PREVIEW | Week 32: Hertha Berlin can confirm Bundesliga survival as Stuttgart’s situation looks more precarious

Matchday 32 of the Bundesliga throws up plenty of intriguing encounters. But what should you look out for? Read on to find out!

1 | Tale of two Rückrundes for Gladbach and Leipzig

Both Borussia Mönchengladbach and RB Leipzig drastically underperformed during the first half of the Bundesliga season. When Domenico Tedesco replaced Jesse Marsch as Leipzig boss towards the beginning of December, the two sides were level on 18 points and in the bottom half of the table. Three games later, at the end of the Hinrunde, the ‘Roten Bullen’ were only three points ahead of the ‘Fohlen’, with neither side showing any indication things would change after the winter break.

For Adi Hütter and Tedesco, though, the Rückrunde has been a contrasting state of affairs. Leipzig are now 16 points ahead of Gladbach as the two face off at the Borussia Park this weekend, and currently sit fourth in the table to their opponents’ 11th. The hosts’ campaign is effectively over – they can finish no lower than 15th and no higher than eighth – while Leipzig are fighting on three fronts, with the DFB Pokal final and the second leg of their Europa League semi-final against Rangers still to come.

Interestingly, this game will be played on Monday rather than Sunday due to the Labour Day holiday in Germany. While that does mean Tedesco’s men will have one extra day of rest following their clash with the Gers on Thursday, they will have just 72 hours to prepare for their trip to Ibrox. However, although Gladbach have experienced a recent upturn in form, having lost just one of their previous six matches, Leipzig will still be confident they can get a result that would further boost their hopes of Champions League qualification. For Hütter and Co, this fixture will be about proving they can compete against the division’s best as they look to dramatically improve next term.

2 | Stuttgart’s situation is looking more and more precarious

Stuttgart’s defeat against Hertha Berlin last Saturday was undoubtedly a significant blow. Against one of their direct relegation rivals, the ‘Schwaben’ went behind within four minutes and could not recover. The loss leaves them in 16th, four points adrift of the ‘Alte Dame’ with just three games to play and, given their remaining matches are Wolfsburg at home, Bayern Munich away, and Köln at home, the clash with Hertha was arguably their best chance of picking up points. Pellegrino Matarazzo’s side may be fortunate that Arminia Bielefeld, in 17th and the automatic relegation spots, look out of ideas, but a play-off against one of the 2. Bundesliga heavyweights would be a challenging task.

Die ‘Wölfe’ present arguably the best chance for Stuttgart to pick up points, although they too have something to play for this matchday. It has been an underwhelming season for Florian Kohfeldt’s men, but they have the opportunity to secure Bundesliga survival with anything other than a defeat. They come into this clash on the back of a 5-0 victory over Mainz, but recent heavy losses at the hands of Borussia Dortmund and Augsburg will give Stuttgart hope.

If they are to have any chance of success, Matarazzo may need to stop a worrying record of 19 consecutive home matches without a clean sheet. The last time they didn’t concede was in April 2021 in a 1-0 victory over Werder Bremen, who were at the time managed by Kohfeldt. Stuttgart and their supporters will be desperate for history to repeat itself.

3 | Big chance for Bayer Leverkusen to cement a top-four spot

The 4-1 victory over Greuther Fürth was of utmost importance for Bayer Leverkusen. That result moved them up to third in the Bundesliga table, three points clear of Freiburg in fifth. Before that, they had failed to win either of their two previous games, and it seemed their Champions League qualification push was running out of steam.

On paper, matches against Eintracht Frankfurt, Hoffenheim and SC Freiburg look to be difficult encounters. The latter match-up of that trio could be decisive as to who finishes in the top four, but the ‘Werkself’ could maintain, if not grow, their healthy buffer over the next 180 minutes of Bundesliga action. While Frankfurt travel to the BayArena on the back of a 2-1 win against West Ham United in their Europa League semi-final first leg, European qualification for the ‘Adler’ via the league is all but impossible, and all their eggs will be at the Deutsche Bank Park in anticipation of the ‘Hammers” visit. There are also only three days between the match vs Leverkusen and the second leg, further boosting Gerardo Seoane’s cause.

After that comes Hoffenheim, who are currently in free fall. The ‘Kraichgauer’ have not won in their last six outings as a place in Europe slips between their fingers, and they need a win against Freiburg on Saturday to realistically keep their continental hopes alive. Against two opponents who may be lacking motivation, Leverkusen have a real chance to keep Freiburg at arm’s length heading into the final game of the season.

4 | Hertha can confirm Bundesliga survival

As Stuttgart’s players despaired at the Olympiastadion, Hertha’s celebrated – although, surprisingly, not with the supporters as is customary, but rather in the dressing room. The first-team squad collectively decided to snub the fans after the Berlin derby debacle, when angry Ultras demanded the shirts off of several Hertha players’ backs. It feels like an unnecessary time, when everyone must come together in pursuit of a common goal, to make such a stand, and it is fair to say the move did not go down well with the Ostkurve.

Either way, the three points were pivotal, and the ‘Alte Dame’ now stand on the edge of securing their top-tier status for at least another season. A win away at Arminia Bielefeld would be enough to stave off automatic relegation mathematically and, coupled with a Stuttgart defeat, even a play-off would be removed as a possibility.

Many questioned the thinking behind the appointment of Felix Magath, but the 68-year-old’s arrival has instilled teamwork, hard graft and cohesion into the team. It will worry Fredi Bobic and co that it has taken so long for Hertha to show any fight, and two good wins do not give an underperforming squad the right to assume the moral high ground. Still, any tension will be momentarily forgotten if results go their way this weekend.

5 | Union Berlin look to exert revenge on Fürth as Europe beckons again

Union Berlin’s European adventure this campaign will have whet the appetite of their supporters. The Conference League is one thing, and Union certainly enjoyed some glamorous match-ups against Slavia Prague and Feyenoord, but the Europa League is a step above. Urs Fischer’s men are currently sixth, one point above FC Köln, and can almost taste another continental journey.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and unexpected wins at the likes of Bayer Leverkusen have put them well into the battle for Europe once more. However, they could be even higher up the league if it weren’t for some disappointing results against the Bundesliga’s lesser sides. Both Augsburg and Arminia Bielefeld have defeated the ‘Eisernen’ this campaign, although the worst loss of the lot came against Greuther Fürth.

The Bavarian outfit’s 1-0 triumph over Union on December 12th was their first victory of the season and their maiden win at home in the top-flight at the 24th time of asking. They have only managed two other three-point hauls this term – quite frankly, there is no way the side from the German capital should have come out second best.

This weekend, they have the chance to exert revenge. What state of mind Fürth’s squad will arrive in remains to be seen – their relegation back to the 2. Bundesliga was confirmed during matchday 30, and manager Stefan Leitl has since left the club, with him set to make the bizarre move to Hannover 96. There will be no excuse for Union if they do not prevail, given they have plenty more to play for.

Jon Radcliffe

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