Relegation, European qualification; there’s a lot to fight for on the final matchday of the Bundesliga. How will things pan out?
The final set of games is upon us. Safety, European football, it shall all be decided in a matter of hours. At the bottom of the pack, Eintracht Braunschweig, FC Nuremberg and Hamburger SV are desperate for a final victory, while the European dogfight sees fifth placed VfL Wolfsburg face sixth placed Borussia Mönchengladbach. Excitement couldn’t be any higher on what promises to be a cracking final matchday in the Bundesliga.
Die Fohlen look to gallop past Die Wölfe
They’ve been fighting tooth and nail for European football all season long, with Gladbach looking the more likely fifth place candidate for most of the season. But things have turned rapidly for Lucien Favre’s side and they currently occupy sixth place, two behind Wolfsburg and three behind Bayer Leverkusen.
A victory for either side will guarantee a fifth place finish and also keeps the possibility of going to the Champions League open. Both sides have had very similar run-ins to this game, with four wins, a draw and a loss each in their last six games. Gladbach’s confident performance against Mainz 05 last week ensured that sixth place was a surety and the momentum from that fixture could prove crucial on Saturday.
Wolfsburg had to dig deep to get three points against a resurgent Stuttgart. Their performances of late may not have been top notch but the experience amongst the more senior players is a major factor that points in their favor for what is possibly their biggest game of the season.
Favre has no injuries to contend with ahead of this final game. It seems likely that the Swiss tactician will name an unchanged squad from last weekend, but he refused to reveal anything in a pre-match conference. Dieter Hecking will have to make do without Junior Malanda, a revelation since arriving from Zulte Waregem, and Bas Dost.
Both teams have scored freely this season, especially in their last six games (Wolfsburg with 14 and Gladbach with 12). Max Kruse and Raffael have had their purple patches this season but should still prove to be Gladbach’s most potent attacking threats against a relatively sound Wolfsburg defense. Kevin de Bruyne will continue to be the pivot in Wolfsburg’s attack but the multi dimensional aspects offered by the likes of Ivan Perisic, Maxi Arnold and Ivica Olic could make life for Gladbach’s back four difficult.
With nothing much to lose and a lot to gain, both teams will go all out in this fixture. A repeat of the entertaining 2-2 draw from December is surely on the cards.
VfL Wolfsburg: Benaglio – Träsch, Naldo, Knoche, Rodriguez – Gustavo, Polak – De Bruyne, Arnold, Perisic – Olic
Borussia Mönchengladbach: Ter Stegen – Korb, Jantschke, Stranzl, Dominguez – Herrmann, Nordtveit, Kramer, Arango – Kruse, Raffael
VfL Wolfsburg 3-1 Borussia Mönchengladbach
Who’s going down?
Two point separate Eintracht Braunschweig and Hamburg at the bottom of the table, and nestled between them is Nuremberg. Hamburg travel to high flying Mainz, who have Augsburg breathing down their neck for the final European spot, Braunschweig face the unpredictability of Hoffenheim, and Nuremberg have third placed Schalke to deal with.
Picking up three points seems unlikely for any of them given their opposition but crazy things have happened on the last day. In fact, Braunschweig beat Hoffenheim the last time they met, while Nuremberg held Schalke to a cagey 0-0 draw.
Braunschweig’s only absentee is Omar Elabdellaoui, which should see Karim Bellarabi start on the right side of midfield. As always, a lot will depend on the attacking prowess of Mirko Boland and Domi Kumbela if the Lions are to pull off a memorable survival attempt. Hoffenheim will have to do without Sven Schipplock and Koen Casteels.
Nuremberg have a comparatively long injury list with six names on it. With the likes of Per Nilsson and Makoto Hasebe having spent long periods out injured, Nuremberg have struggled greatly. Raphael Schäfer’s absence should give young Patrick Rakovsky a start in goal. Nuremberg’s opponents, Schalke, have Jefferson Farfan, Atsuto Uchida, Christian Fuchs, Benedikt Höwedes, Klaas Jan-Huntelaar and Felipe Santana unavailable. With third place still not guaranteed for the Royal Blues, this game still has a certain level if importance.
Hamburg too have a host of players set to miss their crucial tie against Mainz. Pierre-Michel Lasogga, Jonathan Tah, Maxi Beister and Slobodan Rajkovic are surely not travelling to Mainz, while Rafael Van der Vaart remains doubtful. Mainz might be without Nicolai Müller and Joo-Ho Park, but the rich vein of form of the rest of the side has seen them sit pretty in seventh.
It seems very unlikely that any of the bottom three will pick up a win but if the madness of final day relegation battles of the past are to go by, absolutely anything is possible. We may witness history if Hamburg lose and any of the other two win, as this will be the first time ever that the Red Shorts are relegated. Braunschweig, Hamburg, Nuremberg, whoever it may be that goes to the relegation playoff, we are surely in for a cracking final matchday.
Hoffenheim 2-1 Eintracht Braunschweig
Mainz 1-1 Hamburger SV
Schalke 3-1 Nuremberg
Elsewhere in the Bundesliga…
Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund have nothing to fight for on the final matchday except for gaining momentum ahead of the DFB Pokal final. Bayern host VfB Stuttgart, while Dortmund face Hertha Berlin in the capital. European hopefuls Augsburg lock horns with Eintracht Frankfurt. Bayer Leverkusen also have a lot to watch out for, with Champions League football not a certainty, thus making their fixture against Werder Bremen all the more important. Hannover 96 and Freiburg complete the set of fixtures in what is merely a consolatory fixture.