- With 39 and 35 points respectively, Ingolstadt and Darmstadt are on course for survival.
- Ingolstadt have impressed in their first ever season in the top flight.
- With 13 goals, Sandro Wagner is sustaining Darmstadt's survival bid.
While half the division scraps tooth-and-nail against the drop, two of the pre-season favourites for relegation are edging ever closer to ensuring their own continued place in the top flight in 2016/17.
Bundesliga newbies FC Ingolstadt 04 and long-time absentees SV Darmstadt 98, who came up alongside them last year, each have some work to do yet to get over the line but with four games to go, both clubs have their fate entirely in their own hands.
"We're definitely not going down now," FCI coach Ralph Hasenhüttl remarked – albeit with a glint in his eye – in the wake of Matchday 29's thoroughly deserved 1-0 home win against UEFA Champions League-chasing Borussia Mönchengladbach. As it stands, on 39 points and with nine clubs below them, he is very probably right. "Obviously it's not official yet," said Moritz Hartmann, whose 87th-minute strike sealed the points against Gladbach, "but it certainly feels like we're going to stay up."
Hartmann is nine-goal top scorer but it is their rock-solid defence, above all, that has been the foundation of the central Bavarian side's success this season. Only Bayern and Dortmund can undercut the 33 goals Ingolstadt have conceded in the first 30 games; and, while Hasenhüttl's troops came in for criticism from more than one opponent for what was perceived as an overly-negative approach over the first half of the campaign, Die Schanzer have been noticeably honing their attacking game, earning due credit and, more pertinently, enough points to have made themselves all but safe with four games to spare.
Darmstadt are not in quite such a comfortable position but last weekend's 2-0 home victory over none other than Ingolstadt themselves took Die Lilien another major step in the right direction. Goals from Konstantin Rausch and Sandro Wagner – his 13th of the season – took the ultimate underdogs up , four clear of the play-off place and with eight to spare on the first automatic relegation berth.
Coach Dirk Schuster has been at pains to point out "35 points definitely aren't enough. It's very deceptive at the bottom, with so many teams packed so tightly together. We've got to maintain the same focus for the next few games." Wise words, regardless of the fact that no club in Darmstadt's position at this stage has gone on to be relegated over the past ten years. For his part, top scorer Wagner reckons "We've enough left in the tank. I'm very confident we're going to stay up." An opinion now shared by many a one-time skeptic.