Munich - While the 2012/13 Bundesliga title race may well be settled once and for all this weekend, the jostling for a place in once of the remaining European berths promises to continue until the final Matchday.
Europe’s top table
With 21 points still to play for, there are just ten points separating FC Schalke 04 in fourth and VfB Stuttgart in 13th.
Reigning champions Borussia Dortmund, who collected a respectable draw against Malaga midweek, and Bayer 04 Leverkusen are on course to secure the final two automatic UEFA Champions League qualification spots, but elbows are no doubt being sharpened in the chasing pack in the battle for the final three European spots.
Schalke currently occupy the last remaining Champions League place, though goal difference is the only factor giving keeping them above promoted side Eintracht Frankfurt. The duo's Matchday 30 encounter is set to be decisive in determining who clinches that coveted seat at Europe's top table. The Eagles’ remaining fixtures may look more favourable on paper, but the Royal Blues are hitting form when it matters most, as demonstrated in Matchday 27's comprehensive win against 1899 Hoffenheim.
Showdown in Hamburg
However, given the Bundesliga's notoriously unpredicatable nature it is entirely feasible that neither of the aforementioned front-runners finish fourth. No less than five teams are lurking within five points of Schalke, including SC Freiburg and Hamburger SV, who go head-to-head this weekend, the latest duel in what is proving to be one of the most hotly-contested Bundesliga seasons in recent years.
Christian Streich’s dynamic Freiburg side did their European chances the world of good as Max Kruse’s brace saw them leapfrog Borussia Mönchengladbach last weekend, while the Red Shorts will have a point to prove after their devastating 9-2 loss to league leaders Bayern. “The experienced players can’t be expected to give everyone a kick up the back-side, that has to come from everyone,” said German international Marcell Jansen ahead of this weekend’s encounter.
All to play for
A point and a place further down the standings in tenth, Hannover 96 have not given up hope of participating in the UEFA Europa League for a third straight season. In keeping with many of the European contenders, Mirko Slomka's men have been hindered by inconsistency, as well as their own shocking away record of ten losses in 14 games.
Yet such fluctuating form does not automatically mean that the Bundesliga’s midriff is more flab than six-pack. Instead, it speaks volumes for the remarkably even playing field in Germany’s top flight. And make no mistake, the Bundesliga rollercoaster still has a few more loop-the-loops to complete in what is certain be a nail-biting conclusion.