FEATURE | The race for European football in the Bundesliga

Over the last week of action, the finalists of this year’s DFB Pokal became known, with a first-time champion being guaranteed. Following that, Bayern Munich got the better of Borussia Dortmund in Der Klassiker to claim their tenth successive Meisterschale and 32nd overall.

But now attention must be turned to the race for European football. With three rounds of football left plus the cup final, there is still much to be decided on this front. Here is what is left to be determined and a potential scenario that could see Germany have as many as eight teams in Europe next season.

Before starting, it is worth reminding ourselves who gets European football and in which competitions. The top four earn a place in the UEFA Champions League the following campaign, something already well established. The Pokal winners along with the fifth-place team get to enjoy Europa League football. Finally, the sixth-place team enters the UEFA Europa Conference League at the playoff round in late August. Should the cup winner also finish in the top six, then the seventh-place team will enjoy Conference League football.

With three rounds to go, Bayern have clinched the title yet again. Champions League football is in the bag for the Bavarians. They will be joined by Borussia Dortmund, currently second on 63 points. They can seldom fall out of the top four at this point and are practically a lock for the vice-champion role again.

From third to seventh, the teams are separated by just six points. Bayer Leverkusen find themselves third on 55 points. The 2001/02 Champions League finalists are currently poised to play in Europe’s premier club competition along with RB Leipzig, who are one point and one place below the Werkself. Leipzig is left in the Europa League at the semi-final stage and also have a third ever DFB Pokal final to contend.

The Red Bull giants will face fifth-place Freiburg in that final on May 21. The Breisgau-Brasilianer, just outside of the Champions League places, are looking good for a fifth European campaign and are still in the running for a first ever Champions League berth. They find themselves two points behind Leipzig and three behind Bayer Leverkusen. Finishing in a Champions League position would be the highest ever league position attained by Christian Streich’s side.

As both cup finalists are ahead of them heading into these final three rounds, Union Berlin occupy the other Europa League place in sixth. Also, on course for their highest ever league finish (which is currently last season’s seventh-place finish), Urs Fischer’s men are striving for a second crack at European football in a row, falling to Feyenoord and Slavia Praha in their Europa Conference League group last fall. They are just four points back of Leipzig, who they managed to beat on Saturday, avenging their cup exit to the same opposition earlier that week.

FC Köln are in seventh on 49 points, the Billy Goats, holding on to the Conference League spot. Currently on track to enjoy European football for the first time since 2017/18 season, Anthony Modeste’s 17 goals has them in position to do exactly that.

The last team who can (realistically) qualify for Europe via the Bundesliga and/or Pokal is Hoffenheim. Three points behind Köln and a further point from Union, a return to Europe next season would see achtzehn99 enjoy continental football for the fourth time in six campaigns. While Champions League football is virtually impossible for Sebastian Hoeneß’ TSG, Europa (Conference) League is still on the table.

In addition to the European race via the Bundesliga, RB Leipzig and Eintracht Frankfurt are both still in the Europa League at the semi-final stage. The former will battle Rangers while the latter will face West Ham. With a Champions League group stage place on offer for the winner, this is another route for claim European football next season.

Leipzig and Frankfurt’s European endeavors has little effect on what happens in the league, particularly from a Frankfurt point of view. Die Adler are ninth in the Bundesliga, and although they could still sneak into seventh mathematically, the chances of it occurring are next to nil.

This means that should Frankfurt go on to hoist the Europa League trophy in Seville, they will join the top four in the Champions League next season. It would also mean that Germany would have eight clubs in Europe for the 2022/23 football year.

As it is almost a certainty that Leipzig will qualify for Europe courtesy of their domestic performance (and potentially their cup run as well), it is very likely that a Leipzig success in the Europa League would keep Germany at seven teams in Europe next campaign.

 

Should Die Roten Bullen finish in the top four and win the Europa League, there would be no impact on the German European places. Should they finish in a Europa League place by winning the DFB Pokal and/or finishing fifth (or even sixth) in the Bundesliga, that would leave Germany with one less Europa League place next season, with five Champions League spots instead. If they finish in the Conference League place and win the Europa League, that would leave Germany with no spots at the start of the Conference League’s second edition.

Note that under no circumstance would Leipzig’s European place via the Bundesliga be transferred to another German club as a result of winning the Europa League.

David Parkes.

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