The Bundesliga came to a close in entertaining fashion, with the relegation race finally decided and several teams signing off with a flurry of goals. From Robert Lewandowski’s goodbye to Hamburg’s imminent playoffs, we bring you the highlights of Matchday 34.
Wolves Take Down Foals in Battle for Europe
Wolfsburg and Borussia Mönchengladbach have been fighting all season to break into the Champions League positions, and it was only fitting that they rounded out the year against each other. Of all the teams in the league, they were the two most likely to challenge last year’s top four, and provided an entertaining duel that shows promise for next year.
Going into this match, Wolfsburg were only one point behind fourth-placed Leverkusen, and looked set to pip them for the final Champions League spot after Leverkusen went behind to a 21st minute Bremen goal. On the other hand, had Gladbach won and Leverkusen lost, the Foals stood an outside chance of seizing fourth via goal difference. With everything on the line, both managers fielded strong sides, but Wolfsburg’s speed in attack overwhelmed the Foals, beginning with a Kevin de Bruyne goal in the 30th minute. The young Belgian midfielder received the ball just past the halfway line and made a surging run down the left to send the ball soaring past ter Stegen.
Gladbach fought back, however, equalizing in the 64th minute through a team goal that showed the cohesion characteristic of their season. A string of quick passes from Gladbach’s speedy midfielders landed at the feet of Christoph Kramer, who made no mistake of tapping it in. Yet for all of their attacking prowess, Gladbach were undone by a moment of chaos in the back, conceding a sloppy goal only four minutes later that allowed Wolfsburg to seize the momentum. They then made another defensive mistake in the 81st minute, failing to clear a Wolfsburg corner and allowing Knoche to put the tie beyond their reach.
With this win, Dieter Hecking’s men should be satisfied with their season and will use it as a springboard to climb higher next year. They finish only one point behind Leverkusen, and with such talented young players as de Bruyne, Maximilian Arnold, Luiz Gustavo, and Ivan Perisic in their ranks, their future looks bright. Lucien Favre’s men, on the other hand, will be disappointed that their promising season took a serious dip in the Rückrunde. They were third at Christmas, and now finish in sixth. Nevertheless, they have a disciplined, talented squad, and with a few smart additions over the summer, they could make a real assault on the Champions League spots.
Hamburg Cling to Relegation Lifeline
At the home of Hamburger SV, there is a clock. It does not tell the time, nor does it count down; rather, it counts up, currently adding seconds and minutes to 50 years, 259 days—the time that this historic club has spent in the top flight. The Dinosaur, as they are known, are the only club that has never been relegated from the Bundesliga, and they will have one final chance to save themselves from the unthinkable.
Five points behind 15th-placed VfB Stuttgart with only one match to go, Hamburg knew that they could not save themselves against Mainz, but put up a spirited fight that bodes well for their playoff chances. One of the surprises of the season, Mainz boasted a good home record and were the fifth best team of the Rückrunde, and showed their class throughout the match. Hamburg were not to be daunted, though, and fought to the bitter end, 3-2.
Making his first start in five matches, club top scorer Pierre-Michel Lasogga came to his team’s rescue after they went down 1-0 in the seventh minute due to some shoddy defending. With 12 goals to his name already, Lasogga charged into the box to head the ball home after a lovely shot from Rafael Van der Vaart rebounded off the Mainz keeper’s feet. Despite their spirit, however, Hamburg were simply outclassed. Mainz showed their superior quality first with a lovely piece of footwork from Ja-Cheol Koo that set up a lovely long-distance goal by Yunus Malli. Then, in the 82nd minute, club top scorer Shinji Okazaki added a brilliant individual goal to his tally of 15 for the season. To their credit, Hamburg responded only two minutes after a great cross from Petr Jiracek found Ivo Ilicevic.
Staving off automatic relegation by one point, Hamburg will face Greuther Fürth in a two-leg playoff. Mirko Slomka will take heart from his team’s final league performance, and will hope that his players show the same spirit and heart to keep their famous stadium clock ticking.
Elsewhere in the Bundesliga…
VfB conceded yet another last-gasp goal to lose 1-0 to champions Bayern, while Schalke added humiliation to Nürnberg’s relegation by drubbing them, 4-1. Bayer Leverkusen held onto fourth place and the Champions League with a 2-1 win over Bremen, and Hannover and Freiburg fought out an entertaining duel, 3-2. Hoffenheim denied Eintracht Braunschweig a last Bundesliga hurrah, defeating the bottom club, 3-1, while Augsburg beat Frankfurt, 2-1. Borussia Dortmund stormed to an emphatic 4-0 win over Hertha Berlin, with two goals from the departing Robert Lewandowski. The only sour note for Jürgen Klopp was Marco Reus’ substitution for injury in the 70th minute. The manager will need his star player firing on all cylinders in the German Cup final a week from now.
- This is the first time Robert Lewandowski has finished as Bundesliga top scorer, despite the fact that his tally of 20 goals is his lowest in three years.
- Barcelona-bound goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen, 22, made his final appearance for Borussia Mönchengladbach, having started at the club at the age of four. In total, he played a 3060 minutes in the league on the first team.
- While the rest of the league managed an average of nine crosses on Saturday, Mainz registered a whopping 26.
- Eintracht Braunschweig were the only club of the bottom four that did not change trainers all season.
- Bayern officially celebrated their 24th German title with beer showers and confetti. Twenty-three of those titles have come in the 51-year Bundesliga era alone.
Goal of the Week
Robert Lewandowski said goodbye to his league career with Dortmund by scoring a sublime free kick in the 80th minute. With Marco Reus out with injury, the Bayern-bound striker sent the ball spinning into the left corner of the net so beautifully it begged the question why he hadn’t taken free kicks before. The goal, his second on the night, sealed his spot as league top scorer and highlighted just how much BVB will miss him.