Not that there was a lot of suspense left about who would win the 2016/17 Bundesliga title recently, but RB Leipzig’s draw this past Saturday, coupled with FC Bayern Munich’s annihilation of VfL Wolfsburg ensured that the boys in red from the Bavarian capital would claim an unprecedented fifth Meisterschale in a row with three match days to go.
So, that’s it then, right, nothing more to see? Not by a long shot. There are still plenty of interesting races to follow, both at the club and individual levels, and it never hurts to take a peek at the 2nd division, to see who will be matching their skills against Bayern next season.
Bayern clinches the league, but who claims which European spots?
As usual, Bayern will be participating in the prestigious and lucrative UEFA Champions League next season, and will be seeded in pot 1. Who else will be joining them?
While RB Leipzig, TSG Hoffenheim, and Borussia Dortmund are all assured of finishing in the top four, they are all still battling to get an automatic CL spot, in order to avoid the qualification playoffs that comes with being fourth.
Hate them or love them, it’s impressive how well the Red Bulls have done in their inaugural BL season. They have a seemingly comfortable six point lead on fourth-place BVB, but they have two tough away games at fifth-place Hertha and DFB Pokal finalists Eintracht Frankfurt, with a home date against the champions themselves, FC Bayern, sandwiched in between. Lose two of the three, and they run the risk of getting passed by both of their pursuers.
Another big surprise this season, with a lot of credit going to coach Julian Nagelsmann for keeping the small-town team in the top part of the table all the way to the end, as opposed to the usual faltering we’re used to in the past. Their last three games are not much easier than RBL’s, having to travel to Dortmund and a resurgent Bremen, before finishing up at home against FC Augsburg, who are still battling relegation.
BVB has it in their own hands to move into the top three, since they host Hoffenheim this Saturday, and can pass them with a win. Dates with Augsburg and Bremen — same as TSG above — will finish out the season, before they turn their attention to the DFB Pokal final against Frankfurt on May 27th.
In the quest for the other continental competition, everyone from Hertha in fifth to Frankfurt in 11th still has a shot, with five points separating the seven teams. Positions five and six automatically qualify for EL play, with another spot hinging on the outcome of the DFB Pokal final.
If Dortmund wins, since they are already slated for the CL, seventh place becomes the third German participant in the EL. However, if Frankfurt manage to beat BVB in Berlin, they will claim the extra spot, and whoever ends up in seventh goes home with a big bucket of nothing.
Who is saying Tschüss to the Bundesliga?
SV Darmstadt 98 are gone, despite still being mathematically alive, and will likely end up in dead last. At best, they can hope for a relegation playoff spot. They would need three wins out of three just to get even with current 16th place HSV, and then hope that their goal differential is better than any team that ends up even with them on points.
17th-place FC Ingolstadt face an uphill battle, needing to make up four points to get to the relegation playoff spot on a slew of teams, but at least their quest is a little more realistic. They face Leverkusen, Freiburg and Schalke in the coming weeks, and need to get some results.
And this is where it gets interesting. There are currently five teams within three points of each other in positions 12 through 16 (Leverkusen, Augsburg, Mainz, Wolfsburg and Hamburger SV). Any one of these teams could find themselves dropping to 16th, and having to take on the third place team from the second division for the chance to stay up, or even ending up in 17th.
HSV, by virtue of its atrocious goal differential — a second-worst league mark of -29 — is at the highest risk, and it could come down to a showdown on the last matchday with Wolfsburg.
So, who will it be? Will HSV’s annoying and pretentious stadium clock finally be turned off, leaving Bayern as the only team to never get relegated? Will Augsburg join Ingolstadt on their way down, and leave Bayern as the only Bavarian team in the BL? Will Leverkusen go from perennial representative for Germany in Europe to plying their trade one division down? Will Wolfsburg go from winning the title in 2009, and being runners-up and DFB Pokal winners in 2014/15 to demotion? Will anyone notice that Mainz is gone?
Movin’ on up!
There are four teams vying for the three top spots in Germany’s second-highest professional league, and it’s a close race. VfB Stuttgart currently have a three point lead on both Eintracht Braunschweig and Hannover 96, who are separated by a single goal. 1. FC Union Berlin are still in contention sitting in fourth, hoping to make up three points to get into the mix.
Stuttgart still has to face Hannover in two weeks, while Braunschweig and Union square off this weekend.
Will Stuttgart and Hannover manage to make their stay in the second division merely a year-long affair, having just been relegated last season? Will Bundesliga founders Braunschweig finally make it back, after dropping out of the top league in 1985, and never recovering? Or will Union Berlin see its first season in the top flight?
Who will win the Torjägerkanone this season?
For those of you who couldn’t care less unless Bayern is involved, well, we still have the showdown between FCB’s own Robert Lewandowski and BVB’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for top goal scorer of the Bundesliga. With three games to go, the Polish striker has 28 tallies, one more than the Gabon international, with 1. FC Köln’s Anthony Modeste needing a scoring spree to have an outside chance. The Frenchman is trailing Lewy by five goals.
Since there is nothing to save Lewandowski for, after being eliminated in CL and domestic cup play, will Carlo Ancelotti give his striker every chance to defend his crown, and start him in the remaining matches? With a little luck, he could pass Lionel Messi — at 33 goals — and Bas Dost — at 31 — for the Golden Shoe, given to Europe’s most prolific scorer in a weighted scoring system.
Enjoy the rest of the season, and cheer for your second-favorite team.