Bundesliga: Champions League showdown overshadows title race | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 03.05.2019
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Bundesliga: Champions League showdown overshadows title race

With three Champions League qualification spots set in stone, one place remains up for grabs. Four teams are still in realistic contention, and their Matchday 32 tussle overshadows the title race for one week.

 Bundesliga 31. Spieltag | FC Augsburg vs. Bayer 04 Leverkusen 1:4 (imago/S. Simon)

Bayer Leverkusen are aiming to return to the Champions League next season.

Over the last decade there have been two almost regular German clubs alongside the ever-present Bayern Munich in the Champions League – Borussia Dortmund (7 appearances) and Bayer Leverkusen (6).

But the fourth qualifying spot has always been up for grabs as Bundesliga clubs struggle to find consistency – a problem also prevalent among Bayern's title challengers – and this season is no different.

One change is that Leverkusen have lost their regular status in recent years, giving RB Leipzig the opportunity to steal in and fill the void now and, perhaps, in the future.

Instead, Leverkusen are one of four teams – along with Eintracht Frankfurt, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Hoffenheim – left in the frantic final push to secure fourth place with just three games go.

This weekend could prove particularly crucial in the tussle, as Eintracht Frankfurt (4th) travel to Leverkusen (6th) and Borussia Mönchengladbach (5th) host Hoffenheim (7th).

Infografik Bundesliga Tablle EN

Bayer Leverkusen vs. Eintracht Frankfurt

At the start of the season, the expectations of these two clubs were markedly different. Leverkusen had only just failed to qualify for the Champions League at the final hurdle last season, having finished 5th, and with a talented squad were expected to push on.

Eintracht had surprised everyone by finishing 8th – their highest finish in five years – and won the German Cup, qualifying for the Europa League. This just two years after avoiding relegation through the Bundesliga playoff.

But inspirational coach Niko Kovac bailed to Bayern and key players such as Lukas Hradecky, Marius Wolf, and Kevin-Prince Boateng followed him out the door. As a result, they weren't tipped to replicate their impressive season.

Fast-forward to May and Leverkusen are still relatively on track, despite a topsy-turvy season, and Eintracht have distinctly overperformed once again.

The Eagles, under Adi Hütter, held Chelsea to a 1-1 draw in the Europa League semifinals on Thursday night and hold all the aces in the Bundesliga race for fourth with a three-point buffer.

This showdown will either boost their unlikely march to the Champions League – they haven't finished as high as fourth place since 1993 – or give Leverkusen a chance to get back to where they believe they belong.

Borussia Mönchengladbach vs. Hoffenheim

Under Julian Nagelsmann, Hoffenheim have surprised so often that it's become normal to see them in contention for Europe's elite competition – they're aiming to qualify for their third consecutive Champions League campaign.

But their expliots are anything but normal.

Once again they were stripped of their best players in the offseason – Niklas Süle, Sandro Wagner (in January), Serge Gnabry, and Sebastian Rudy all left. That quartet joined the likes of Kevin Volland and Roberto Firmino from previous years.

But Nagelsmann has continued to reinvent his team and elevate his standing as Germany's brightest young coach. Next season, he'll join RB Leipzig as a reward. Hoffenheim haven't had a straightforward campaign, but five wins in their past seven games have given them an outside chance of catching Eintracht, despite a 4-1 loss to Wolfsburg last weekend.

"Leverkusen are back in the swing of things, Gladbach are not as stable lately as they were in the first half of the season," Nagelsmann said in the prematch press conference.

"The door is still open. Our goal is to finish in the European places, the dream is to finish fourth.”

As Nagelsmann hinted, Gladbach are in freefall. Having kept pace with both Bayern and Dortmund in the first half of the season, they have stumbled dramatically and one win in six matches has derailed their European hopes. Head coach Dieter Hecking has already been told he'll be replaced at the end of the season, but his players will be desperate to rekindle European hopes.

"I'm convinced that we will present ourselves in a different way against Hoffenheim. I don't want to talk about goals. We should just concentrate on every individual game," forward Patrick Herrmann said.

Outside chance

Mathematically, Wolfsburg and Werder Bremen are also still in the running for the Champions League. But trailing Eintracht by five points and eight points respectively, this appears highly unlikely.

Both teams have surprised this season and will be hoping to at least seal qualification for the Europa League.

Bremen face a tough test against title-aspirants Borussia Dortmund, who will be out for redemption after spectacularly crumbling to fierce rivals Schalke last Saturday. Wolfsburg have a tricky match against relegation-threatened Nuremberg, who recorded a surprise draw against Bayern a day later.

Matchday 32 fixtures (All times CEST)

- Mainz vs. RB Leipzig (Friday, 8:30 p.m.)

- Hertha Berlin vs. Stuttgart (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.)

- Wolfsburg vs. Nuremberg

- Borussia Mönchengladbach vs. Hoffenheim

- Bayern Munich vs. Hannover

- Werder Bremen vs. Borussia Dortmund (6:30 p.m.)

- Schalke vs. Augsburg (Sunday, 1:30 p.m.)

- Freiburg vs. Fortuna Düsseldorf (3:30 p.m.)

- Bayer Leverkusen vs. Eintracht Frankfurt (6:00 p.m.)

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