Heading towards the final six rounds of fixtures in the 2020/21 Bundesliga season, the competition is fierce at both ends of the table but it’s those at the bottom that have the most riding on the run-in as they fight for their top-flight survival.
bundesliga.com has the lowdown...
Goal difference: -14
Remaining fixtures: Mainz (a), Freiburg (h), Schalke (a), Arminia Bielefeld (h), Cologne (h), Hoffenheim (a)
Hertha's remaining games show just how crucial the final weeks of the season will be and that this year's relegation battle is set to go to the wire. They have visits to Mainz and Schalke, as well as home outings against Arminia Bielefeld and Cologne spread out across four of their final six fixtures. With just two wins in their last 13 (D3, L8), Pal Dardai will know the importance of improving that run as soon as possible before showdowns with their nearest rivals.
Key man: Krzysztof Piatek
The Berliners slipped from 12th on Matchday 16 to third bottom - and the relegation play-off place - nine games later but they've started to pull clear again thanks to one defeat in their last five (W2, D2, L1). They need to address their issues in front of goal, however, and quickly, which is where Piatek comes into the equation. The Poland international arrived at the club to much fanfare in January last year but has scored just 10 times in 40 top-flight appearances since. He clearly has immense talent and is the team’s joint-top scorer with six. Should he come good on that over the coming weeks, Hertha will have a strong chance of staying up.
Goal difference: -24
Remaining fixtures: Augsburg (a), Schalke (h), Borussia Mönchengladbach (a), Hertha Berlin (a), Hoffenheim (h), Stuttgart (a)
Bielefeld also play teams around them before the season is out, hosting Schalke on Matchday 30 and taking on Hertha in the capital on Matchday 32. Their victory over Bayer Leverkusen was a real boost for the club, ending a seven-game run without victory (D2, L5) and lifting them out of the bottom three for the first time since Matchday 19 in the process. Fighting back to draw 1-1 with Mainz on Matchday 27 gives them every chance of pulling away from the mire, with their 1-0 win over Freiburg to open Matchday 28 lifting them out of the relegation zone again.
Key man: Ritsu Doan
Doan was on the scoresheet as Bielefeld left the BayArena with all three points, and his role over the next two and a half months is going to be crucial. The on-loan Japan international has scored four times this season and when he finds the back of the net, Bielefeld tend to win. His strike against Bayern Munich was the only one of Doan’s quartet of league goals that didn’t end in victory and last season’s Bundesliga 2 champions will be hoping the 22-year-old continues to show a Midas touch between now and the end of the campaign. If divine intervention does get involved, his deflected effort which earned victory over Freiburg on Matchday 28 suggests somebody is looking down fondly on Doan and Bielefeld.
Position: 16th (relegation play-off)
Goal difference: -19
Remaining fixtures: Cologne (a), Hertha Berlin (h), Werder Bremen (a), Bayern Munich (h), Eintracht Frankfurt (a), Borussia Dortmund (h), Wolfsburg (a)
Mainz's resurgence has been highly impressive, winning five of their last 10 (D3, L2) to give themselves a real chance of retaining their Bundesliga status. That is some very handy looking form ahead of what look like make-or-break games against Cologne and Hertha. Going to 12th-place Bremen also represents a good chance of picking up points, even more so as their final four matches of the season pit them against champions Bayern and three more of the top six.
Key man: Danny da Costa
It is no coincidence that Mainz's upturn has fallen since Da Costa joined the club on-loan from Frankfurt in at the end of the winter transfer window. Da Costa has been excellent operating from the wing-back berth on the right, and Mainz have not only collected 18 points from a possible 30 since his arrival but also recorded three clean sheets, compared to just the one from 17 matches prior to signing the 27-year-old.
Position: 17th (automatic relegation)
Goal difference: -22
Remaining fixtures: Mainz (h), Bayer Leverkusen (a), RB Leipzig (h), Augsburg (a), Freiburg (h), Hertha Berlin (a), Schalke (h)
Cologne have lost four of their last six, having won three out of four prior to the Billy Goats' latest run that leaves them at risk of slipping back into the second division for the first time since 2018. Their fixture list doesn't look too kind either, with matches against two of the top six to come. They do, however, also face three of the other teams in this list, and the outcome of matches against Mainz, Hertha and Schalke could swing their season either way.
Key man: Max Meyer
Four-time Germany international Meyer has been eased into the first-team picture at Cologne since joining the club in January but starts in the Matchday 24 draw with Werder Bremen and defeat at Union Berlin a week later have proven his fitness. The 25-year-old could well hold the creative key in Cologne’s midfield, unlocking their upcoming opposition for a side that has the third-worst attack in the league.
Position: 18th (automatic relegation)
Goal difference: -54
Remaining fixtures: Augsburg (h), Freiburg (a), Arminia Bielefeld (a), Hertha Berlin (h), Hoffenheim (a), Eintracht Frankfurt (h), Cologne (a)
The Royal Blues are now 13 points adrift of Cologne in the relegation play-off place and time is rapidly running out for Schalke to pull off what would be a pretty miraculous escape. Their run-in is far from an impossible task, however. Basement showdowns with Bielefeld, Hertha and Cologne across three of the final five matchdays, which includes a trip to Hoffenheim - the only side they have beaten so far this season - will be key, but only if new head coach Dimitrios Grammozis can get to that point still with a mathematical chance of survival.
Key man: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar
The Dutch striker scored one and had a goal ruled out in defeat to Leverkusen on Matchday 27. It was his first start since returning to the club, and will have given Schalke fans a glimmer of hope in their bid to pull off the greatest of escapes. He scored 126 times across 240 appearances in blue between 2010 and 2016 - and if anyone is capable of improving the most goal-shy attack in the division, it is the man with nearly 300 league goals to his name.
Watch: Huntelaar's Top 5 Schalke goals