PREVIEW | Week 33: Bayer Leverkusen can secure Champions League football and Hertha Berlin could secure Bundesliga status

Matchday 33 of this season’s Bundesliga is just around the corner, but what does the weekend have in store? Read on to find out!

1 | Borussia Dortmund could break unwanted Bundesliga record

Borussia Dortmund’s season is in danger of ending with a whimper. The 3-1 defeat to Bayern Munich during matchday 31 ended their faint title hopes, and that was followed up with a 4-3 loss at home against local rivals VfL Bochum. The ‘Schwarzgelben’ now have just two matches left, against Greuther Fürth and Hertha Berlin and, while there is little on the line – Champions League qualification has already been secured – Dortmund will want to avoid picking up an unwanted record.

The Ruhr-based outfit have conceded 50 goals already this campaign. Not only is that more than nine other sides in the German top flight, but it is also only two fewer than the all-time record shipped by a runner-up in the Bundesliga, set by Borussia Mönchengladbach in 1973/74 and matched by Schalke in 1976/77. Only the nature of their remaining opponents, who are amongst the worst in front of goal in the division, may save them.

The defeat to Bochum was Marco Rose’s 15th as Dortmund boss in 44 outings – it took his predecessor Lucien Favre 82 matches to be on the losing side on as many occasions. While it seems unlikely that CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke will bring the 45-year-old’s time in the hot seat to an end, the pressure will be on Rose to dramatically improve the side’s fortunes next term. The signings of centre-backs Niklas Süle and Nico Schlotterbeck at least address Dortmund’s glaring defensive problems, while the reportedly imminent capture of Karim Adeyemi is another example of their ability to attract the best young talents in Europe.

First, though, Dortmund must close out this campaign. Second place is not yet theirs, although two points between now and the end of term would get the job done. Beating already-relegated Fürth is surely within their grasp.

2 | Leverkusen on the edge of Champions League qualification

Bayer Leverkusen are now within touching distance of reaching their pre-season goal of Champions League qualification. Heading into the final two matches of the campaign, the ‘Werkself’ are four points clear of RB Leipzig in fifth, meaning a victory on Saturday at Hoffenheim will secure a place in the top four. It would also all-but-mathematically clinch third spot given they possess a considerably superior goal difference than Freiburg in fourth.

It is hard to know exactly what to make of Gerardo Seoane’s first campaign at the BayArena. A return to Europe’s premier club competition is the main objective, but there is a feeling Leverkusen could have achieved more. Considering the talent at their disposal, a second-round DFB Pokal exit to Karlsruhe and a Europa League play-off round loss to Atalanta is something of a disappointment. There is a feeling Leverkusen tend to underachieve, and these results will do little to change that perception.

The off-season will be about keeping hold of their best players and adding reinforcements where needed. Should they be able to do that, they may have a real chance of success in the future as the teams above them in the table rebuild. The first step is to make sure there is no slip-up in Sinsheim.

3 | Köln need a draw for Europe

Against Wolfsburg on Saturday, Steffen Baumgart can take Köln to the promised land of European football. A draw would be enough to book passage to the Europa Conference League, while a win and a defeat for Union Berlin at Freiburg would see them qualify for the Europa League. That would be the cherry on the cake of a remarkable turnaround – just over 12 months ago, Köln needed a 5-1 second-leg victory over Holstein Kiel in the relegation play-off to avoid dropping down to the 2. Bundesliga after finishing 16th in the top flight.

Trailing Freiburg by just three points means Köln remain in the fight for the Champions League, albeit as an outsider. It is unlikely this campaign would have been possible without Baumgart at the helm – the 50-year-old’s passion and work ethic have made the team much more competitive, no matter who they face. There are certain players whose performances stand out this campaign, such as top scorer Anthony Modeste and the ever-reliable Jonas Hector, but this has been a team effort. Köln are stronger than the sum of their parts.

In Wolfsburg, they face a team who secured Bundesliga survival last weekend. Their campaign has been a stark contrast to Köln’s, full of disappointment and questions rather than joy and answers. Florian Kohfeldt, at least, does enjoy facing the ‘Geißböcke’ – his biggest away win as a manager came at the RheinEnergieSTADION, when his Paderborn side hammered the hosts 5-1. It remains to be seen whether he can pick up another victory at the same location.

4 | Freiburg vs Union crucial to European battle

One of the best things about the Bundesliga is its fans, as Eintracht Frankfurt have shown throughout their Europa League campaign. German supporters just do it differently, and there is nothing quite like the mythical party train, organised by the club’s supporters to take fans from their home city to wherever they happen to be playing on their travels. At least in Union Berlin’s case, one of the carriages is used as a makeshift nightclub, with a strobe light and a D.J playing hard techno throughout the entire trip. It really is something that needs to be seen to be believed.

The coronavirus pandemic paused the fun, but the ‘Sonderzug’ returns this weekend for the journey to Freiburg. It will not be one for the faint-hearted – the Dreisamstadion is the furthest ground away from the Stadion an der Alten Försterei in the Bundesliga, and the train will depart at around 00.05 on Sunday morning before getting back to Berlin at 08.00 the following day.

Many supporters would have made the trip to the Schwarzwald regardless, but Union’s pursuit of a second consecutive season of European football only adds to the intrigue. A win would guarantee participation in continental competition, and even a draw or a defeat would be good enough as long as Hoffenheim fail to beat Bayer Leverkusen. From the fourth division to back-to-back top-seven Bundesliga finishes in 16 years would be something to savour, and the Köpenicker are there for the ride.

For Freiburg, their fate is now in their own hands after Borussia Mönchengladbach beat RB Leipzig on Monday. Christian Streich’s men lead the ‘Rotenbullen’ by one point, meaning their task, on paper, is simple. Two wins from their last two matches would see them participate in the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history. If there is one match to keep an eye on this weekend, it is this.

5 | Hertha can secure survival amidst peculiar Mainz match-up

Nothing better epitomises Hertha’s passion for managerial changes than their recent history against Mainz 05. At the Olympiastadion this weekend, Felix Magath will be the club’s seventh different manager in as many encounters with the ‘Nullfünfer’ – Pal Dardai was in charge for the only victory from those match-ups, before being sacked and then re-appointed in time to draw 1-1 with the same opponents towards the end of last season.

All in all, the ‘Alte Dame’ have a terrible record against Mainz, having prevailed just once in their last ten meetings. Magath, though, has overseen an upturn in form since his arrival in March, with Hertha picking up ten points from a possible 18.

There could hardly be a better time to overcome their Mainz problems. The side from the German capital have battled against relegation for the majority of the season, but a victory would confirm their Bundesliga survival. If VfB Stuttgart and Arminia Bielefeld lose, Hertha’s result will become irrelevant. Still, Magath, who is notorious for the demands he puts on his players, will be eager for his team to get the job done themselves. A three-point haul would not eradicate memories of a lacklustre campaign, but it would at least give supporters something to smile about.

By Jon Radcliffe.


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