The Race to Beat the Drop In the Bundesliga

After a humiliating 8-1 defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich last weekend, FC St. Pauli’s drop to the second tier of German football was confirmed. A horrid run of ten games has seen the club gain only a single point, and any hopes of a miracle escape were crushed by the rampant Bavarians. The Pirates of the League have enjoyed a brief yet entertaining stay in Germany’s top flight (and were outside favourites in online betting to survive at the start of the season). Now that one automatic relegation place has found a suitor, there is one more to be filled, in addition to the play-off place. Three clubs find themselves in danger of occupying these two spots by the time the final whistle blows on this weekend’s round of matches. The players and supporters of VfL Wolfsburg, Borussia Monchengladbach, and Eintracht Frankfurt have a nervous week of waiting ahead, a week that could ultimately end in disaster.

Last weekend, only Monchengladbach were able to add to their points total and improve their chances of staying in the top flight. A well-earned 2-0 win over Freiburg was their third on the bounce, and helped them leapfrog Frankfurt out of an automatic relegation place and into the play-off spot. Die Fohlen suffered a dreadful start to the season. Manager at the time Michael Frontzeck led the club to a dismal 16 points from a possible 66, and was relieved of his duties in February after the loss to St. Pauli. The appointment of Swiss tactician Lucien Favre has proved to be an inspired move. The manager has lifted the squad from the foot of the table, earning six wins in his eleven matches at the helm. The brilliance of midfielder Marco Reus and a watertight defense have proved crucial to Monchengladbach in the last three weeks. With a trip to Hamburg ahead of them on the final day, Monchengladbach will need to continue their fine run of form to avoid the automatic drop and at least earn the play-off spot.

Champions in 2009, no one would have expected VfL Wolfsburg to fall as fast as they have. Early signs showed promise. The arrival of manager Steve McClaren from Dutch champions FC Twente, as well a return to the Bundesliga for Brazilian star Diego, had Wolfsburg supporters excited in expectation. The club had also been able to secure the services of in-demand striker Edin Dzeko for a while longer. After three losses to begin the season, the club found good form and rose to sixth in the table, then ahead of struggling giants Bayern and Schalke. However, this was as good as it got. A strange stretch of seven straight draws and one win was followed by four consecutive losses. Dzeko left for Manchester City in January, and after being shown the board’s support in December, McClaren was fired in February. Felix Magath, who had been sacked from Schalke less than 24 hours earlier, took charge at the Volkswagon Arena. After earning nine points from seven matches under his watch, Wolfsburg find themselves out of the relegation zone, but on goal difference only. They are away at ninth-placed Hoffenheim on the final day. They will hope to maintain their top flight status so that they may begin to rebuild their squad and fight for the title next season.

It is difficult to find a word to describe Eintracht Frankfurt’s season since the winter break. After ending the first half of the season within striking range of a Europa League spot, Frankfurt have only gained eight points from their last 16 games. As if it could not get any worse, they have only scored six goals since the turn of the year. The club is the league’s lowest scoring side with 30, 16 of which have come from Greek striker Theofanis Gekas and only 14 from the rest of the squad. It is no wonder that they find themselves in such a horrible position going in to the final day. After a horrible run of form, the club parted ways with manager Michael Skibbe after the win over St. Pauli back in March, Frankfurt’s only win of 2011. Skibbe was replaced by the controversial Christoph Daum. Under Daum, Frankfurt have not shown great improvement. After earning only three points from his six games in charge, Frankfurt sit in the second automatic relegation place, a point behind both Wolfsburg and Monchengladbach. As if Frankfurt’s situation was not difficult enough, they travel to the Westfalenstadion on the final day to take on Borussia Dortmund. The newly crowned champions will want to win their final game in front of their supporters before they collect their medals and lift the trophy. With the odds stacked against them, Frankfurt need to find a way to crash Dortmund’s Black and Yellow party and avoid the drop.

With all three of the relegation-threatened sides playing away from home in the final round of the Bundesliga season, anything can happen. Frankfurt, in their current form, are the favorites to be relegated automatically. The fight for safety between Wolfsburg and Monchengladbach will be important, as both sides will know that a spot in the play-off does not guarantee them a spot in the Bundesliga next season. It is difficult to see any change at the bottom of the table after all is said and done, but this league is unpredictable, and stranger things have certainly happened before.

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