It’s the last set of Bundesliga fixtures before the international break, which will put an end to the momentum of some high-flying teams in Germany while acting as a welcome respite for others.
Matchday 26 gets underway on Friday night in Ostwestfalen as Arminia Bielefeld, fresh off their victory against Bayer Leverkusen, welcome 2nd place RB Leipzig. Amongst the best of Saturday’s action includes champions Bayern Munich hosting the ever-impressive VfB Stuttgart and Borussia Dortmund taking on 1. FC Kӧln at the Rhein-Energie Stadion. On that day will also be this weekend's Topspiel, which features rock-bottom Schalke 04 facing off against a team in almost as bad as a run of form in Borussia Mӧnchengladbach. Sunday afternoon lays host to another two teams desperate for a win, as Hertha Berlin and Bayer Leverkusen fight for three valuable points in the capital.
Here are three things to look out for across the Bundesliga on Matchday 26.
Schalke to provide the perfect opportunity for Gladbach to end their barren run
With last week’s defeat away to FC Augsburg - their seventh loss in a row in all competitions - and the allure of the Champions League becoming more distant by the week, morale is low amongst Gladbach's players, staff, and fans alike. Rumours have now begun to surface about the possible premature dismissal of Dortmund-bound head coach Marco Rose, who currently set to leave at the end of the campaign.
Die Fohlen have a host of attacking talent amongst their armoury, including the likes of Alassane Pléa, Marcus Thuram, and captain Lars Stindl. The goals have dried up dramatically as of late, though, which has contributed severely to their downfall. Gladbach have scored 11 goals less than they had done at this stage of last season while conceding nine more, and they are now no less than 11 points off of Champions League qualification.
It’s been Pléa, the 28-year-old Frenchman, who has suffered the most recently, which has been noted by his manager, “He’s got unbelievable qualities, but he’s just finding in difficult at the moment,” said Rose this week, “He’s not been so successful in key shooting moments as we would have liked”. Rose still has no doubts about Pléa’s talents, though. “Against Augsburg, he played with great intensity, did a lot for the team and created good spaces for himself. If he keeps going, he’ll start scoring goals again, I’m absolutely certain.”
However, Saturday night’s trip to Gelsenkirchen against a side in Schalke, who have now conceded 66 goals in 25 matches, should provide an opportunity for Die Fohlen's underperforming attacking unit to regain some form.
The race for the remaining Champions League spots to continue to heat up
With Bayern and Leipzig all but guaranteed the top two spots in the Bundesliga this season, it's the remaining berths which look to be fought over the most ferociously. The three sides currently involved in the race for 4th place all have winnable games this weekend, so the pressure is certainly on each of them to not mess up.
Eintracht Frankfurt face a stern test in Union Berlin, who themselves remain in the pursuit of European football next season despite Max Kruse stating that he has “no desire” to play in UEFA’s proposed Conference League. Die Adler are yet to record a win in their last three matches, though, and they now have Dortmund breathing down their necks, so Adi Hütter will need a good performance from his side in order to keep their challengers at bay.
Dortmund, meanwhile, travel to Kӧln in what should be an easy victory on paper. However, playing against teams with a low defensive block has been something of an Achilles heel for Die Schwarzgelben this season, which was made clear in their 2-1 defeat in the reverse fixture against the Billy Goats. Another slip-up this weekend could put an end to Dortmund's pursuit of Europe, which they have fought so hard to salvage.
Bayer Leverkusen, despite being on a very poor run of form and only winning one of their last seven competitive games, find themselves just about clinging on to hope of Champions League qualification. With this in mind, Die Werkself travel to Berlin knowing a win is vital if they want to remain in the hunt for the top four. Hertha, on the other hand, have been one of the most disappointing teams of the season. Die Alte Dame have invested nearly €250 million on players in recent years, yet they find themselves in the midst of a relegation scrap. Berlin will be desperate to pick up all three points this weekend, and the return of Matheus Cunha to the starting XI could prove to be crucial.
Bielefeld to throw a spanner in the works of the title race?
Arminia Bielefeld hosting title-challenging RB Leipzig may have been seen as a non-contest in favour of the visitors a few weeks ago. However, under new boss Frank Kramer, they have looked far more positive, picking up four points in their last three games, including an impressive win in their most recent outing versus Leverkusen. Die Blauen have also shown themselves to be capable against the top sides, with the thrilling 3-3 draw away at Bayern Munich being the best example of this.
Like Dortmund, Leipzig have also struggled against smaller sides, dropping points against Mainz 05 and Kӧln this season. As a result, Julian Nagelsmann and his team will certainly have their work cut out for them if they are to keep the title race going on for another week. With key players also out, including Angeliño and Dayot Upamecano, this game may turn to be closer than it might appear at first glance.