European qualification brings some drama to Bundesliga
BERLIN (AP) — With little excitement at the top of the Bundesliga, it’s the clubs just below Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund that are providing the entertainment at the end of the season.
Bayer Leverkusen, Freiburg, Leipzig, Cologne and Union Berlin are all scrapping for European places with two matches to go, with two of those teams joining Bayern and Dortmund in the Champions League, while another two will qualify for the Europa League.
Third-place Leverkusen next visits Hoffenheim before ending the season with a potentially decisive game against Freiburg, which currently holds the last Champions League qualification place one point ahead of Leipzig.
Freiburg, which also plays Leipzig in the German Cup final on May 21, hosts Union on Saturday, a game the team will feel it has to win to maintain the all-important fourth spot. Seventh-place Union will be looking for a victory after drawing with relegated Greuther Fürth last weekend.
Union ends the season at home against Bochum, which clinched survival last weekend.
Leipzig, which has lost its last two games after a 15-match unbeaten run in all competitions, next plays Augsburg at home before its final game at Arminia Bielefeld, which could be relegated by then.
Sixth-place Cologne is also eyeing Europe’s premier competition. The team would secure Europa Conference League qualification if it beats Wolfsburg on Saturday and Union fails to beat Freiburg at the same time.
But Cologne coach Steffen Baumgart said he wouldn’t celebrate yet.
“I’m not counting (points) at all,” Baumgart said. “I’m counting on the fact that we want to win the next game. And that’s difficult enough. And then we’ll look at the next week. We know where we are. We know how many points we have and we still want to see whether we can go on another step or the other.”
Cologne will play relegation-threatened Stuttgart in the final round for what is likely to be another high-stakes clash.
Stuttgart, Bielefeld and Hertha Berlin are providing the excitement at the other end of the standings. Bielefeld is in second-to-last place — and the most likely to join Fürth in the second division — ahead of its games at Bochum on Friday and Leipzig next weekend.
Stuttgart is only two points ahead of Bielefeld after failing to win any of its last five games, and it looks set for a relegation-promotion playoff against the third-place finisher in the second division to see which club plays in the Bundesliga next season.
Stuttgart on Sunday visits champion Bayern — which was criticized for allowing its players take a trip to Ibiza after losing 3-1 in Mainz last weekend — before hosting Cologne in the final round.
Hertha is four points ahead of Stuttgart and can clinch survival with a win against Mainz on Saturday. Failing that, it will have a second chance at Dortmund in the final round.
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Ciarán Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP