HomeSportsFootballRelegation fight, Lewandowski's bid for history, race for Europe highlight Bundesliga's drama-filled...

Relegation fight, Lewandowski’s bid for history, race for Europe highlight Bundesliga’s drama-filled final day

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ESPN’s lead Bundesliga commentator Derek Rae says although the title and Champions League place have been confirmed in Germany, the final matchday promises to be an absolute thriller at the lower end of the table. That’s not the only remaining drama either.

I must confess to being a huge fan of simultaneous kick-off times. That might sound like a strange thing for a commentator to say because when working on live games, we must remain committed to the one we’re covering as opposed to bouncing between matches as fans are free to do.

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There is something irresistible about the drama of shared final day excitement affecting different teams in separate locations. As you would expect, the German language has a word for this, a Fernduell, which translates to a long-distance duel.

There will be three such Saturday duels in the Bundesliga affecting clubs in relegation trouble, in order of current comfort levels: Arminia Bielefeld (32 points), Werder Bremen (31 points) and FC Koln (30 points). One of them will be safe, one will fall into the relegation play-off against the third-placed side from the second tier, while the Bundesliga axe will drop on the lowest positioned member of the troubled trio.

As it stands that would be Koln, a hugely proud, traditional club but with a recent history of being a Fahrstuhlmannschaft (an “elevator team” that goes up and down between the top two divisions). Effzeh are at home to already relegated Schalke, which on the face of it provides hope that they can leapfrog the other two and secure guaranteed safety. But Schalke, liberated from their own on-pitch burdens, let loose on fifth-placed Eintracht Frankfurt last week, their 4-3 win serving as a warning that Koln shouldn’t expect an easy ride.

What Koln and Bielefeld have in common is that they both made coaching changes when there was still time for the new appointments to make a tangible difference: Friedhelm Funkel and Frank Kramer coming in for Markus Gisdol and Uwe Neuhaus, respectively. Bremen in contrast, stuck stoically to Florian Kohfeldt, thus repeating their loyalty policy from last season when Kohfeldt kept them up after a tightly-contested play-off against Heidenheim.

However, with a week remaining, Bremen have gone in a new…well actually an old direction. After gathering just one point from nine matches during a dismal run under Kohfeldt, youth has made way for considerably more experience.

They don’t come any more seasoned in Bremen than Thomas Schaaf, for 14 years their head coach and mastermind of the Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal double-winning season in 2003-2004. Schaaf also spent his entire playing career with the Werderaner, where he won the Meisterschale and Pokal twice each.

Now Schaaf is tasked with getting Bremen out of a mess he had no part in creating. Can a respected coach change a team’s wretched trajectory in just a week? We’re going to find out when Bremen host Borussia Monchengladbach, with or without the diamond formation Schaaf is synonymous with!

Bielefeld, last season’s promotion heroes travel to the team that ascended with them in 2020, VfB Stuttgart, knowing that at least they have control of the board. A win for the team from Ostwestfalen will guarantee their presence in the Bundesliga next season. But it could just as easily go the wrong way and Arminia could find themselves in the playoff or even going down.

The problem for Bielefeld and Bremen is that their opponents have something to play for. The UEFA Conference League might not seem like the greatest prize of all but it’s still a feather in a coach’s cap to qualify for Europe.

That is especially true for Union Berlin coach Urs Fischer who has to be a candidate for coach of the year in the Bundesliga. In only their second season in the top-flight, Union (47 points) remarkably are on the cusp of Europe. They know that a win over RB Leipzig will get them there and will be boosted by 2,000 fans who have been given provisional permission to attend by the Berlin Senate.

However, Gladbach (46 points), Stuttgart (45 points) and Freiburg (who travel to Frankfurt are also on 45 points) are all in the running and are well aware they can pounce on any slip-up by the team from the southeastern part of the capital.

Union’s desire for fans, albeit in a limited capacity, stands in contrast with Holstein Kiel (62 points) who on Sunday could clinch promotion to the top flight for the first time. Kiel believe as a matter of solidarity and fairness to other sports clubs and organisations who can’t bring fans in, it wouldn’t be right to have what they see as an unfair advantage. So even though the local municipality sanctioned a small number of spectators attending the crucial home game against Darmstadt, Kiel have selflessly said no and won new admirers in the process.

If they and current 2. Bundesliga leaders VfL Bochum (63 points) win on Sunday (Bochum host Sandhausen), both will be promoted. But Greuther Furth (61 points) still have a chance and will be ready to strike against Fortuna Dusseldorf. At worst, Furth are guaranteed the play-off spot. Hamburg it should be noted must face a fourth year in the second division after a lamentable 3-2 defeat away to lowly Osnabruck. Not even one of the all-time greats, Horst Hrubesch, put in temporary charge, could rescue them.

Finally, if none of this Fernduell stuff is to your taste (but please sample some of it if you can!), there’s the not so small matter of Bayern Munich‘s Robert Lewandowski trying to make more history. Having matched the great Gerd Muller’s single season record of 40 goals from 1971-72, it’s natural to expect that the world’s best No. 9 will surpass it on Saturday against Augsburg.

Soak in the last Bundesliga weekend of this unique season, as there is still so much to enjoy.



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88E70B70D1Aa46A497A524Eca9E5C16A?S=96&D=Mm&R=G Relegation Fight, Lewandowski'S Bid For History, Race For Europe Highlight Bundesliga'S Drama-Filled Final Day
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