With the title sewn up and the European places all but settled all eyes will be on the bottom of the table on Saturday. With two of the three teams in contention for the drop facing each other, it's sure to be tense.
After eight months of football and nearly 300 matches, the major issues in the Bundesliga are almost all resolved. Bayern Munich are champions. Borussia Mönchengladbach are a near lock to join Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen in next year’s Champions League. Hertha Berlin, Mainz and Schalke will represent the Bundesliga in the Europa League.
All eyes will therefore be on the drop zone, with Eintracht Frankfurt, Werder Bremen and Stuttgart scrapping for their lives. Bremen will host Frankfurt on Saturday while Stuttgart face a win-or-go-down situation in Wolfsburg. The two matches present a series of survival scenarios:
With this in mind, here are the five factors that will decide who exits the Bundesliga:
Will Alex Meier get back in Frankfurt's side?
Last season’s top scorer has missed the last two months with a knee injury. After returning to training earlier this week, he could be fit for his side's most important game of the season. Frankfurt have been more prolific in the Bundesliga when Meier has played – 1.3 goals per game with Meier, 0.7 goals per game without him – but the Eagles have won their last three games against Mainz, Darmstadt, and Dortmund without him. Frankfurt coach Niko Kovac will surely be tempted to play his best player, but there is a danger that including Meier will disrupt a winning team.
Will Wolfsburg show up to play?
Stuttgart have to win to keep their survival hopes alive, but Wolfsburg do not have that kind of pressure. Seven points back from seventh-place Schalke, Wolfsburg will be stuck in mid-table no matter the result this weekend. The Wolves have one victory in the four Bundesliga matches since Real Madrid knocked them out of the Champions League but are likely to be keen to end a disappointing campaign in style. Stuttgart have not fared better in recent times, with just two points in their last eight games, but their desperation may catch their weekend opponents off-guard.
Will Bremen’s defense hold up for another week?
Bremen finally secured their first clean sheet in the Bundesliga this season when they registered a scoreless draw with Cologne last week. Keeping another will be a tough task for the second-worst defense in the Bundesliga, but the odds are not completely stacked against them. Frankfurt have scored 35 goals this season, only Hannover (30) and Ingolstadt (31) have been less potent.
If all of Viktor Skripnik’s first-choice defenders are healthy – Santiago Garcia is good to go after his concussion against Cologne – Bremen’s much-maligned defense could be the key to their Bundesliga salvation.
Who can best handle the pressure?
The do-or-die nature of a relegation battle can sometimes bring the best out of a team. That was certainly the case for Stuttgart last year - they won their last three Bundesliga games to rise from last place to above the drop zone. Unlike last season though, Stuttgart’s survival is out of their hands. Still, the bleak outlook could give the club a nothing-to-lose attitude. The pressure may therefore be greater on Frankfurt and Bremen. A hiccup for those clubs will be much harder to swallow now they are the masters of their own fates.
Will Frankfurt settle for the point?
The Eagles just need one point against Bremen to survive, but a victory will significantly help Stuttgart’s chances of staying up. Kovac has to decide whether to settle for a point or go for a win and perhaps run the risk of defeat. That decision will change the dynamic of the relegation situation, especially if Kovac opts for conservatism and it doesn't pay off.