,000 supporters will be cheering on ‘Effzeh’, another thing Marco Rose’s side will have to deal with alongside Köln intensity and energy.

The return of Erling Haaland from injury is a huge positive for Dortmund, which makes this an even more enticing encounter.

4 | Bayer Leverkusen look to bounce back after terrible week

The last ten days have been nothing but a nightmare for Gerardo Seoane and his Bayer Leverkusen side. Last Thursday, the ‘Werkself’ lost 3-2 at Atalanta in the first leg of their Europa League round of 16 tie before being defeated by local rivals FC Köln. Their week from hell was compounded on Thursday, losing once again to Atalanta despite having numerous chances as they exited the competition.

The worst news, though, was the injuries to Florian Wirtz, whose ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) rupture means he faces many months on the sidelines, and Jeremie Frimpong, who will also be unavailable for the rest of the season after an ankle issue emerged. The former will be particularly missed. The 18-year-old burst onto the scene last term, and has developed into a star this time around, scoring ten and providing 14 assists in just 31 matches in all competitions. He has been one of the brightest sparks in a side that has performed well for much of the season, and one can only hope the injury does not stunt his progress.

The first league match without Wirtz is against Wolfsburg. Leverkusen are expected to pick up the three points against the side sitting in 12th in the top flight, but the absence of their teenage sensation leaves them with questions to answer, especially as top scorer Patrik Schick battles to be fit for the clash. Despite possessing a healthy buffer over fifth a few weeks ago, only one point now separates Seoane’s men from dropping out of the Champions League qualification spots altogether, meaning victory at the Volkswagen Arena is essential.

5 | Bayern Munich wobble as injury issues continue

A tenth consecutive Bundesliga title for Bayern looked a near-certainty just a few weeks ago. Instead, a poor run of just two victories in their last five league outings has seen their lead reduced to just four points, and they still have to face second-placed Borussia Dortmund before the campaign is out. The latest disappointing result, a 1-1 draw with Hoffenheim, was microcosmic of Bayern’s recent struggles in front of goal, with them netting through just three of their 22 shots on targets across their last three Bundesliga outings.

Ahead of their match against Union Berlin on Saturday, Julian Nagelsmann received some good and bad news. On a positive note, Alphonso Davies is now back in light training after his heart condition emerged, and he is working his way back to full fitness, while Leon Goretzka is once again available for selection. However, the Bavarians will be more concerned by the names added to their injury list, particularly Robert Lewandowski, who is training individually and is a doubt for this weekend. With 29 Bundesliga goals already this season, he is a player they cannot really do without, even for just one game.

Fresh issues for Manuel Neuer and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, as well as Benjamin Pavard’s positive COVID-19 test and Niklas Süle’s thigh injury that is set to keep him out for up to a month, mean Nagelsmann will need to mix up his starting XI once again. With Union winning just one of their last six games and an international break imminent, these issues may not impact Nagelsmann and Co too much. Still, the continuing trickle of injuries will cause concern, especially as the matches come thick and fast following the two-week hiatus.

Jon Radcliffe

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