In a trend that is becoming increasingly popular across the European leagues, Bayern Munich last week reclaimed the Bundesliga in a record twenty eight matches, making them the first of a potential group of teams to clinch the title in April, alongside Celtic, Barcelona and Manchester United. To a lot of people, this has drawn attention away from the Bundesliga at what is arguably its most interesting stage, as clubs fight for the right to play in Europe next season. With only six points separating Eintracht Frankfurt in sixth and VFB Stuttgart in twelfth, there are eight teams fighting for the two Europa League places on offer.
Last weekend’s games saw this mid-table scramble intensify, as Frankfurt and Mönchengladbach, the two teams either side of the European and non-European divide in the league, fell victim to upsets from Augsburg and Stuttgart respectively. Unfortunately for Frankfurt’s fans, however, it was business-as-usual above them, as Freiburg cruised to a three-one home win against Hannover, a result in which a Hannover win would have seen them jump to within a point of Christian Streich’s men, an indication of just how close it is across the Bundesliga table.
Higher up the table, third place Bayer and fourth place Schalke fought out an entertaining two-all draw at the Veltins-Arena, thus maintaining the four point gap between them in the league. Jens Keller’s men have been in good form of late, winning seven of their last eight matches, and look to be in pole position to withstand pressure from Freiburg and co. and keep hold of the fourth Champions League spot for the remaining five games.
In Mainz, a Heung Min Son brace saw Hamburg emerge two-one victors over Mainz, and in doing so overtook them, as well as Hannover and Nuremburg, into eighth place, behind Mönchengladbach only on goal difference. Thorsten Fink’s side were coming off the back of a dreadful run of form, losing their last three and conceding eleven goals. Their form will need to pick up if they are to challenge those around them for sixth.
Given how tight the middle of the table is, there is room for a complete upheaval by the time the thirty-fourth game arrives, so any predictions for final league position could be completely off the mark, but here are my completely uneducated guesses nonetheless:
Schalke have put together a good run of games of late and have been climbing the table steadily since January, and I feel that they will come out as victors against their remaining opponents, (who include Frankfurt, Freiburg and Mönchengladbach, I hasten to add) to claim that coveted final Champions League Group Stage spot. The whole team have been pulling out impressive performances of late, and I believe they have the determination to get back into the Group Stages after their year’s absence.
Die Löwen have been dropping points like there’s no tomorrow of late, ten in their last five games, and with Schalke gaining on them as they are, I feel that the draw over the weekend isn’t enough to keep the wolf from the door, so to speak. It is a shame for Sascha Lewandowski’s men, as they have performed quite well all season, but their form seems to be dipping at the worst possible moment.
Without doubt the surprise package of the season, Armin Veh’s side rose from the second Bundesliga this season to a comfortably mid-table finish at least, with the possibility of European football next season a real likelihood. One caveat, however, could be the form of Alexander Meier, the prolific striker who has started all but one of Frankfurt’s matches, and scored just under a third of their league goals all season. With all remaining five games against teams below them in the league, the Frankfurt bandwagon could easily roll in to Europe next season if they keep up this form.
Anyone who has talked to me about football of late knows of my fondness for Lucien Favre’s men, and this may have had a small part to play in my decision to place them marginally above Freiburg in my predictions, but I do think Mönchengladbach have just got that edge over Freiburg, but it will be extremely close either way, and with both sides playing Bayern, Schalke and Augsburg in their remaining matches, there isn’t much separating the two sides past form.
Although the title has finally been officially wrapped up by Bayern, the fight for those four European places still available is going to be enough to keep my eyes firmly glued to the Bundesliga for this season’s conclusion.