Freiburg are daring to dream of the top four and UEFA Champions League qualification. - © Imago
Freiburg are daring to dream of the top four and UEFA Champions League qualification. - © Imago

5 reasons Freiburg can finish in the top four and qualify for the UEFA Champions League


Not Borussia Dortmund, not RB Leipzig - but Freiburg. Christian Streich's surprise package are Bayern Munich's closest pursuers heading into the second half of the season. explains why they can hold firm and qualify for the UEFA Champions League for the first time...

1) No pressure

When Freiburg briefly went top of the Bundesliga earlier this season, Streich was still speaking in terms of "top-flight survival". Although they are just four points behind leaders Bayern and three better off than UEFA Europa League holders Eintracht Frankfurt in fourth after 15 of 34 matches, the Freiburg coach is unlikely to have revised his team's objective. For a club relegated to the second tier as recently as 2015, a second successive year of European club football would be a welcome bonus, but is by no means expected.

That in itself is a huge advantage over the teams around them, encumbered by the demands of finishing in the European places. Die Breisgauer ultimately finished sixth last term, but managed to stay in top-four contention until the final day. "If we continue this way and pull it off come Matchday 34, I won't be here talking to you," joked midfielder Maximilian Eggestein, floating the idea of a party he and the entire city of Freiburg want to be part of.

Christian Streich's ensemble have become one of the toughest nuts to crack in the Bundesliga. - IMAGO/Kirchner/Marco Steinbrenner/IMAGO/Kirchner-Media

2) Streich - Germany's most underrated coach

It'd be worth the ticket just to find out what Streich has to say. After all, this is a man who's more likely to talk to the press about regional politics, history and environmental issues over his own success story. And it's quite the fairy-tale. Since making the step up from the assistant's role in December 2011, the Bundesliga's longest-serving incumbent coach has taken the club off the foot of the table when he took charge, into Europe, twice to the brink of the Champions League, and to their first major final (last season's DFB Cup). When they were relegated at the end of 2014/15, he masterminded their immediate return as Bundesliga 2 champions, ahead of RB Leipzig.

"To me, good football means having variation in your build-up play and being well-organised in terms of your positioning," Streich says of the philosophy that has transformed Freiburg from minnows to top-flight force to be reckoned with. "We want to play football ourselves, not sit back and defend, regardless of who we’re playing against. We'd prefer to lose than just sit deep and defend, because that's the way we play and that's what we want."

Watch: Christian Streich's Freiburg and fellow high-flying underdogs Union Berlin under the tactical lens

3) The blueprint

The proof is in the Black Forest gateau. Freiburg have 30 points on the board so far this season, the product of nine wins, three draws and three defeats after 15 rounds of fixtures - and five more than at the same stage in 2021/22. Although they've scored only a smidgen over half as many goals as Bayern (25/ 49), Streich's side are vying with the record champions for the division's best defensive record. They've shipped 17 to Bayern's 13, with five of those falling away to the men from Munich on a rare off-day. More in keeping with the Streich blueprint, Die Breisgauer are out on their own on a league-leading eight clean sheets. Bad news indeed for the chasing pack.

4) Strength in depth

Freiburg don't look like losing focus, either. They sailed through UEFA Europa League Group G prior to the winter break, going unbeaten to top the section ahead of Nantes, Qarabag and Olympiacos. Regardless of the potentially eight play-off victors they could face over two legs in the round of 16, Streich has the tools to get the job done - without damaging his side's domestic prospects. The Freiburg boss rotated heavily during the groups, drawing on a talent pool that includes young fringe players such as Robert Wagner (19) and veteran striker Nils Petersen (34). Of the six Bundesliga fixtures that immediately followed Thursday night football in Europe, Die Breisgauer lost only one - to Bayern. They also followed up DFB Cup first- and second-round wins with a pair of Bundesliga victories, despite being taken to extra-time on both occasions.

Watch: Vincenzo Grifo scored a hat-trick as Freiburg ended 2022 in second place

5) Grifo - the talisman

That's not to say Freiburg don't have a star player. Vincenzo Grifo - very much a 'Streich guy', enjoying his third stint under the 57-year-old tactician at the Baden-Württemberg outfit - has had a team-leading hand in 11 of Freiburg's 25 Bundesliga goals after 15 matches. He's scored nine, which is already as many as he produced in each of the previous two campaigns. It might be a touch reductive, but Freiburg could be as many as 11 points worse off and down in ninth place, without his output in the final third. If the Italy international can continue his career-best form, Freiburg have every chance of producing a club-best finish.