Vedad Ibisevic of Stuttgartcelebrates scoring his goal with Martin Harnik during the Bundsliga match between Hamburger SV and VfB Stuttgart at Imtech Arena in Hamburg, Germany. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Bongarts/Getty Images)
The race for a place next season's Europa League heats up with five teams within one point of three places.
YOU'RE GONNA PLAY IN THE EUROPA LEAGUE NEXT YEAR!
And you're gonna play in the Europa league next year! And you're gonna play in the Europa League next year! And you're... not. Well, a couple of you are. Three of you to be exact. Wait. Maybe four will. Let's just focus on 5th, 6th, and 7th place finishers in the Bundesliga. That's the important bunch out of this group.
Hannover 96 have found their way into 5th place in the table on 41 points. Sitting just behind them on 40 points however, is not just one team. Stuttgart, Bayer Leverkusen, Werder Bremen, and Wolfsburg are all level with 40 points.
Yep. The Bundesliga has 5 teams within 1 point of each other in the race for the three Europa League places.
Unfortunately, we don't get one match featuring two of these clubs this weekend. There are some key things to keep an eye on as these clubs play this weekend.
Wolfsburg host Borussia Dortmund on Saturday in a match that they're not going to be expect to win. Nope. They're not, and Felix Magath knows this. The Wolfsburg manager has really turned this club around after a disappointing start to the season. Die Wölfe have won their last four matches and will be inviting the defending champions to the Volkswagen Arena with the confidence that they can win this match. Mario Mandzukic and Patrick Helmes have been in outstanding form over the last several weeks, and they'll be sure to test Dortmund centerbacks Neven Subotic and Mats Hummels.
Both sides need points this weekend when Werder Bremen to Köln. With only one win in their last eight matches, Köln have found themselves in the relegation zone. The Billy Goats are desperate for some magic from someone in addition to Lukas Podolski. He has 17 of their 35 goals this year. Milivoje Novakovic has to score more in their remaining matches for them to avoid relegation. Huge news broke this week when Bremen goalkeeper Tim Wiese announced that he would not be signing a new contract to remain at the Weserstadion. While this isn't the worst news for Bremen supporters, will this unsettle the club with only a few matches remaining? Well, probably not against Köln. They should beat them.
Stuttgart host Mainz in what should be a fairly simple victory for the hosts. February and March only saw one loss for the Swabians. Vedad Ibisevic was signed from Hoffenheim in the January transfer window to help provide more goals as Stuttgart sought to fight their way back into a European place. The Bosnian international has responded well with 5 goals since joining the side. However, the story for Stuttgart in the second half of the season has been the amazing form of Martin Harnik. The 24 year old forward has already scored eight goals in the Rückrunde. His stellar form has helped Stuttgart to a six match unbeaten run. Barring a defensive catastrophe from Stuttgart, expect this run to continue this weekend.
Looking to put their disappointment at being knocked out of the Europa League midweek behind them, Hannover 96 travel to 3rd place Schalke on Sunday. They've found themselves leading the pack of clubs chasing a Europa League place, but they're only one point ahead of them. Building off of last week's massive victory against Borussia Mönchengladbach, Hannover won't have any fear heading into this match against Schalke. However, Emanuel Pogatetz and Mario Eggimann struggled to contain Radamel Falcao, and this time they'll have to contain Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. It's not going to be easy, but a win here would help them stake their claim for one of the Europa league places. Remember this name Schalke: Mame Biram Diouf.
Bayer Leverkusen defeated Bayern Munich 2-0 on March 3. They followed that up with five straight losses in the month of March. It started just four days after the victory over Bayern. Leverkusen wasn't expected to go to Barcelona and get a result. The 7-1 loss was not expected. This was followed by losses to Wolfsburg, Gladbach, Schalke, and Freiburg. The board had enough. Robin Dutt was sacked. Sami Hyypiä has replaced him. The has been word in the German media this week that Hyypiä is ready to reinstate Michael Ballack to the squad for his experience to help the team get through this difficult period. I have a better cure. "Your next three matches are against Hamburg, Kaiserslautern, and Hertha Berlin." I'm pretty sure that will cure what ails them. Leverkusen isn't a bad side. They're just going through a bad spell. I think they'll get back to the positive this weekend.
Saturday, April 7
Freiburg vs Nürnberg - 15:30 CET & 9:30AM EST
Kaiserslautern vs Hoffenheim - 15:30 CET & 9:30AM EST
Bayern Munich vs Augsburg - 15:30 CET & 9:30AM EST
Wolfsburg vs Borussia Dortmund - 15:30 CET & 9:30AM EST
Köln vs Werder Bremen - 15:30 CET & 9:30AM EST
Stuttgart vs Mainz - 15:30 CET & 9:30AM EST
Borussia Mönchengladbach vs Hertha Berlin - 18:30 CET & 12:30PM EST
Sunday, April 8
Schalke vs Hannover 96 - 15:30 CET & 9:30AM EST
Hamburg vs Bayer Leverkusen - 17:30 CET & 11:30AM EST