This year, the Bundesliga relegation battle is a bit like a league within its own little league this season, with just six points separating 1. FC Köln in ninth and Eintracht Frankfurt in 17th, assuming that Hannover 96 are already down and out in 18th placed, ten points adrift with seven games remaining.
At the same stage last season, six points separated 18th (VfB Stuttgart) and 14th (SC Freiburg), but come the end of the season, the latter team was relegated and Huub Stevens’ Stuttgart survived the drop.
The 2014/2015 Bundesliga season saw 35 points deem a club safe, with Hamburger SV finishing in the relegation play-off which saw the only club to never be relegated from the Bundesliga beat Karlsruher SC in a tense affair.
1. FC Köln and FC Ingolstadt 04 likely to be safe
Peter Stöger’s Köln may look safe in ninth, but with just two wins in the Rückrunde, can Anthony Modeste & Co. keep the Billy Goats safe? Highly likely, but they need to pose more of an attack going forward having scored just 28 goals in 27 Bundesliga games.
Timo Horn and Jonas Hector have both been linked with a move away, but both players will be instrumental in keeping their side in the Bundesliga for a third consecutive season.
FC Ingolstadt 04 are another club who are likely to be safe from the drop, but still find in mathematically possible to go down. Very much like Köln, the 2. Bundesliga champions don’t offer much in terms of going forward, but do pose a fairly healthy defensive record at home.
VfB Stuttgart a joy to watch
As touched on, Stuttgart defied all odds last season and pulled off a miracle, but that won’t be needed this season. Die Schwaben have no problem in front of goal, having scored on 43 occasions this season – six more goals than third placed Hertha Berlin.
Stuttgart’s problems remain at the back but with games against SV Darmstadt 98, FC Augsburg and Werder Bremen still to come, it’s unlikely that either of them clubs will cause a problem for Jürgen Kramny, whose biggest test will be keeping his star players such as Filip Kostic.
After starting well, Bruno Labbadia sees his Hamburg side just four points behind 17th placed Eintracht, and with Borussia Dortmund, VfL Wolfsburg and a Nordderby left to play against Werder Bremen, HSV could be brought right into the thick of it.
Following a 3-1 defeat against relegation rivals TSG 1899 Hoffenheim before the international break, Labbadia told reporters that his side “remain calm and collected regardless of the situation,” and that they will “work very hard” ahead of their upcoming game against Hannover 96.
Barring Köln, HSV have the best goal difference (-7) in the bottom half of the Bundesliga. Labbadia has recently signed a new contract extension and things are starting to look up for Hamburg – who have suffered a torrid time of late.
Do SV Darmstadt 98 have what it takes?
Thirteenth to 17th really is where things start to get interesting. Just one point separates Darmstadt and Eintracht. Again, presuming Hannover's impending relegation, of the remaining five teams, all but one have six wins to their name this season.
Darmstadt’s next four games will really show fans of the Bundesliga where they’re at in terms of stability. A home game against free-scoring Stuttgart and a tricky trip to Hamburg kick-starts their April, before finishing with games against Ingolstadt and Köln.
Claudio Pizarro is single-handily likely to keep Werder Bremen’s top flight hopes alive, should he remain fit. However, bad news for Bremen fans – the Peruvian hitman “felt a twinge” in his back during the international break. Whilst a diagnosis is yet to be made, Bremen’s top foreign striker could miss out against Borussia Dortmund.
Nine points from the remaining seven games should see Bremen safe, but with Augsburg, HSV and Eintracht still to come, it could be the final day of the season which seals the fate of either Bremen or Eintracht.
A nine or three team relegation battle?
The Bundesliga really is known for its unpredictability. Last season saw Augsburg, Hoffenheim and Eintracht battle it out for a place in Europe, but now they’re all battling it out for a place in Germany’s top flight.
All three teams have conceded 43 goals this season, but it’s Eintracht who look the least inspiring of the remaining three.
Europa League exit to Liverpool has done Augsburg the world of good. Nine goals in five games shows that the team don’t have trouble scoring, but throwing away a three-goal lead against Bayer Leverkusen perhaps shows that Markus Weinzierl’s players don’t have the concentration they had last season.
Julian Nagelsmann replaced Stevens earlier than expected after the former-Schalke 04, Stuttgart and Hoffenheim manager retired after health issues. Nagelsmann a breath of fresh air for Hoffenheim? Perhaps. Hoffenheim promoted the Under-19s coach who now has four Bundesliga victories to his name. The Sinsheim club are playing attractive football under their new coach, and with the guidance of his elders, Nagelsmann could be the man to further Hoffenheim.
Meanwhile, Eintracht have already sacked Armin Veh and replaced him with Niko Kovac, who faces an uphill battle to keep his new side in the Bundesliga. Apart from their 1-0 victory over Hannover prior to the international break, Eintracht players will have to go back to the end of January to find their last three points.
The Bundesliga has plenty of questions to ask
So, as the Bundesliga season comes to a close – with the title likely going to Bayern Munich, the fight to stay in the top flight is all to play for. Can Eintracht Frankfurt battle the odds and do what Stuttgart did last year? Will Hoffenheim or Augsburg go down after battling for Europe last season, or will Köln or Ingolstadt fall in a slump when they need to start finding the net?
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