With only four matchdays to go, the remains caught up to a greater or lesser degree in a desperate struggle for Bundesliga survival. Starting at rock-bottom, Hannover 96 already look to be as good as gone – ten points shy of even the relegation play-off place, with a maximum of just twelve still up for grabs.
A mini-revival under caretaker coach Daniel Stendel, with a 2-2 draw at Hertha Berlin followed by a 2-0 home win against Borussia Mönchengladbach, is all but certainly too little, too late for the 96ers to avoid a return to second-flight football next season. The current number one candidates to join them are downward-spiralling Eintracht Frankfurt, now four points adrift of the play-off slot on the back of three straight defeats.
Little wonder that Peter Fischer admits to “sleeping badly” of late. In his 16 years as club president, Fischer has already experienced the bitter taste of relegation three times and as such, he is all too aware “how many people will be directly affected” if Eintracht go down again. The situation is only marginally better for SV Werder Bremen, another old-time Bundesliga institution. The Green-Whites head into Friday's game at northern rivals Hamburger SV third from bottom, on 31 points to Frankfurt's 27. Should the gap between the sides narrow at all over the next couple of weeks, their Matchday 34 meeting at the Weserstadion could turn out to be an all-or-nothing showdown.
Claudio Pizarro, for one, believes it won't come to that. “If we keep playing as we have been and battling away, we'll get our points and stay in the Bundesliga, the veteran Peruvian sharpshooter said after Werder's DFB Cup semi-final defeat at FC Bayern München. Skipper Clemens Fritz agreed, noting, “If we continue to perform with as much passion, I'm not worried for us.”
The worry is meanwhile back in the Hamburg camp after a form slump that has seen them slip to within three points of upcoming opponents Bremen. Having held onto their unique unbroken top-flight status by the skin of their teeth in each of the past two seasons, HSV desperately want to avoid a third consecutive play-off drama – or worse. “We need to dig deep and really get stuck in,” warned coach Bruno Labbadia; “Do that, and we're hard to beat.”
Crowded between Hamburg and Bremen in the standings, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, FC Augsburg and VfB Stuttgart are all far too close to the drop zone for comfort as well. With four wins and a draw in their last five outings, Julian Nagelsmann's Hoffenheim are heading very much in the right direction, while Augsburg have won two on the spin – with Stuttgart their victims last time out. VfB, like Hamburg, have gone into a bit of a slump just when they can least afford it. A home win against Champions League-bound Borussia Dortmund on Saturday would provide a timely boost, indeed.