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Football | Germany

Bundesliga race for Europe heats up

The 2017/18 Bundesliga season may have already crowned worthy champions in FC Bayern München, but with a thrilling and unpredictable battle to bag the remaining European berths in full swing, we’re set for a spectacular sprint finish to the season.

Indeed, faltering at this point seems almost beyond the second-placed Royal Blues, Domenico Tedesco’s side flying high after a fourth home win in a row. A first victory against BVB since 2014 on Matchday 30 has set them on course for a fabulous finish. Their 32-year-old coach Tedesco – in his debut campaign as a Bundesliga tactician - has rightly landed most of the plaudits for producing a phenomenal turnaround to last season’s slump that has even produced a run to the DFB Cup last four.

Trailing Schalke in second spot, a Uefa Champions League chasing group of contenders have gathered and are ready to do battle for three of the remaining top four spots that guarantee entry into European club football’s elite competition next term. With Bayern safely through as title winners and FC Schalke 04 in a commanding – if not yet secure – position following their recent Revierderby victory against Borussia Dortmund, those who follow know that any slip-up going into the final four games could prove very costly.

Bayer 04 Leverkusen, currently third, have also had a mesmeric season to date, banishing the blues of last term’s disappointing 12th-place finish to light up the league under coach Heiko Herrlich this time around. The brilliant Leon Bailey has enthralled at the BayArena and beyond, the Jamaican weighing in with nine goals and seven assists thus far. A stellar cast of attacking greats like Julian Brandt and Kevin Volland, meanwhile, have kept opponents on their toes. If they can find some much needed consistency going into the home stretch – where games against direct rivals Eintracht Frankfurt and Dortmund await – Die Werkself should reach the promised land.

Based on reputation alone, the mighty Dortmund would always feature at Europe’s top table. Yet after a season of dramatic dips and remarkable recoveries, Die Schwarzgelben realise they have a real fight on their hands to remain among the best of the best. A spectacular start to the season preceded a plunge so profound, it cost Peter Bosz his job. Peter Stöger steadied the great Black and Yellow ship but it has not always been easy, with a thumping 6-0 loss against Bayern and the recent Revierderby reverse at the hands of local rivals Schalke results to forget for frustrated fans. Yet Dortmund’s top-four fate remains in their own hands and Marco Reus, Michy Batshuayi, Mario Götze and Co. will hope to avoid defeat against the likes of Leverkusen and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim in their remaining games to secure that seat at Europe’s top table.

RB Leipzig stormed home in second place last season, an astonishing achievement given it was their maiden campaign in Germany’s top tier. With Uefa Champions League tasks and a run to the Uefa Europa League quarterfinals to contend with this term, it was little surprise the Saxony-based side did not quite hit the same heights. Yet Ralph Hasenhüttl’s band of brothers, Timo Werner, Yussuf Poulsen, Naby Keita et al, have taken the notable scalps of Bayern and Dortmund this season and despite a couple of stumbles of late, will likely be pushing hard for a top-four place come the final day of the 2017/18 Bundesliga.

Hoffenheim presently occupy one of the Europa League places largely thanks to coach Julian Nagelsmann again working wonders at the Sinsheimers despite seeing a host of important players depart in recent times. The pulsating recent form of the on-loan Serge Gnabry – a scorer of six goals in his last six games, and nine in all combined with four assists in 2017/18 – has helped to bring the side to the brink of one more European campaign.

Fully in the top-four mix until very recently, Eintracht Frankfurt have slipped somewhat in recent weeks. The Matchday 30 setback against Leverkusen represented the Eagles’ fifth straight loss on the road, with another of those defeats coming against Dortmund. Coach Niko Kovac has nonetheless worked wonders this term – turning faltering players like Kevin-Prince Boateng into fully focused key contributors. The Berlin-born Croatian coach’s reward for his efforts in transforming Eintracht’s fortunes arrived with the recent announcement that he will replace Jupp Heynckes at the Bayern helm next season, but the 46-year-old knows he still has a job to finish in trying to guide Eintracht into at least a Europa League spot. So for all concerned, it’s all still to play for from now until 12 May.


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