“Following recent results and the predicament the club is in, we have decided it’s time for a change. We are certain that this was the best option given our current situation” stated a beleaguered Dietmar Beiersdorfer. He’d just let his second manager of the season, Joe Zinnbauer, leave his club. Said club, Hamburger SV, have had a rough season so far, flirting once more with the relegation zone; it seems nobody knows how to rescue Hamburg from themselves at the moment.
The Bundesliga Dinosaurs – so called because they have played every season in the German top flight since the league’s conception in 1963 – famously have a clock installed in their stadium which tells visitors how long they’ve been a Bundesliga side. Despite their pedigree, Hamburg have looked dangerously close to the edge for some time now, and letting Zinnbauer go in favour of Peter Knäbel was yet another desperate measure to keep die Rothosen’s clock ticking.
With just seven games for the Bundesliga’s relegation scrappers between now and the end of the season, time is running out for the group of teams struggling at the bottom of the table. Just seven points separate rock-bottom Stuttgart and eleventh-placed Mainz, indicating a tightly packed race for survival, so any poor run of form between now and late May could well and truly consign two (or three, depending on the relegation playoff) clubs to second tier football in 2015/16. How’s the race shaping up?
11th: Hertha BSC – 32 points, -11 goal difference
Hertha are the model of what a managerial change can do for a struggling club. Jos Luhukay did a great job of steering the capital club to a good finish last season, but seemed devoid of ideas this time out. He’s since been replaced by former Hungarian Pal Dardai, who has inspired a turnaround in form, with wins over Hamburg and Augsburg as well as draws to Schalke and Stuttgart. That said, given that they’re within touching distance of the bottom still, and the fact that Dardai arguably has the worst squad in the league at his disposal – a squad ‘boasting’ the talent of Julian Schieber and Sandro Wagner as key talent up front – means that Hertha are still in immediate danger of the drop. A few more positive results will help a functional side to survival, and hopefully the club can finally start to make some progress as a Bundesliga club, rather than merely surviving for a few years before hitting the second tier for a few years.
12th: FSV Mainz 05 – 31 points, -1 goal difference
It almost feels wrong to include Mainz in the relegation race for many reasons. Their league position is almost too high to be considered for relegation at this present moment in time, while under the newly appointed Martin Schmidt, Mainz have looked much better, drawing with both Borussia Mönchengladbach and VfL Wolfsburg, and winning away to Augsburg – becoming only the third side to do so this year, after Dortmund and Bayern – among other results. It’s quickly become clear that Kasper Hjulmand, who was appointed by die Nullfünfer in the summer, was the wrong choice to replace the excellent tactical mind of Thomas Tuchel, and having promoted Swiss manager Schmidt to head honcho, Mainz look like the side Bundesliga fans have been familiar with over the past few years again.
Should their form drop off incredibly, they’re not out of the woods yet, but Mainz are pretty much safe.
13th: 1.FC Köln – 30 points, -6 goal difference
Again, Köln are pretty much out of the picture with regards relegation to the second tier. Peter Stöger’s side haven’t really inspired at any point of the season, with the only brief moments of genius coming through Anthony Ujah and, very recently, his fellow striker Deyverson, but Köln are very solid and don’t tend to lose by much, if at all. Their home form has been poor this season, but Stöger seems to have an excellent game plan away from home, sitting deep and hitting his opposition on the break. The likelihood is that Stöger will manage to get a handful more of those performances in the remaining eight games from his team, and so Köln are very close to safety, like with Mainz.
14th: SC Freiburg – 28 points, -14 goal difference
Freiburg are in a similar position to the one which faced them this time last season, namely sitting just above the relegation zone, having slowly come into form since the turn of the year. Unlike the other clubs immediately around them in the league, Freiburg have a relatively stable coach – Christian Streich’s future has quite rightly never been questioned, and won’t be for the foreseeable future – and die Breisgauer seem to have finally found a goalscorer in the shape of former Bayern and Bremen man Nils Petersen.
Swiss goalkeeper Roman Bürki has been inspired at times this season for the Southern club, while the likes of Oliver Sorg and Vladimir Darida have turned in a number of impressive performances in recent weeks, and will certainly prove crucial figures in the run-in. Freiburg have staved off relegation with time to spare under Streich twice in the former P.E. teacher’s tenure, and should do so again.
15th: Hannover 96 – 28 points, -13 goal difference
It’s crunch time for Tayfun Korkut’s men. Last year, the Turkish boss was pretty much absolved from any blame in Hannover’s league position, having taken over an unenviable position left by the at-times clueless Mirko Slomka (who is partly culpable for Hamburg’s position this year), eventually managing a relatively comfortable finish despite a real threat of relegation with a few games to go. This year, Hannover’s position can more accurately be pinned on Korkut, who did a great job in the Hinrunde but, since Christmas, hasn’t been able to steer his side to a win.
