As the Bundesliga heads into its final stretch, there’s plenty to fight for on both ends of the table, with three Champions League spots up for grabs and a relegation struggle about to turn ugly. Catch all the action on Matchday 29.
Stuttgart and Freiburg Fight for Survival in Southwest Derby
VfB Stuttgart are in trouble. Clinging to 16th place by the infinitesimal margin of one goal in goal difference, one of the Bundesliga’s historic clubs needs mettle, talent, and an enormous serving of luck to avoid relegation. They will hope for all three when they host 14th-placed SC Freiburg on Saturday in what is not only a crucial six-pointer but also a derby. With merely one win to their name in the Rückrunde and only six games left, Stuttgart have to pick up three points here to have any realistic chance of staying up. As the season winds down, both sides have yet to face Gladbach, Schalke, and Wolfsburg—and Stuttgart have the extra treat of Bayern—making this afternoon clash vital for both halves of Baden-Württemberg in their struggle for survival.
After flirting with relegation all season, Freiburg now find themselves five points above their Swabian neighbors and the drop. Unlike VfB, who have an unfortunate habit of giving it all against top teams and playing badly against teams around them, Freiburg have strung together four solid results against other struggling sides, including a dramatic 3-2 win over Nürnberg that ended in a war of words between trainers Christian Streich and Jan Verbeek. Though they are far from safe, Freiburg will go into this clash on better form and confident that they can extend their lead over the relegation pack.
While the Baden-Württemberg derby is not as heated or famous as some others, in the past year the rivalry has intensified after Stuttgart dumped Freiburg out of the German Cup semi-final last year, only to be eliminated by Freiburg this year in the same competition. In the reverse fixture in the Bundesliga, Stuttgart’s young star, Timo Werner, scored two magnificent goals to put the tie beyond Freiburg, 3-1. But the 18-year-old will probably not have the chance to replicate that performance this weekend; he is yet to start under Huub Stevens and will likely stay on the bench after Ibrahima Traoré’s sterling performance against Dortmund last weekend. VfB will also be without defender Georg Niedermeier, who is serving a match ban after his red card against BVB.
This one is too close to call and could go either way, making it a savory tie for the neutral. With everything to play for, both sides should throw all they have into the match—not just for regional pride, but for survival.
VfB Stuttgart: Ulreich—Sakai, Schwaab, Rüdiger, Boka—Gentner, Gruezo—Harnik, Didavi, Traoré—Ibisevic
SC Freiburg: Baumann—Günter, Krmas, Ginter, Sorg—Schmid, Darida, Fernandes, Klaus—Guedé, Mehmedi
VfB Stuttgart 2-1 SC Freiburg
Dortmund and Wolfsburg Practice for the German Cup
April will make or break Dortmund’s season: the Champions League semifinal looks beyond them, but the race for second place in the Bundesliga, as well as a spot in the German Cup final, are very much alive. To get to either, BVB have to overcome VfL Wolfsburg, a team on the rise with very serious Champions League aspirations. With their eyes on fourth, a spot held nervously by Leverkusen, Wolfsburg have everything to play for and will try to exploit BVB’s fatigue after their midweek European exertions.
While Dortmund are often unable to balance domestic and European competition, they will take this clash seriously, as it will help them stave off Schalke for another week, and give them a boost ahead of their German Cup tie against Wolfsburg 10 days later. Jürgen Klopp welcomes back Robert Lewandowski, who missed the Madrid clash due to suspension, and will likely deploy a full-strength squad instead of resting the likes of Nuri Sahin, Sebastian Kehl, or Marco Reus. The speedy winger is coming off his first hat-trick this season after last weekend’s demolition of Stuttgart, and Klopp will hope that he, Lewandowski, and Mkhitaryan have their shooting boots on. Too much of this season has been spent rueing missed chances, and BVB simply cannot afford to keep wasting opportunities.
After a strong run, Wolfsburg are currently on shaky form: they lost to Hoffenheim and Bayern, drew against Braunschweig and Augsburg, and though their last two results were both victories, they came against inferior sides Werder Bremen and Frankfurt. In the Hinrunde, however, they managed to beat Dortmund, 2-1, with a perfect goal by striker Ivaca Olic and a nightmare, season-ending injury to Neven Subotic that heralded the beginning of Dortmund’s injury crisis and subsequent decline.
Dieter Hecking’s men will not go down without a fight, and BVB should be extremely wary of the attacking threat posed by the likes of Olic, 19-year-old Maximilian Arnold, former Dortmund player Ivan Perisic, and former Dortmund target Kevin de Bruyne. The fixtures come thick and fast for Dortmund, with a game every three days, but they must bear down for the last few weeks of the season to show that while Bayern may have won the league, they too have made progress. A win against Wolfsburg would be a great step towards that goal.
Borussia Dortmund: Weidenfeller—Piszczek, Sokratis, Hummels, Durm—Sahin, Kehl—Großkreutz, Mkhitaryan, Reus—Lewandowski
VfL Wolfsburg: Grün—Träsch, Naldo, Knoche, Rodriguez—Malanda, Luiz Gustavo—de Bruyne, Arnold, Perisic—Olic
Borussia Dortmund 3-1 VfL Wolfsburg
Elsewhere in the Bundesliga…
Much is at stake on Friday night, as fourth-placed Bayer Leverkusen look to stay in the Champions League and Hamburg, toiling in 17th, hope to claw their way out of relegation. On Saturday, Schalke seem set to keep the pressure on Dortmund when they travel to Werder Bremen, while the season’s overachievers, Augsburg, seek to stop champions Bayern in their quest for their perfect season. Fifteenth-placed Nürnberg will hope for the best when they face Borussia Mönchengladbach, and Frankfurt host Mainz in mid-table. On Sunday, in-form Eintracht Braunschweig could take another three points against Hannover, and finally, expect lots of goals when Hertha Berlin host free-scoring (and conceding) Hoffenheim.