With the final stretch of the Bundesliga season in sight, this year's race for survival has delivered where the title race couldn't. Jonathan Harding reviews the five sides stuck in Bundesliga relegation mud.
With the title all but sown up, it's time to look at the Bundesliga's relegation battle. And with four games to go, an exciting finish beckons in the bottom half of the Bundesliga table. With Cologne and Hertha performing well enough to make me believe both won't get sucked in, attention turns to the five sides at the foot of the table.
Position: 14th, Points: 30, GD: -10
Run in: Paderborn (h), Hamburg (a), Bayern (h), Hannover (a)
There's something quite resilient about Freiburg. Its comeback against Stuttgart on matchday 30 proves that even when it is down, it is very rarely out, particularly against fellow strugglers. With Nils Petersen - who would have thought it - delivering in Admir Mehmedi's absence, Christian Streich's side continues to keep its heads above water. As important as it is in cricket, keeping the points tally ticking over is important. That and a low goal difference leaves Freiburg looking good. A win against Paderborn next week puts it that bit further afield and it will almost certainly pick up a point/points against Hamburg and Hannover, rendering the Bayern result irrelevant.
Position: 15th, Points: 29, GD: -18
Run in: Wolfsburg (a), Bremen (h). Augsburg (a), Freiburg (h)
A change of head coach hasn't changed much. Hannover has huffed and puffed and been left without reward plenty of times this season - the same could be said for the defeat to Hoffenheim. Michael Frontzeck's appointment is truly bizarre - he has the lowest average points-return of all Bundesliga head coaches that have been in charge for 100 games - and at this stage of the season, smells of nothing but desperation. Wolfsburg won't give Hannover anything, so it will come down to the final three games. Werder at home is a must win, while Augsburg away might mean an awful lot to both teams at that stage. The last thing Hannover can afford is to leave it down to the last game. With no one in form, even a contextually healthy goal difference doesn't stop me from worrying.
Verdict: Relegation playoff spot
Position: 16th, Points: 28, GD: -27
Run in: Mainz (a), Freiburg (h), Stuttgart (a), Schalke (h)
It is hard to say this but I think, especially after that sensational win against Augsburg on matchday 30, Hamburg is going to survive. Once again, a season of mediocrity will be forgotten as Hamburg crawl above Hannover and into the final spot of safety. A win against Mainz is possible; a draw against Freiburg is likely. Stuttgart may well be dead and buried by the time they meet, but even if not, Hamburg has the edge now. Even Schalke, which looks pretty spineless at the moment, might be vulnerable on the final day. All of this stems from the win against Augsburg, an unexpected but exceptionally well-timed one. Bruno Labbadia has given HSV fight, but so had many before him. The key here is that after all that time, Hamburg finally won a game. And considering it faces two of its relegation candidates in its run in, I think that mental edge of having won will render its slightly weaker goal difference irrelevant. Incredibly, I think Hamburg will get enough points.
Position: 17th, Points: 27, GD: -21
Run in: Schalke (a), Mainz (h), Hamburg (h), Paderborn (a)
Had it not thrown away a two-goal lead against Freiburg today, I might have had more sympathy for Stuttgart. Sadly though, it was more of the same: 60 minutes of good football, 30 minutes of madness. It's that inconsistency that has put it where it is now, but it's also why I don't see Stuttgart surviving. If it beats Schalke, maybe that mindset will change. Beating the Royal Blues is certainly not an impossibility, and facing two fellow strugglers helps, but I just can't escape the feeling that Stuttgart won't reward itself. Huub Stevens' side just can't seem to put together a full 90-minute performance, despite Daniel Ginczek's rich vein of form in front of goal. If only Georg Niedermeier had enjoyed something similar earlier in the season...
Position: 18th, Points: 27, GD: -31
Run in: Bremen (h), Freiburg (a), Wolfsburg (h), Schalke (a) Stuttgart (h)
Andre Breitenreiter's men were bottom of the Bundesliga table for the first time this season on Saturday - and that was only because it's playing on Sunday. A win against Bremen on Sunday could change it all, and Bremen too face fellow strugglers in its run in. However, now that its been drawn to root of the table, I can't see Paderborn escaping. It's got more passion and will than a lot of sides around it, but Elias Kachunga's goals have long dried up and Srdjan Lakic has been nothing but his inconsistent self. Without regular goals, effort counts for nothing and with an unhealthy goal difference, the Bundesliga adventure that has been Paderborn looks set to come to an end. In a way, it's a shame it is playing Stuttgart in the last game as it might turn out to be a battle of honor. If that's the case, then Paderborn certainly deserve to finish 17th.