This weekend’s round of Bundesliga fixtures pits two struggling former powerhouses against the pair heavily-tipped for automatic relegation. Who will show their mettle? Ross Dunbar assesses the side’s most in danger.
While there’s suitable intrigue at the top of the Bundesliga with RB Leipzig shaking up the status quo, there’s equally exciting drama at the bottom – and with significant ramifications. Hamburg and Werder Bremen, who played out a 2-2 draw on Saturday, are still deep in the mire, with the former European champions worryingly close to the precipice. Facing significantly lesser-funded teams, the extent of the danger hanging around both clubs will become apparent.
Darmstadt vs. Hamburg
Rewarded with two points against Hoffenheim and Werder Bremen, Hamburg are understandably focused on three points this weekend. Sunday’s clash at the Jonathan-Heimes-Stadion am Böllenfalltor has arrived at precisely the right time for head coach Markus Gisdol. On paper, Hamburg should, even in their current predicament, be able to see off the hard-working team with the lowest budget in the division. In context, Hamburg’s net spend this summer is more than Darmstadt’s annual player budget.
If last week’s Nordderby was a test of bottle under pressure, Darmstadt presents the cliched six-pointer. Defeat would only amplify the noise of the alarm bells at the Volksparkstadion. Before the 5-2 defeat at home to Borussia Dortmund, Hamburg hadn’t managed to summon up a goal in six games. “We are working on a lot of chances, shooting goals, and so to have the opportunity to win the games,” the coach told the club’s official website.
Gisdol’s counterpart, Norbert Meier, shrugged off suggestions of a crisis in Darmstadt, which by anyone’s estimations was way off the mark given the club’s resources. However, five straight losses in all competitions is enough to leave any partisan supporter concerned. “We are in Darmstadt. And the people who have followed our path know how we work here. The active fan blocks are still behind us. We can only achieve something if we continue to form unity,” said the club’s president.
Relegation wouldn’t be a disaster for a club of Darmstadt’s size. Perhaps the most sustainable thing for the Hesse club would be to establish themselves as a leading competitor in the 2.Bundesliga in the short-term. Nobody, however, will give up hope in public and with eight points on the board, the Lillies will be a stern test for Hamburg at the weekend.
Werder Bremen vs. Ingolstadt
Just ingolstadt separates Werder Bremen from bottom-of-the-league Hamburg in the Bundesliga after 12 matches. The Green and Whites haven’t suffered the same heartache as their rival supporters in Hamburg, who have come through two playoffs in three years, but there has been a continued decline since the departure of long-term head coach Thomas Schaaf in 2013.
2016-17: Worst (33)
2015-16: 2nd Worst (65)
2014-15: Joint-Worst (65)
2013-14: 4th Worst (66)
2012-13: 2nd Worst (66)
— Ross Dunbar (@rossdunbar93) 1 December 2016
Both Robin Dutt and Viktor Skripnik kept the club in the division, to their credit, but the football at the Weser has often been insipid and defensively unstable. This season, the club has the worst defensive record in the division, despite signing three new central defenders in the summer window. “This defence is simply diabolical. So they will only be fighting relegation again – and some time you get caught,” analysed ex-keeper Frank Rost.
Opponents Ingolstadt have already gone on to their third head coach of the calendar year. The loss of Ralph Hasenhüttl to RB Leipzig this summer cannot be understated, but his replacement Markus Kauczinski, formerly of Karlsruhe, lasted until the start of November. Although results caused the Bavarians to spiral towards the bottom, there were reasons for encouragement statistically.
The inexperienced Maik Walpurgis appears to be a nod towards potentially 2.Bundesliga football next term. The 43-year-old coached Sportfreunde Lotte and VfL Ösnabruck in the third-tier of German football without achieving anything spectacular. While he does possess a limited squad, the likes of Pascal Groß, Dario Lezcano and Mathew Leckie can be the driving force behind their push for survival.
After Werder on Saturday, RB Leipzig head South to the Audi Sportpark, before matches with Leverkusen and Freiburg round off the first half of the season. Even away from home, this weekend may be Ingolstadt’s last opportunity of the year to collect three important points and at the same time, extending their unbeaten run to three games.
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