Bundesliga Permutations: The race for Europe and the battle to beat the drop

Bundesliga Permutations: The race for Europe and the battle to beat the drop

There is still much to be decided on the final matchday, with Europa League spots up for grabs and Hamburg and Wolfsburg meet to avoid the relegation play-off.

James Rees

The final day of the 2016-17 season in the Bundesliga is sadly upon us, however there is still much left up for grabs in the final nine games to be played on Saturday.

The top two positions are already set in stone, with Bayern Munich confirmed as champions and RB Leipzig will finish behind them in second. The two automatic relegation spots are also settled, with FC Ingolstadt 04 and SV Darmstadt 98 both down after two seasons in the top flight.

However the other European spots remain undetermined, whilst the battle to avoid the relegation play-off reaches a dramatic crescendo. Here we take a look at who needs what on the final day.

Dortmund and Hoffenheim battle for automatic Champions League spot

Borussia Dortmund and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim are both guaranteed to finish in the top four, but the third and final group stage spot is yet to be decided. Dortmund are ahead of Hoffenheim only on goal difference, with an advantage of four goals.

To finish third, Dortmund simply need to match Hoffenheim's result against FC Augsburg in their game against Werder Bremen. Hoffenheim need to either better the result of Dortmund (i.e. win if Dortmund draw, draw if Dortmund lose) or if they both win, somehow enforce a goal difference swing of four. That task would have been a lot easier if they hadn’t conceded three times to Bremen on Saturday after leading 5-0.

There is a situation though where the two sides could finish dead level. They have both conceded the same number of goals, but Dortmund have scored four more, which is also reflected in their goal difference. For example, if Dortmund beat Bremen by a single goal (i.e. 1-0) and Hoffenheim win by five goals whilst conceded as few as Dortmund (i.e. 5-0), they would be level on points, goal difference and goals scored.

In either of those eventualities, it would then go down to their head-to-head record to decide who finishes third, rather than a play-off as could be the case in England. The two sides drew in Hoffenheim, but Dortmund won at home just a couple of weeks earlier, meaning they would finish third if this were to happen.

Open race for the Europa League

Only fifth and sixth are currently UEFA Europa League spots, with the fifth-placed side going straight through to the group stages, and the other having to start at the Third Qualifying Round at the end of July. That all depends on the result of the DFB-Pokal final.

If Eintracht Frankfurt, who can't qualify for Europe otherwise, cause a major upset, they will also be in the group stages of the Europa League. If Dortmund win, the Europa League spot would defer back to the league, as runners-up can no longer take it instead. That would mean sixth being a group-stage spot, and seventh then leading to the qualifiers.

At present, Hertha BSC sit in fifth with a goal difference of 0, and would finish there with a win against out-of-form Bayer Leverkusen. SC Freiburg are a point back in sixth with a poor -15 goal difference. Realistically, Freiburg's best bet of fifth is to win their game and hope Hertha slip up. The trouble is though that they are themselves playing at champions Bayern.

Enter 1. FC Köln in seventh. They have to beat 1. FSV Mainz 05 to have any chance of finishing higher. If Hertha lose and Freiburg fail to win, they would snatch fifth - their goal difference is +7, so much better than both. If fifth proves unattainable, they would finish above Frieburg even if they managed a draw against Bayern.

Bremen could also finish as high as sixth, if Freiburg lose and Köln draw or lose, but they would have to become the first team to beat Dortmund in Dortmund for over two years to do it. Their best hope is to finish seventh and hope Dortmund then win in Berlin.

Borussia Mönchengladbach could also snatch seventh from fierce rivals Köln. They finish at home to Darmstadt, and as well as a victory themselves they need Köln to lose and Bremen not to win.

But what if Leipzig aren't allowed into Europe?

As has been widely reported, there is a possibility that Leipzig may not be allowed to compete in Europe. There are rules in place to prevent two clubs that are predominately run by the same party, and of course Red Bull is also heavily involvement in Austrian champions FC Red Bull Salzburg.

If the two clubs are unable to prove to UEFA that they are not adequately run as independent entities, thus providing a conflict-of-interest if they were to meet in either competition, then Leipzig would miss out on Europa as they finished a place lower in Germany than Salzburg did in the Austrian Bundesliga.

If that were to happen, each European place would go to the next side down. That means Dortmund and Hoffenheim would both go into the group stages of the Champions League, regardless of where they finish. The fifth-placed side would then be in the Champions League play-off round, and so on.

If Dortmund then won the Pokal, it would mean the eighth placed side would then sneak into the Europa League. That could be Schalke 04. They probably won’t be going all-out for eighth, but they would finish there if they beat Ingolstadt, Bremen lose and Gladbach fail to win. Their goal difference is better than that of both of those sides.

Hamburg and Wolfsburg favourites for dreaded play-off

Arguably the biggest game of the entire weekend will be in Hamburg, as Hamburger SV look to escape a third relegation play-off in four seasons with a victory over VfL Wolfsburg. They simply have to win - that is the only way they can escape the dreaded two-legged tie, most likely against Eintracht Braunschweig. Wolfsburg need only a draw to ensure their safety and that of the teams above them.

If Hamburg win, that's where things get interesting, as it wouldn't necessarily be Wolfsburg who drop into 16th place. They are currently level points with Mainz and Augsburg, however Mainz's goal difference is eight better than Wolfsburg's and seven ahead of Augsburg. Therefore they are safe, as long as they manage not to concede (at least) ten goals against Köln.

Augsburg aren't quite so lucky, but plenty would still need to go wrong for them if they are to slip back into the bottom three on the final day. As well as being one better than Wolfsburg on goal difference they have also scored two more goals. That means if Wolfsburg lost 1-0 to Hamburg, Augsburg would only drop below them if they lost by three goals or more against Hoffenheim.

If Wolfsburg made up the advantage in goals scored, say in a 3-2 defeat, an Augsburg 2-0 defeat would leave them level on points, goal difference and goals scored. It would then go down to their head-to-head record. Wolfsburg would have the advantage in that, as they beat Augsburg 2-0 and only lost 2-1.

Needless to say, a point or better for both Mainz and Augsburg would make a certainty of their survival, leaving it as a straight shootout between Hamburg and Wolfsburg.

Matchday 34 Fixtures

Bayern Munich vs SC Freiburg

Borussia Dortmund vs Werder Bremen

Borussia Mönchengladbach vs SV Darmstadt 98

Hertha BSC vs Bayer Leverkusen

1. FC Köln vs 1. FSV Mainz 05

Hamburger SV vs VfL Wolfsburg

FC Ingolstadt 04 vs Schalke 04

TSG 1899 Hoffenheim vs FC Augsburg

Eintracht Frankfurt vs RB Leipzig