After a turbulent return to the Bundesliga, 17th-place Eintracht Braunschweig have ground out some crucial points in the battle to break out of the bottom three
After a turbulent return to the Bundesliga, 17th-place Eintracht Braunschweig have ground out some crucial points in the battle to break out of the bottom three

The Bundesliga's relegation plot thickens

Munich - Writing a story can be an onerous task at the best of times. Luckily for the Bundesliga, the key protagonists were already in place, but just how the top-flight might yet unfold is open to interpretation.


A third of the way into the campaign, reviews the permutations for the bottom-four incumbents hoping to skip those tragic final pages come May.

Back in August, newly-promoted Eintracht Braunschweig had by and large been pencilled in as 'relegation favourites'. Without a point to their name after their opening four matches of the campaign, they were swiftly recast as 'second-tier certainties'. Picking up a draw at home to 1. FC Nürnberg on Matchday 5 gave the Lions hope, but it wasn't until Matchday 8 that their season truly kicked into gear, with a derby victory away to Lower Saxony rivals VfL Wolfsburg representing Braunschweig's first win in the top flight since 1 June 1985.

In the weeks that followed, Thorsten Lieberknecht's underdogs narrowly lost out to FC Schalke 04 and 1.FSV Mainz 05, before delivering the surprise of the season so far, slaying the might of title-chasing Bayer 04 Leverkusen. Six days later, a goalless draw away to regional foes Hannover 96 saw them not only go unbeaten in successive games, but crucially lifted them off the foot of the table for the first time this season at 1. FC Nürnberg's expense.

Southern struggles

Under former head coach Dieter Hecking (2009-2012), the Franconians had developed a reputation for being one of the Bundesliga's hardest nuts to crack. Going forward, they also boasted the uncanny propensity to make the most out of dead-ball situations. Two coaches, 11 months and 12 games of the 2013/14 campaign later, however, der Club are the only side in the division still to record a win this term. Furthermore, new head coach Gertjan Verbeek, with his penchant for expansive football, has averaged only 0.33 points per game compared to predecessor Michael Wiesinger's 0.75 at the same juncture.

The 51-year-old Dutchman was brought in as Nürnberg's beacon of hope - the man to drag them out of the drop zone and slowly up the Bundesliga ladder - but after three games, little has changed so far. Matchday 10's 1-1 draw at VfB Stuttgart provided but momentary respite ahead of demoralising defeats to struggling SC Freiburg and top-four chasing Borussia Mönchengladbach, with der Club conceding five goals in the last 20 minutes of the two games combined. Verbeek's tactical overhaul, it seems, may yet come back to haunt him.

Nosedive danger

In beating Nürnberg, meanwhile, Christian Streich's Freiburg put an end to a sorry winless streak of their own, only for Baden-Württemberg neighbours Stuttgart to serve up a harsh reminder that die Breisgauer's participation in the UEFA Europa League is proving all too detrimental to the domestic cause. Freiburg currently occupy third place in Group H with two games to play and find themselves only two points from safety in the Bundesliga. An early exit from Europe, however, could kick-start their campaign in the New Year.

Europa League bedfellows Eintracht Frankfurt have enjoyed far greater success on the continent, but their Group F-topping exploits have brought about similar adverse effects closer to home, where Armin Veh's side have won just twice in 12 outings. Those victories come with caveats too: The first capitalised on Braunschweig's early season wobble and the second came against ten-man Werder Bremen, rather tellingly off the back of a ten-day international break on Matchday 5. And with the Lions beginning to purr down in 17th, an equally meagre haul between now and the end of the Hinrunde might well be the straw to break the Eagles' back.

Christopher Mayer-Lodge