With just two games remaining, six teams are still fighting for their right to be in the Bundesliga again next season. Who are the key players for each of the sides battling to beat the drop? DW takes a look.12. Leverkusen (37 points, -6 GD): Chicharito
Bayer Leverkusen haven’t looked good in most areas of the pitch this season but, given that they’ve scored the fewest goals (3) in the last five Bundesliga games, it now seems an improvement from those at the front end will be the key to ending the relegation threat.
Kevin Volland has huffed and puffed, Stefan Kießling isn’t getting any younger and Admir Mehmedi doesn’t score enough. Chicharito might have struggled with muscle problems of late, but it still seems bizarre that he’s been left on the bench for the last two games. The 28-year-old remains the most talented striker in the squad, and the most natural goalscorer. If Leverkusen are going to get anything against rivals Cologne or in Berlin on the final day they will need to threaten much more in front of goal. For that, there are few better to turn to than their Mexican striker.
13. Augsburg (36 points, -16 GD): Konstantinos Stafylidis
Augsburg head coach Manuel Baum is “completely convinced” that his team will survive and, while they’ve collected seven points from their last five games, Augsburg’s final two matches come against Dortmund and Hoffenheim. Halil Altintop’s experience will be important, but with the 34-year-old struggling with back problems at the moment, Konstantinos Stafylidis stands out as a key player. While Augsburg have often been about their collective strength, the Greek defender’s passion, scoring ability and defensive determination are all things Augsburg will need plenty of for their final two games.
At home against Dortmund, Augsburg have caused problems in the past, notably snatching a 1-0 win in February 2015. With all the headlines about Thomas Tuchel’s future, Augsburg will be hoping there will be some distracted defenders they can take advantage of. And by the time they play Hoffenheim on the final day, they’ll be hoping Julian Nagelsmann’s team will have little to play for. Either way, they’ll need a little fortune and a sprinkling of Greek magic to avoid a spot in the relegation playoff.
14. Wolfsburg (36 points, -17 GD): Mario Gomez
Since the arrival of new head coach Andries Jonker, Wolfsburg’s gameplan has been clear: get the ball to Mario Gomez. Wolfsburg’s Dutch head coach has even admitted as much and the success of that strategy will decide where Wolfsburg end up at the end of matchday 34.
Against Frankfurt, French winger Paul-Georges Ntep got into all the right areas to provide for Gomez and the Germany striker scored one and assisted another in a much-needed win. Gomez is an old-fashioned striker of a passing era, but when Wolfsburg play to his strengths both he and the team look brand new.
One point against a Gladbach side who have managed all three results in their last three games would give Wolfsburg further breathing space before the final-day showdown against Hamburg.
15. Mainz (34 points, -11 GD): Levin Özuntali
Mainz’s bore draw against Hamburg was a bad sign for both sides, but it is Martin Schmidt’s side who came out in the slightly more favorable position as they remain above the relegation zone on goal difference (albeit by 18 goals). Mainz host Frankfurt and then travel to Cologne, but a win at home on Matchday 33 might well be enough. To do that, they’ll need Jannik Huth to keep up his good form in goal but it’s an experienced youngster in midfield that could hold the key.
Levin Öztunali is 21-years-old but has already had a turbulent time in the Bundesliga. It didn’t work out at Hamburg, he never seemed to fit at Leverkusen and then was out of luck at Werder Bremen. At Mainz though, he has shone brighter more often than in almost any season before. Statistically, he hasn’t set the world alight (six goals, five assists), but he is the type of player capable of producing something out of nothing and that’s exactly what his side need.
16. Hamburg (34 points, -29 GD): Nicolai Müller
Hamburg have dropped off horribly after what looked like a well-timed resurrection in the new year. Part of that reason is their travails in defense, but it is also the absence of Nicolai Müller. The attacker has been missing since matchday 27 with a ligament tear, but there is genuine hope that he will be able to play a part before the end of the season.
Müller has missed the last six games and in that time Hamburg have collected just four points. Bobby Wood has looked isolated without Müller’s playmaking, and Hamburg are desperate for more goals – they’ve only scored four in the last five games.
Whether the 29-year-old will get back on the pitch in time remains to be seen, but Hamburg will be hoping he can and they can swerve the desperate prospect of facing their third relegation playoff game in the last four years.
17. Ingolstadt (30 points, -21 GD): Maik Walpurgis
In the last 20 games, Ingolstadt are 11th in the table with 24 points. Sadly for head coach Maik Walpurgis and his side, the other twelve games saw a return of just six points. Walpurgis’ arrival has been proved a masterstroke and Ingolstadt have undoubtedly improved since. But playing good football doesn’t automatically mean points and Ingolstadt know that better than most. Were it not for a Leverkusen equalizer last weekend, the table might look favorable with two games left.
As it stands, Ingolstadt will likely go down. They need to win both of their games and hope one of Hamburg and Mainz (and possibly Augsburg) lose both of theirs. A trip to Freiburg is far from ideal given the European push Christian Streich’s team currently find themselves on. If they fail to get anything from there, the final day visit of Schalke won’t matter.
Ingolstadt have never been about names, but the key man in their last attempts at survival is their head coach. He has made a huge impact so far, but can he make the ultimate difference in the unlikeliest of situations?