The Bundesliga is only two weeks away from what promises to be a dramatic finish. Four teams are still in contention for two European spots, while the relegation zone is increasingly a dogfight between three sides desperate for a playoff lifeline. But all is not well at the top, with Bayern Munich looking to send out a message after their crushing Champions League defeat midweek.
Bayern Seek to Steady the Ship Against Relegation-Zone Hamburg
It’s been a nightmarish two weeks for Pep Guardiola personally and professionally. The loss of lifelong friend and colleague Tito Vilanova dwarves the footballing pain, but mighty Munich have been laid low by a succession of defeats. When Augsburg ended the champions’ 54-match unbeaten run on Matchday 29, no one expected that it would be a harbinger of decline. Since then, Bayern have lost 3-0 to Dortmund in the league and were humiliated 5-0 on aggregate by Real Madrid in the Champions League. Hamburg on Saturday, though irrelevant for Bayern in terms of points, is hugely symbolic, an opportunity to halt the slide and show the world that the champions are not a spent force.
Guardiola has been under severe media criticism this week, with most blaming his tactics for Bayern’s embarrassing European exit and some even heralding it as the death of tiki-taka football. Mario Götze, who so proudly left Dortmund for Bayern last season, has spoken of his discontent at the club, while even Bayern stalwart Thomas Müller has allegedly voiced his concerns to the club hierarchy. The Catalan coach has sworn to stick to his vision, and it will be interesting to see what team he puts out against Hamburg.
Hamburg, on the other hand, have only two more matches to save themselves from the unthinkable: relegation. The Dinosaurs, who have never been relegated in the history of the Bundesliga, are currently in 16th, though Nürnberg and Braunschweig could easily overtake them and condemn them to the drop. They must at least draw to ensure that their fate remain somewhat in their own hands on the final match day.
Unfortunately for trainer Mirko Slomka, however, Hamburg have been hit with a string of injuries. Club top scorer Pierre-MIchel Lasogga is still injured, and now his replacement in attack, Jacques Zoua is also out of contention. Rising star Hakan Calhanoglu also suffered a knock to his knee in midweek training, and Hamburg will sorely miss his influential presence in midfield if he is unable to play. As if all that were not enough, Tolgay Arslan, who has started in all but two of Hamburg’s matches this season, is suspended after picking up his 10th yellow of the season against Augsburg. It will take all Slomka has to conjure up a winning team from these tatters of a squad.
Hamburger SV: Adler—Diekmeier, Mancienne, Westermann, Jansen—Calhanoglu, Badelj, Ilicevic, Rincón—Van der Vaart—Maggio
Bayern Munich: Neuer—Lahm, Boateng, Dante, Alaba—Kroos, Schweinsteiger—Müller, Götze, Ribéry—Pizarro
Hamburg 0-4 Bayern Munich
The Fight for Fourth Continues
With only two matches left, four teams fight for the final two Champions League spots. Schalke, in third, have 58 points; Leverkusen, in fourth, have 55, only one point above Wolfsburg, with 54. With 52 points, sixth-placed Borussia Mönchengladbach’s hopes remain faintly alive, though time is running out. They will face a stern test against seventh-placed Mainz, who are looking to clinch the final Europa League position. Though Gladbach have a stronger squad, Thomas Tuchel’s side have been one of the surprises of the season, boasting the fourth-best record of the Rückrunde. That being said, Gladbach are extremely strong at home, having lost only three times at Borussia Park all season. A solitary goal from Patrick Hermann saw them top Schalke last week, and another win here could put them in fourth, should both Leverkusen and Wolfsburg lose. It will also be an emotional goodbye for goalkeeper Marc-André ted Stegen, who will play his last home match for his boyhood club of 18 years before departing for Barcelona in the summer.
Only two points ahead, Wolfsburg face a stern test against VfB Stuttgart, who will officially secure their Bundesliga future if they can avoid defeat on Saturday. The Swabians are on a run of four games unbeaten, including a 3-1 drubbing of a lackluster Schalke two weeks ago. They will take heart in the fact that their neighbors, Freiburg, held the Wolves to a 2-2 draw last week. Trainer Huub Stevens could be without reliable attacker Martin Harnik and defender Daniel Schwaab, though left-back Arthur Boka is available once more for selection. Wolfsburg, on the other hand, will hope that Leverkusen slip up, leaving the way clear for them to seize a Champions League spot. A club with considerable resources and even greater ambitions, Wolfsburg will want to end the season as strongly as possible and push Schalke and Leverkusen to a dramatic finale.
Borussia Mönchengladbach: ter Stegen—Korb, Stranzl, Jantschke, Dominguez—Hermann, Nordtveit, Kramer, Arango—Raffael, Kruse
Mainz 05: Karius—Pospech, Noveski, Bell, Diaz—Soto, Geis—Moritz, Malli, Choupo-Moting—Okazaki
Borussia Mönchengladbach 2-1 Mainz 05
VfB Stuttgart: Ulreich—Sakai, Rüdiger, Niedermeier, Boka—Gentner, Gruezo—Traoré, Didavi, Werner—Ibisevic
Wolfsburg: Grün—Träsch, Naldo, Knoche, Rodriguez—Polak, Medojevic—de Bruyne, Arnold, Perisic—Olic
VfB Stuttgart 2-2 Wolfsburg
Elsewhere in the Bundesliga…
With second place secured, Borussia Dortmund go into their Saturday afternoon clash with Hoffenheim hoping to maintain momentum and finish the season over the 70-point mark. The game might see the return of long-injured players Marcel Schmelzer and Sven Bender, though Oliver Kirch, Erik Durm, and Sebastian Kehl are all missing. Werder Bremen host Hertha Berlin, while SC Freiburg will look to continue their good form against Schalke, whose Champions League qualification is no longer secure. Seventeenth-placed Nürnberg will hope to leapfrog Hamburg for a relegation playoff spot when they take on 13th-placed Hannover, while Eintracht Braunschweig, only one point behind Nürnberg and two behind Hamburg, will fancy their chances against Augsburg. Finally, Bayer Leverkusen need three points against Eintracht Frankfurt to stave off their challengers for the final Champions League spot.