Strong runs after the winter break are becoming something of a Julian Nagelsmann speciality. Last year, an impressive second half of the season put Hoffenheim in the Champions League spots come the end of the campaign, and they may again be making a late push for what would be a third top four finish in a row. They have now lost just twice in 13 games, easily brushing aside an albeit poor Schalke side this past weekend too. In all fairness to Die Königsblauen, their first half performance was a vast improvement on recent showings, and they should have gone in to the interval just a goal behind. But a late Andrej Kramaric strike changed Huub Stevens half-time team talk, and his players never recovered. The score ended 5-2, with the in-form Ishak Belfodil twice on the goalsheet.
Hoffenheim’s comprehensive victory allowed them to close the gap to those already in the battle for the Champions League places. Firstly, Borussia Mönchengladbach lost 2-1 to Leipzig, who now just need one more victory to seal their spot in the top four. The scoreline was even lenient on Mönchengladbach, who offered little going forward other than an Alassane Pléa goal. The match will be more remembered for the off the pitch matters. Protests against RB Leipzig are commonplace in German football, but Die Fohle’s fans may have taken it a bit too far with their personal attacks on Leipzig manager Ralf Rangnick. Sporting Director Max Eberl was even forced to condemn the unsavoury banners in the stands.
And then, in the last Monday match of the season, Eintracht Frankfurt blew a 1-0 goal lead in the dying minutes against Wolfsburg to come away with just a draw. On the balance of play, Wolfsburg certainly deserved their point, after hitting the woodwork twice amongst numerous other chances, but to concede such a late goal as they look to qualify for Europe’s primary club competition will have felt in part like a defeat for Adi Hütter and co. However, they actually extended their lead over fifth from one to two points, and they now face Hertha next weekend in what is a more than winnable game.
It is tight in the battle for the European spots, and it is not different in the title race. Bayern Munich were the first of the top two to play on matchday 30, against Werder Bremen at the Allianz Arena. You would have been forgiven for expecting goals – after all Bremen had scored in all 29 of their previous games in the Bundesliga season, whilst Bayern had scored 27 in their last six in the league before this match – but in the end, just the one was needed to decide the outcome. It came in the 75th minute via a deflected Niklas Süle effort after Bayern had dominated proceedings. It looked like Werder may be able to hold out for a vital point for their Europa League aspirations, but Milos Veljokovic’s stray arm earned him a second-yellow and allowed the Bavarians to pile on even more pressure against 10 men.
Borussia Dortmund, therefore four points behind the leaders going in to their Sunday game away at Freiburg, needed a win. And this time, they did so with ease. They took the lead early on through Jadon Sancho and Marco Reus, Mario Götze and Paco Alcacer ended up putting the gloss on the victory. Whilst Freiburg’s performance was not disappointing, the difference in class was clear for all to see. With four games left, just one point still separates the top two. It remains to be seen who will hold their nerve.
Football is a funny old game. In his final eight games as Augsburg manager, Manuel Baum managed just two wins in eight in the Bundesliga. But, after two outings, new man Martin Schmidt has already matched that record, and in some fashion. After winning 3-1 against Eintracht Frankfurt last weekend, Augsburg were even better this time around, beating VfB Stuttgart 6-0. Everything Schmidt’s players seemed to touch turned to gold, and it was no surprise to see them 3-0 up after just 29 minutes – a record for them in the Bundesliga. Such an embarrassing result left Stuttgart Sporting Director Thomas Hitzelsperger with no choice: just hours after the game, manager Markus Weinzierl was out of the door. Nico Willig, the club’s U19 coach, has replaced him.
Due to the teams above continuing to lose each week, Nürnberg are still clinging on to their Bundesliga status. Unfortunately for them, they can’t put a winning run together to get out of trouble themselves. They spurned chances of victory against Schalke and Stuttgart after taking the lead in both games, which they should have won. Bayer Leverkusen are a different prospect, and generally a win would not have been expected. But Boris Schommers has no time to worry about the quality of their opponents, and will be disappointed with the 2-0 loss. It was still 1-0 late on when Eduard Löwen had a good opportunity from just outside the box, but his curling shot went just wide of the post. Kevin Volland soon went down the other end to add to Lucas Alario’s first headed goal in German football. With four to play, just three points separate 16th and 17th. But Nürnberg need points, and fast.
Hannover also need results, and even quicker than Nürnberg. However, they will get nothing if they continue to play as they did against Hertha Berlin on Sunday. Not only was it the worst of the weekend, the game was perhaps one of the worst of the season. Unsurprisingly, it ended 0-0.
Mainz against Fortuna Düsseldorf was perhaps the matchday’s only game that had nothing riding on it. However, it didn’t disappoint. In an exciting fixture, Mainz won 3-1 after scoring in the first minute. With this victory, Sandro Schwarz’s side have now officially secured their survival, following on from Düsseldorf, who confirmed the same a couple of weeks ago.