Munich - Going into the penultimate matchday of the season, not a single club have as yet booked their unwelcome ticket to Bundesliga 2 for the coming campaign. Come the close of Saturday's action, however, the situation at the bottom of the standings is likely to become a lot clearer.
VfB Stuttgart - VfL Wolfsburg
VfB Stuttgart, still not quite safe, need a result against UEFA Champions League-chasing VfL Wolfsburg, while the two sides currently in the automatic relegation slots, 1. FC Nürnberg and Eintracht Braunschweig, will inevitably have an anxious eye on events in Hamburg as they respectively play host to Hannover 96 and FC Augsburg.
bundesliga.com provides an overview of those games and Hertha Berlin's trip to Bremen:
A home win for Stuttgart will see them safely through to the end of what has been a turbulent season with their Bundesliga intact, while a draw will very probably suffice as well. In fact, being five points clear of third-bottom Hamburg, anything less than a victory over FC Bayern for the latter would render Stuttgart's result against the Wolves irrelevant, at least in terms of the relegation battle.
Needless to say, Huub Stevens is not concerning himself with any such speculation, warning that “If we slacken off even by one percent, we'll be punished. We haven't achieved anything yet, we need to focus on earning more points, not looking at how other teams are doing.” That said, the veteran VfB coach does very much “get the feeling the lads know what's still at stake.” Midfielder is struggling with a shoulder injury and unlikely to start against the Wolves, while Daniel Schwaab is a further doubt with a foot problem. On the upside as far as the defence is concerned, Stevens has left-back fit and available again.
Wolves need the points just as much
Visitors Wolfsburg are hardly lacking in incentive for this one either, taking to the pitch only a point behind Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the race for the Champions League qualifying slot. “It's going to be a hot-blooded contest, with both sides desperate to win it,” reckons midfielder , who swapped Stuttgart for the Wolves in 2011.
Robin Knoche is likewise anticipating “a tough game” against opponents who have taken eight points from their last four games and are looking “a lot more compact at the back,” but the Germany U-21 defender spoke for his team-mates and the ambitious VfL as a whole in stressing that “we want to come away from Stuttgart with three points in the bag and everything still to play for.”
1. FC Nürnberg - Hannover 96
Nürnberg have plenty still to play for but they need to up their game fast to keep it that way. A home win against Hannover will ensure the Franconians a final bite at the Bundesliga survival cherry on Matchday 34, whatever happens elsewhere. Should they draw or lose, however, and Hamburg pick up a shock victory over FC Bayern, Nürnberg will drop down to Bundesliga 2 for a record eighth time. “This is pretty much our last chance,” full-back told 1. FCN ClubTV; “By hook or by crook, we need to make sure the points stay here.”
Alongside Chandler, who made his comeback following a meniscus injury in last week's 2-0 defeat at Mainz, defensive all-rounder Ondrej Petrak and centre back Per Nilsson are also both likely to be available once more against Hannover. That in itself is welcome news for Roger Prinzen, whose first game in charge produced no instant turnaround in form or fortunes as Nürnberg slumped to their ninth defeat in ten outings.
Final throw of the dice?
With a beefed-up back row and the combined attacking talents of Hiroshi Kiyotake and prolific top scorer Josip Drmic, the interim head coach is looking for a performance to match the import of the occasion at the Grundig Stadion. Opponents Hannover finally shrugged off their own lingering relegation worries only last week, courtesy above all of Hamburg's defeat at Augsburg.
The 96ers nonetheless appear to have turned the corner after going through something of a sticky spell and head coach Tayfun Korkut is determined to end the season on a positive note. “Obviously our performance at Nürnberg will have an influence on the table, but that can't be part of our thought process, and it won't be,” the 40-year-old stressed. A haul of seven points from their last three games has taken his charges clear of the drop zone. By adding to that tally on Saturday, Korkut's side could well hammer the final nail in Nürnberg's Bundesliga coffin.
Eintracht Braunschweig - FC Augsburg
It is a case of now or never for rock-bottom Eintracht Braunschweig, who desperately need a win if they are to have any chance of prolonging their stay at Germany's top table. Three defeats on the spin mean outright survival is already beyond them, with the relegation play-off place - currently occupied by Hamburg - now the Lions' only option with two games to go.
"We're really motivated to give our all once again in the last two games," explained midfielder Norman Theuerkauf. "We want to get the best possible result and then we'll see where we are after the game. You have to give everything, but in some situations it's important to keep calm, keep a cool head and be clever. We'll have to make the most of our possession and look for the right pass."
'A mathematical chance'
For their part, Augsburg found themselves facing a similarly thankless task last May, albeit with a two-point cushion on second-bottom 1899 Hoffenheim. Markus Weinzierl's men lost their penultimate fixture at FC Bayern München, before securing their top-flight status with a final-day win over relegated SpVgg Greuther Fürth. 12 months later, the provincial Bavarian outfit suddenly have UEFA Europa League football on their end-of-season agenda instead.
"We want to win to hold on to eighth place," Weinzierl affirmed. "If we win, then there's still a mathematical chance we can move up to seventh, but that depends on other teams […] Braunschweig have their backs to the wall and really need the win if they're to stay up. They'll be more eager and have more bite than HSV […] We'll have to put absolutely everything into the game if we're to come away with the win."
SV Werder Bremen - Hertha Berlin
SV Werder Bremen will look to bounce back from last weekend's emphatic 5-2 reverse at the hands of FC Bayern in their final home game of the season against Hertha Berlin. Despite the defeat, Robin Dutt's men will have been relieved to have seen results elsewhere go their way and at long last put an end to any lingering doubts surrounding the Green-Whites' top-flight credentials following a campaign of few highs and far more lows.
"It's been a tough season for the club, but we knew it would be and we're happy to be safe already" admitted Italian defender Luca Caldirola. "The last home game of the season is going to be something special. The fans have been incredible all season and we want to give something back to them on Saturday. The best way to do that is with a win."
'A great example'
Visitors Hertha were able to put a much-needed smile on the faces of their steadfast faithful on Matchday 32 after recording their first win in ten Bundesliga encounters with a 2-0 victory over Eintracht Braunschweig. Only 16th-placed Hamburger SV have picked up fewer points than the capital club since the winter break, with Hertha's exceptional Hinrunde form to thank for their current posting in mid-table.
"Hertha have shown a great example, especially during the first half of the season, of what a promoted side can do," Bremen's Caldirola told hertha.de. "They've consistently been in mid-table. That alone speaks volumes. They're a team full of quality and one that are always disciplined in their approach, which is exactly what I'm expecting on Saturday."