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Bundesliga race for Europe enters home straight

March 28, 2019

While Bayern and Dortmund will contest the title, the European places are far from secure as the Bundesliga enters its last eight matchdays. On Friday, Hoffenheim vs. Bayer Leverkusen kicks off a series of key battles.

Deutschland Leon Bailey
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/F. Gambarini

The final international break of the 2018-19 season is done and dusted and attention switches to eight consecutive decisive weekends in the Bundesliga. While only two teams can realistically win the title, the Champions League and Europa League spots are still in the balance, with seven teams vying for three or four spots, depending on who wins the German Cup.

As it stands: 

Currently: 9th
Aim: Europa League
Run-in: Leverkusen (h), Augsburg (a), Hertha (h), Schalke (a), Wolfsburg (h), Gladbach (a), Bremen (h), Mainz (a)  

Julian Nagelsmann admitted recently that his chances of leaving Hoffenheim with Champions League football ahead of his move to RB Leipzig are all but gone. And, with the Sinisheim side welcoming Bayer Leverkusen as the Bundesliga returns, the possibility of securing any European football for his successor, and former colleague, Alfred Schreuder, could also be hanging by a thread on Saturday morning.

A league-high 11 draws have cost Hoffenheim this term but Nagelsmann will hope a win, one that would close the gap to their sixth-placed opponents to a point, will kickstart the kind of late season run that saw them secure Champions League football on the final day of last term.

Bayer Leverkusen
Currently: 6th
Aim: Champions League 
Run-in: Hoffenheim (a), RB Leipzig (h), Stuttgart (a), Nuremberg (h), Augsburg (a), Frankfurt (h), Schalke (h), Hertha (a)

Their opponents have a different issue, with Bayer Leverkusen's three draws the equal lowest in the league. Since Peter Bosz took over from Heiko Herrlich, the Werkself have climbed the table, with the Dutch coach's adventurous style playing to the attacking talents of Julian Brandt, Kai Havertz, Leon Bailey (top) and Kevin Volland.

But inconsistency remains a major concern - a win over Bayern Munich was followed by a German Cup loss to second tier Heidenheim, and a run of six league wins from seven was ended abruptly last time out as Werder Bremen won 3-1 at the BayArena. With a five-point deficit to the last Champions League league spot, Bosz cannot afford many more slip ups.

Werder Bremen
Currently: 8th
Aim: Europa League
Run-in: Mainz (h), Gladbach (a), Freiburg (h), Bayern (a), Düsseldorf (a), Dortmund (h), Hoffenheim (a), RB Leipzig (h)

Max Kruse (right) is Bremen's key man
Max Kruse (right) is Bremen's key manImage: picture-alliance/dpa

That 3-1 win was another demonstration that Florian Kohfeldt's side also have the capacity to both win and lose unexpectedly but, given Bremen's recent relegation battles, the fact that they are in European contention at all is something of a bonus.

With trips to Borussia Mönchengladbach, Bayern Munich and Hoffenheim to come as well as home games against Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig, Bremen have the toughest run in of the lot. But with Max Kruse in red hot form, they can't be ruled out. 

Borussia Mönchengladbach
Currently: 4th
Aim: Champions League
Run-in: Düsseldorf (a), Bremen (h), Hannover (a), RB Leipzig (h), Stuttgart (a), Hoffenheim (h), Nuremberg (a), Dortmund (h)

Kohfeldt's side will take some heart from Gladbach's dreadful home form when they travel west next Sunday. After an excellent Hinrunde (first half of the season), the Foals are starting to feel the pace. Two 3-0 home losses to Hertha Berlin and Wolfsburg preceeded a 5-0 loss to Bayern on home turf. Dieter Hecking's side have won just one of their last six games - a run in which they've failed to score more than once on any occassion.

Thorgan Hazard has failed to replicate his early season form while the advantage of not playing in Europe early in the season has now been leveled out for all the German teams bar one.

Eintracht Frankfurt
Currently: 5th
Aim: Champions League 
Run-in: Stuttgart (h), Schalke (a), Augsburg (h), Wolfsburg (a), Hertha (h), Leverkusen (a), Mainz (h), Bayern (a)

Luka Jovic's goals have kept Frankfurt flying high
Luka Jovic's goals have kept Frankfurt flying highImage: Imago/Jan Huebner

That is, of course, Eintracht Frankfurt. That a relatively small squad like Frankfurt's has been able to compete so strongly on two fronts is testament to coach Adi Hütter, a tight-knit, hardworking group of players and a front three whose form has never dropped off.

The Eagles have a two-legged Europa League tie against Benfica to contend with in mid April. A trip to Wolfsburg follows the second leg before a run in that also takes them to Munich and Leverkusen. The received wisdom is that the European games will take their toll, but Frankfurt have been defying convention for a while now.

Currently: 7th
Aim: Europa League
Run-in: Dortmund (a), Hannover (h), RB Leipzig (a), Frankfurt (h), Hoffenheim (a), Nuremberg (h), Stuttgart (a), Augsburg (h)

That fixture for the Wolves, on matchday 30, will be their fourth clash against top-half opposition in their next five games. With Bruno Labaddia's departure already announced, it's a run that could define whether that's a decision the club's top brass will regret.

Even the midtable obscurity - the club's most likely fate - must be regarded as a success after successive relegation playoffs. But with a decent run of form, a confident target man in Wout Weghorst and the pressure off, Europe - and a more attractive coaching vacancy - remains a possiblity. 

RB Leipzig 
Currently: 3rd
Aim: Champions League
Run-in: Hertha (h), Leverkusen (a), Wolfsburg (h), Gladbach (a), Freiburg (h), Mainz (a), Bayern (h), Bremen (a) 

Given that this is a season-in-waiting, things are looking good for RB Leipzig. Despite a relatively tough run in, Julian Nagelsmann should be fairly confident of taking over a team in the Champions League next term, after a year out.

Unlike their impressive debut campaign, the Red Bulls have built their success on the tightest defense in the league this term, and their matchday 33 clash with Bayern Munich may yet give Dortmund fans some late hope. The main concern for interim coach Ralf Rangnick will be the form of Timo Werner, who has just one goal in 2019. Though trips to three other European contenders await, Rangnick has found a winning formula on the road - Leipzig have won their last five away games and conceded just one goal.

Roots: Josh Sargent

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