Despite positive performances against Bayern and Dortmund, Hannover have been dreadful for most of the year, and it seems that, given a couple more poor results, Korkut’s head could be on the line. Hannover fans will be hoping that outgoing captain Lars Stindl will be able to inspire his charges to a slightly better end to the season than their start to 2015; it’d be a sour note for one of the fans’ favourites to leave the club on should Hannover get relegated. With the immediate next few games against a leaky Frankfurt side and the aforementioned Hertha, Hannover will be hoping that a win comes soon – momentum is absolutely essential at this juncture of the season.
16th: Hamburger SV – 25 points, -25 goal difference
Where do we start with Hamburg? The club’s a complete shambles and has been for some time. When there aren’t problems with managers, there are problems with sporting directors, the squad clearly isn’t up to Bundesliga standard, and some of the senior players, players who should be guiding the younger members of the team – including skipper Rafael van der Vaart and goalkeeper Jaroslav Drobny – seem unable to replicate anything close to their previous good form at the club.
Sacking Joe Zinnbauer was probably the right option; the gilet-wearing Tim Sherwood lookalike was quite affable and did a good job immediately after taking over Mirko Slomka, but “Magic Joe” (as he was named after a goalless draw against Bayern) quickly lost his sparkle during a Rückrunde which has shown no improvement, with Hamburg picking up just eight points from nine games.
Replacing him is Peter Knäbel. Desperate times call for desperate measures, but it is almost beyond parody that Beiersdorfer has turned to a man whose last experience of managing a club was fifteen years ago. At a Swiss second division club. His first game in charge of HSV was a 4-0 drubbing by Leverkusen – and that might not even be as bad as it gets this season.
The future is honestly looking very bleak for Hamburg indeed, and but for the ‘heroics’ of last year, it looks like Hamburg’s famous clock could be out of use very, very soon.
17th: SC Paderborn – 24 points, -29 goal difference
Remember when Andre Breitenreiter’s side looked like a breath of fresh air? Tipped to go down in the manager of Braunschweig last season and Fürth before them, Paderborn began the season in swashbuckling fashion, with the likes of Elias Kachunga and Moritz Stoppelkamp briefly becoming names familiar to football fans across the continent.
A lot has changed. Paderborn have been found out, and despite what Breitenreiter might try, his squad just isn’t cut out for top level football. 2015 has been a woeful year for the newly promoted club, adding just five points to their tally since the turn of the year, scoring just twice (both in the same game, their solitary win of 2015) and conceding a whopping 24 goals in the same period of time. In most of those games, they’ve been lucky not to concede more too. The maths shows a bleak future – already in a relegation slot in some of the worst form in the league, it’d be a miracle for Paderborn to stay up.
They might not have started the season in the fashion of a Fürth or a Braunschweig, but they’re certainly ending it in that way.
18th: VfB Stuttgart – 23 points, -21 goal difference
Much like Hamburg, Stuttgart are a massive club who absolutely shouldn’t be in the predicament that they are currently in. And it could have all been so different.
The season began with Stuttgart bringing in the coach who won them the title in 2007, Armin Veh, for the outgoing Huub Stevens, who had scraped survival for them the year before. Reason for optimism, then – Veh had done a good job at Frankfurt, taking them from the second tier to the Europa League in a year. It hasn’t turned out that way.
A run of poor form led to Veh resigning, and being replaced with – you guessed it – Huub Stevens. It’s not gone as well for the Dutch manager this time around, to say the least. Stuttgart have managed just one win since the turn of the year – in the game against Frankfurt just before the international break recently – but still don’t really seem to be on the up, having only capitalised on Frankfurt’s inability to defend rather than having played particularly well. Oddly enough, the win might not be great for Stuttgart in the medium term either, giving Stevens somewhat of a lifeline in the job rather than results allowing him to be jettisoned earlier.
Regardless of whether he’s done it before, Stevens has looked devoid of ideas to keep Stuttgart up this season. The squad’s certainly good enough to keep the club up – their younger contingent boast a ridiculous amount of talent, with Werner, Baumgartl, and, erm, Rüdiger, all having roles in the squad, while Maxim and Die have shown the way for Stuttgart in recent weeks. If all of those players play well, there’s still hope, but things are looking increasingly bleak for Stuttgart.
16th: VfB Stuttgart
17th: Hamburger SV
18th: SC Paderborn