The end is nigh. After 33 match days, 864 goals, one record-breaking champion and drama to spare, the Bundesliga now draws to a close. This Saturday sees five sides dreaming of Europe, while three teams hope to avoid the drop. THT has your Match Day 34 preview.
Freiburg vs. Schalke 04
Freiburg welcome Schalke in a winner-takes-all showdown for fourth place and a spot in the Champions League qualification rounds. Some might have doubted Schalke after a shambolic winter, but under Jens Keller, the Royal Blues have found renewed inspiration. And with Keller’s new contract extension, Schalke are raring for another season in Europe’s elite competition.
Freiburg, on the other hand, are set to lose many of their best players this summer, with Max Kruse and Jan Rosenthal’s transfers already confirmed. A fourth place finish could be both blessing and curse for this ‘little team that could’. Freiburg are already guaranteed a place in Europa League. For a team on the brink of relegation 18 months ago, it has been an incredible journey, and it will get no easier from here: the challenge of competing at home and abroad has sunk other teams before them.
Daniel Caligiuri is suspended for Freiburg, while Schalke are without their usual long-term injury candidates — including Christoph Metzelder, who recently announced he will retire after seeing out his contract with Schalke.
In the reverse fixture, Freiburg defeated Schalke 3-1 at the Veltins, and now the Royal Blues will be looking to give back as good as they got. The two sides are perfectly poised with 5 draws and 11 wins apiece from their previous Bundesliga encounters. But given Schalke’s squad depth, experience, and hunger for Champions League football, the Royal Blues should have the psychological edge.
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Wolfsburg
Incredible to think that just two years ago, Eintracht Frankfurt were sinking like a rock to the bottom of the Bundesliga table. The Eagles’ renaissance has been one of the stories of the season. Armin Veh’s newly-promoted side were 7 weeks straight in 2nd place, and their current position, 6th, is their lowest of the season.
Frankfurt will be hoping to keep it that way: they are not yet guaranteed European football, what with HSV two points behind them in the table. But a win or draw against Wolfsburg would secure Frankfurt at least 6th. In the dream scenario, Frankfurt could even take 4th — given that Schalke and Freiburg draw, and The Eagles manage a 5-goal margin against Wolfsburg.
Frankfurt captain Pirmin Schwegler is still a doubt for Saturday, while Wolfsburg are still missing Kyrgiakos, Pilar, and Helmes. Truthfully, Wolfsburg have little left to play for on the final match day. The Wolves have clawed their way back to mid table after a stint in the cellars, and the season is over for them — though they did give a spirited performance against Dortmund last week, going ahead 3-1 before the Champions League finalists pegged them back for 3-3.
Frankfurt will be expected to get the win here, but it will not be a walk in the park.
Hamburger SV vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Hamburg still have a shot at fifth place — though it would take a tennis score at the Imtech Arena. Slightly more realistic for Hamburg is 6th place, though most realistically of all, HSV are looking at a 7th place finish. In order to qualify for Europe, Hamburg would need Frankfurt to lose against Wolfsburg, while they themselves defeat Leverkusen. Steep odds, but still, not impossible.
Thorsten Fink has practically a full squad to select from, minus Michael Mancienne, Marcus Berg, and Tolgay Arslan. Leverkusen are still without Castro and Bellarabi, but their absences should not be a problem as this match is meaningless for Leverkusen who have long since secured 3rd place and Champions League football.
Borussia Mönchengladbach vs. Bayern Munich
The final side still technically in the mix for European competition are last year’s fourth-place finishers: Borussia Mönchengladbach. A turbulent season sees Gladbach now just outside the Europa League spots, and their fortunes look unlikely to take a dramatic last-minute upturn, given that their opponents on the final match day are Bayern.
Apart from Rafinha and Badstuber, Jupp Heynckes will have a full squad to select from as he prepares for his final Bundesliga match. The legendary coach’s farewell takes place against the backdrop of Bayern gunning for Dortmund’s 90-point record — and to make it extra special, it will be in Heynckes’ home city of Mönchengladbach.
Heynckes will have to decide whether or not to rest his best players in anticipation of the Champions League final, as well as the DFB-Pokal final. But rotation or not, the record-breaking champions have shown no signs of letting up since securing the title in April, and Gladbach have a tough task ahead of them. They will have to overcome their losing record to Bayern, hope that Hamburg drop points and furthermore, that Frankfurt lose to Wolfsburg by a wide margin and lose their goal difference advantage. All in all, it’s looking like a hail-mary of a shot for Gladbach.
Hannover 96 vs. Fortuna Düsseldorf
On the other end of the table, Fortuna Düsseldorf are fighting for survival. Locked on points with 16th place Augsburg, Düsseldorf have remained above the relegation zone thanks to goal difference, and barring any freak scorelines this weekend, that goal difference will see them through as long as they don’t drop points.
Easier said than done, however, as Düsseldorf travel to one of the fortresses of the Bundesliga: Hannover at the AWD-Arena. The 96ers have lost only 3 times at home this season, while Düsseldorf have only managed 2 wins on the road — and no wins at all in their last 11 matches.
Tobias Levels is suspended, while Hannover are still dealing with their long list of the walking wounded. Düsseldorf’s position is looking more precarious than ever as the relegation battle comes down to the wire. It would not be surprising to see Düsseldorf embroiled in the relegation play-offs for the second time in as many years.
Augsburg vs. Greuther Fürth
Augsburg are one good performance away from a Houdini. After spending much of the Hinrunde dead last in the table, Augsburg are now out of the automatic relegation spots, and have a very realistic shot at escaping the relegation play-offs, too. Augsburg’s survival now depends upon a win against 2.Bundesliga-bound Fürth, while Düsseldorf must drop points against Hannover — or else lose by a 5-goal margin.
The good news for Markus Weinzierl is that Ja-Cheol Koo is finally back, giving Augsburg further firepower up front in addition to Sascha Mölders. Greuther Fürth, meanwhile, still have pride to play for if nothing else.
“We’re fully focused and realise everyone in Germany is watching,” said Frank Kramer.
Borussia Dortmund vs. Hoffenheim
The most religious men this weekend may well be Markus Gisdol and his Hoffenheim youngsters. The 17th-place Sinsheim side are almost as good as relegated, languishing 2 points behind Augsburg and Düsseldorf, and tasked with playing Borussia Dortmund at the Signal Iduna Park, to boot.
Dortmund may have lost their Bundesliga crown, but they’ve secured yet another season in Europe’s elite competition, and most pressingly, they have a date with Bayern in all-German Champions League final at Wembley. In light of that, the final home game of the season has Jürgen Klopp and his players fired up. They will want to end on the highest possible note, in anticipation of what Dortmund still have left to play for this season.
Whatever way you slice it, Hoffenheim look unlikely to keep their slice of the Bundesliga pie for another season. Hoffenheim will have to play with clinical precision and absolute focus — in the eternal hope that this is the Bundesliga, and stranger things have certainly happened.
Nuremberg welcome Werder Bremen in the 60th meeting of the two sides, with one drastic change: Thomas Schaaf will not be on the sidelines, as the departing Green-White stalwart has turned control of the team over to his assistant coaches for the final game of the season.
Meanwhile in Baden-Württemberg, Stuttgart host Mainz 05 in their final home game of the season. Antonio Rüdiger is suspended for the home side, while Mainz will miss Bo Svensson. Stuttgart are looking forward to a DFB-Pokal final against Bayern, and will want to end the Bundesliga season on a high note and carry the momentum over to the Olympiastadion come June 1st.