Cologne - The 2014/15 Bundesliga season reaches its nail-biting conclusion this weekend and sub-plots abound as the last nine of 306 games this season approach.
Hannover 96 - SC Freiburg
Whether it be the fight for second, the final push for Europe or the conclusion to the tightest relegation battle in history, Matchday 34 promises to be one of the most dramatic on record. bundesliga.com takes a closer look at four of the final-day fixtures…
SC Freiburg will be assured of their place in the Bundesliga next season with a draw at Hannover 96 on the final day of the season. Nevertheless, striker Admir Mehmedi is adamant that the players will not go into the game with the mentality of merely sharing the spoils.
"Nobody here's thinking about anything but victory," said the Swiss forward, who has found the back of the net in his last two games, including in last week's stunning 2-1 win against FC Bayern München that ensured the southwest club remain the masters of their own destiny. "We'll just do what we've done every week, which is work hard on ensuring we play well on Saturday."
Win the only guarantee
Hannover also have control over their own fate, insofar as a win would keep them in the top flight. A draw would only suffice if Stuttgart fail to beat Paderborn and Hamburger SV do not put at least ten past FC Schalke 04, but to avoid having to follow events elsewhere, Michael Frontzeck and his team would prefer the former.
"I wouldn't have minded if we only needed to draw [to be absolutely safe], but all we've got to do is put our foot down against Freiburg and then we should stay up anyway," said Hannover goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler, who could have a critical role to play.
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim - Hertha Berlin
Winless in six, Hertha Berlin make the trip to TSG 1899 Hoffenheim’s Rhein-Neckar Arena looking for the result that would render goings-on involving the rest of the Bundesliga’s basement buddies irrelevant. A point will suffice for the Old Lady, but defeat by two or more goals could see them slip into the drop zone for the first time since Matchday 22 - although they cannot be relegated automatically and would thus finish in the play-off spot.
“We’re not playing for a draw,” affirmed Hertha head coach Pal Dardai. “We need to keep another clean sheet, but we have to start scoring goals - that’s what football’s about. When we’ve been under pressure like against Hamburg and Paderborn, we’ve come away with the points. The players need to enjoy it - there’ll be plenty of Hertha fans there - but it’s certainly no advantage to us that Hoffenheim have nothing to play for.”
Room for improvement
As Dardai touched on, a return of just one win from their last eight has ensured Hoffenheim go into the final day of the campaign unable to finish any higher than eighth or lower than 12th. Markus Gisdol has rectified the defensive foibles that plagued the club a year ago, but a stronger defensive foundation has rather inevitably come at the expense of goals and European football will have to wait.
“We’re a bit disappointed because we were in contention for the [UEFA] Europa League for such a long time, but we haven’t been able to achieve it,” admitted Gisdol. “We’re all really self-critical here, we put everything under the microscope. The second half of the season didn’t pan out as planned. Above all, we've lacked consistency. We haven’t managed to win back-to-back games and were always a bit off the pace [needed for a top-seven finish]. There’s still a lot of potential for next season, however."
Eintracht Frankfurt - Bayer 04 Leverkusen
With Roger Schmidt signing a new contract as Bayer 04 Leverkusen coach this week, die Werkself can now push on with plans for the future as the current season after this week's trip to Frankfurt.
"Over the course of my first year here, it quickly became apparent that Bayer 04 Leverkusen are a club for whom I can, and want to, work for a long time," Schmidt said. "We’re at the start of an evolution and have a young team with huge potential and a superb team spirit." That blend has helped take Leverkusen into the UEFA Champions League once again next season, regardless of the outcome this weekend.
Fine fare for full house
Eintracht Frankfurt's season will also be regarded as a success, and it could get even better on Matchday 34, as a win could see them potentially finish as high as eighth. "We want to give yet another sell-out crowd some more excitement, and give them the very best," says coach Thomas Schaaf.
The game may be an odd occasion for Leverkusen's Stefan Reinartz, meanwhile. It was announced this week that he will be joining the Eagles next season, so he can get a sniff of his own future on Saturday. "He's a very compact player who's going to strengthen our midfield and give us more security," enthused Schaaf of the former Germany U-19 European champion.
1. FC Köln - VfL Wolfsburg
Wolfsburg can wrap up second place as long as they avoid defeat at Köln and FC Augsburg avoid a heavy defeat at third-in-the-table Borussia Mönchengladbach. All in all it’s been a fantastic season for the Wolves, champions FC Bayern München’s closest pursuers since Matchday 10 and worthy Vizemeister in waiting. Saturday’s outing will also provide a thorough workout ahead of the with Borussia Dortmund on 30 May.
“We want to take second place in the table and get on to 71 points for the season," explained Wolfsburg head coach Dieter Hecking. “When you look at the table at the end of the season, second place always looks better than third. We want to defend our position at all costs, especially considering how much of the season we've spent there."
Looking to spoil the party and kick off a few celebrations of their own, meanwhile, are hosts Köln. The already safe Billy Goats have set a benchmark for all aspiring Bundesliga clubs, having not spent a single weekend in the relegation zone since returning to Germany’s top tier as Bundesliga 2 champions last summer. Depending on results elsewhere, a fifth home win of the campaign could even see them scrape a top-half-of-the-table finish.
“Obviously you want to give everyone a chance to show what they can do in front of the fans one last time, because every player here was important for us this season,” said Köln head coach Peter Stöger at his final pre-match press conference of 2014/15. “We will make sure we put a strong side out on Saturday. We’re definitely not in vacation mode yet, and we want to maintain our record of remaining unbeaten at home in 2015.”