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Bundesliga set for a relegation battle royale between some of biggest clubs | Bundesliga


This was meant to be the second-tier season to beat them all in Germany, and not just in a domestic context. Schalke and Werder Bremen filling the relegation places in May 2021 meant they joined Hamburg, Hannover, Fortuna Düsseldorf and Nürnberg in Bundesliga 2, before we even get to names such as St Pauli and Dynamo Dresden. This weekend, Werder won a five-goal thriller at Hamburg in the Nordderby to stay top of the table.

After a turbulent season which has included the departure of coach Markus Anfang after a federal investigation into him faking a vaccination certificate (for which he was eventually fined and banned by the DFB), Werder won’t be counting any chickens just yet. Whether they return to the top tier or not, it seems as if next season’s Bundesliga 2 will be even more laden with big names than the present one.

We are in for a layered and intense relegation battle, with all of the bottom six in the mix and some big names in serious trouble. The most desperate battle of the weekend was between direct competitors, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Wolfsburg, two clubs for whom the drop would be potentially ruinous. The contest swayed one way and then the other, like a drunk feeling for the edge of the bar for support. Gladbach flirted with costly failure, going 2-0 down in just over half an hour and then, after a vastly improved second-half showing, thought they had a winner when Matthias Ginter smashed the ball home in front of the Nord Kurve before referee Tobias Reichel and team cut the celebrations short, with Patrick Hermann penalised for an earlier foul on Jérôme Roussillon.

There were reasons for optimism all round with the way it ended – Florian Kohfeldt, buoyed by his team holding on after Maxence Lacroix’s red card, spoke of “a deserved, important point”, while Gladbach fed off coming from behind and from Marcus Thuram’s first goal of a hitherto very difficult season. Yet for all the what-could-have-beens, both sides knew a point doesn’t give them more than a smidgeon of breathing space – and that they were both, at various points, close to a damaging defeat.

Quick Guide

Bundesliga results

Show

Friday
Hoffenheim 2-1 Stuttgart

Saturday
Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 Arminia Bielefeld
Borussia M’gladbach 2-2 Wolfsburg
Eintracht Frankfurt 0-1 Bayern Munich
Freiburg 3-0 Hertha Berlin
Greuther Furth 1-1 1 Cologne
Union Berlin 3-1 Mainz

Sunday
Augsburg 1-1 Borussia Dortmund
VfL Bochum 0-1 RB Leipzig

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They also know that they are lucky to not be Hertha, who were beaten soundly at Freiburg, a less well-resourced reminder of what can be done with stability and competent planning. For the second successive week coach Tayfun Korkut talked of the result “not reflecting the game”, following the 6-1 home beating by Leipzig. After the late goal by Augsburg’s Noah Sarenren Bazee earned his team a point against Borussia Dortmund on Sunday, the Berliners are in the relegation playoff place.

Vincenzo Grifo of Freiburg scores his team’s first goal in the 3-0 defeat of Hertha Berlin, who were left in deep relegation trouble.
Vincenzo Grifo of Freiburg scores his team’s first goal in the 3-0 defeat of Hertha Berlin, who were left in deep relegation trouble. Photograph: Markus Gilliar/Getty Images

One of the few bright spots was the performance of 20-year-old debutant goalkeeper Marcel Lotka, with Korkut “very happy” with his performance – but Kicker reported on Monday that the Poland under-21 international is set to join Borussia Dortmund on the expiration of his contract this summer. Despite Hertha being yet to win in 2022, Korkut appears to be safe until the end of the season at least, with head of sport Fredi Bobic backing him and turning focus on to the players who have “great contracts”, as he told Sport 1’s Doppelpass on Sunday. “Now,” continued Bobic, “they have to be held accountable.”

Even worse off are Stuttgart, whose heartbreaking late loss at Hoffenheim on Friday night – after a Wataru Endo opener they led until the 85th minute, upon which they conceded twice to Christoph Baumgartner – made it nine games without a win and left them in increasing danger of what would be a third relegation in seven years. Like his counterpart Korkut, Pellegrino Matarazzo defended his players. “We played well, were 1-0 up and went home empty-handed,” said Materazzo. “This is extremely difficult to take.”

While Hertha can’t complain of a lack of resources, Stuttgart have had to deal with a series of personnel issues, adding to their longstanding boardroom wranglings. Gregor Kobel and Nicolás González left for combined fees of over €40m in the summer, and a young team has been further decimated by injuries to key players. Silas Katompa Mvumpa didn’t return from an ACL injury until November and having showed flashes of his old form recently, he badly dislocated his shoulder against Bochum last week – following surgery, he will miss the rest of the season. Having scored 16 times last season, frequent injury niggles have limited man-mountain striker Sasa Kalajdzic to just four Bundesliga starts. His flick for Endo’s goal underlined what an important attacking conduit he is.

Materazzo and company face Gladbach next in Saturday’s Top-Spiel. “It’s time we rewarded ourselves,” said the coach defiantly but, with only 10 games left, it feels like next season’s second tier will be even more of a battle royale than this edition, come what may in both divisions’ closing weeks.

Talking points

The fallout continues in Dortmund after the embarrassing Europa League elimination to Rangers, with spirits hardly lifted by the concession of that equaliser at Augsburg on Sunday after Thorgan Hazard’s stylish opener – meaning the gap with Bayern Munich at the top widened to eight points. It was less the result in Bavaria – “the lads got the most out of what was in the tank today, said Marco Rose, with some justification after Thursday night’s exertions in Glasgow – but the sense of deja vu that nagged, with little left to play for and already the sense that sporting director-to-be Sebastian Kehl has a big job on his hands, which might include showing the door to his former teammates and club totems Marco Reus and Mats Hummels if a report in Saturday’s Bild is to be believed.

Bayern won by a single Leroy Sané goal at Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday evening, in which they were improved – if still imperfect – defensively, but the question of the future hangs over the champions too, with Robert Lewandowski, Manuel Neuer and Thomas Müller having contract issues to be addressed. Sporting director Hasan Salihamdzic told Sky that losing Lewandowski was “out of the question”, though the Poland striker (who wore an armband in the colours of Ukraine’s flag on the day his country said they would refuse to play Russia in the World Cup qualifying play-off) later replied it was “the first I’ve heard of it”.

As well as Lewandowski’s armband, there were a series of other gestures in support of Ukraine across the Bundesliga weekend starting at Hoffenheim on Friday night, while Schalke announced on Monday morning that they would “end the club’s partnership with Gazprom prematurely”, having already removed the Russian state-owned energy company’s name from the shirts before the weekend draw at Karlsruhe. Meanwhile Köln’s board and a group of supporters spent Monday’s day of Karneval at a peace demonstration in the city’s Chlodwigplatz.

Leipzig are still in the fourth Champions League place thanks to Christopher Nkunku’s clinically taken late winner at Bochum – a game in which the home side caused a series of problems for Domenico Tedesco’s team – and with wins for Freiburg and Hoffenheim too, positions four, five and six are all on 40 points, with Union Berlin just three behind after a 3-1 win over Mainz, ending their dodgy post-Max Kruse run and garlanded by Sheraldo Becker’s curling beauty from range.



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