THE BUNDESLIGA is back and European football fanatic Jack Lambden (@_JackL_) has taken a deep dive into the outright markets to share his favourite fancies ahead of the campaign's conclusion, focussing on the race to avoid relegation here.
The Bundesliga has been given the green light to return to action from 16th May – a decent standard of football for us to enjoy and make a surreal time slightly easier to deal with.
The German top-flight is one of the most exciting in world football, containing an abundance of talent in terms of players and managers. The COVID-19 situation may just mean that some of them stick around for longer at their current clubs rather than move for big money to the Premier League and La Liga alike.
One thing is for certain though, the in-demand stars will have a big part to play in a title race which is far from over; the race for the Champions League qualification spots and, further down the league, the fight to stay in the division.
Paderborn look almost certainties for an immediate drop back down into 2.Bundesliga, simply not possessing enough the resources to bring in enough quality throughout the squad to be able to compete with many other clubs in the top tier.
The intriguing tussle looks to be between Bundesliga mainstays Werder Bremen and perennial league-hoppers Fortuna Dusseldorf. Something that I don’t think is quite reflected in the 6/4 price on the latter to finish in the bottom two (with BetVictor) is the fact that Bremen have a game in-hand on their rivals which, if they win, would leave them just one point behind 16th place – the relegation play-off spot and a chance at redemption.
Bremen have had, it’s fair to say, one of their worst ever seasons. They have lacked goals throughout, desperately missing target man Niclas Füllkrug who has been sidelined for many months with a torn ACL. At one point in the season, manager Florian Kohfeldt was without 11 first team players and the form unsurprisingly took a turn for the worse although to their credit, the board have stuck with the man that led the River Islanders to 8th in 2018-19 in his debut season.
At the other end of the pitch, it’s been even worse. The team have been a defensive shambles and kept just one clean sheet all campaign, something which can hardly have been helped by the aforementioned injuries and need to use 30 players across the Bundesliga matches which does not help build consistency.
There are glimmers of light though. The squad has quality within it, particularly in the form of Milot Rashica. The Kosovan looks set to surpass his goal total from last season despite the team being so poor overall and he’ll need to be in similarly inspiring form if Bremen are to avoid crashing out of the top division for the first time in 30 years.
In defence, on-loan Turkish international Omer Topak has began training in recovery from his own long-term lay-off and his return adds to an aged defensive unit who will need to use their collective experience to guide the club out of trouble.
It’s at home that Werder have encountered the biggest problems, scoring just eight times in 11 fixtures and recording the worst points per-game total of any side in Europe’s big five leagues – a pitiful 0.45 per-match.
With six games to go on their own turf, it may perhaps come as a relief that the players will not have to handle the pressure of an increasingly impatient home crowd getting on their back. Although, they still have to play Leverkusen, Monchengladbach and Bayern Munich at Wesserstadion so they may have to pick their battles and ensure they at least win the games against sides in and around them – namely trips to Paderborn and Mainz.
The team may be hampered by being a week behind in terms of training compared to the rest of the league, with the Bremen local government not lifting restrictions on that type of activity until a later date than the rest of the country. Bremen are now preparing in an isolation camp though and despite initial frustration, seem to be on board with plans to restart again this weekend.
It’s perhaps hard to believe that Bremen won their fourth Bundesliga title just 16 years ago considering how badly it has gone wrong this season, but I think they’ve enough quality returning from injury in the form of Füllkrug, Topak and Kevin Mohwald to add to their already superior squad and get ahead of Fortuna Dusseldorf to avoid an automatic drop into the second tier.
Dusseldorf are certainly in better shape since Uwe Rosler took charge in late January, the new coach making the team a lot tougher to break down and instilling a front-foot approach to games which held them in such good stead last season when they were certainly not afraid to take on the big boys at their own game.
One defeat in six has increased confidence in the squad but the team are far from out of the woods yet, especially as their main goalscorer Rouwen Hennings entered the suspended period without finding the back of the net in nine Bundesliga games.
Hennings bagged 11 strikes in the first half of the season and incredibly, his Expected Goals (xG) conversion rate is actually better than Robert Lewandowski. How Burnley fans would have wished for a rate like that when the German had his ill-fated spell at Turf Moor a few years back! The team’s xG return is rather less impressive though at 26.95, reflecting that they have scored a measly 27 goals in 25 matches.
Rosler didn’t waste time in adding former Huddersfield centre-back Mathias Jorgenson (known as Zanka) and Valon Berisha to his ranks on loan before the January transfer window closed, but neither hit the ground running in terms of their own performances as they struggled to adapt to the pace of such a breathless league.
Berisha has perhaps been playing in a deeper role than he is accustomed to but that is likely because Rosler wants his side to retain possession more than they were doing up to his appointment and Berisha has the technical ability to pick the ball up from deep and break forward.
Injuries to at least four players including American goalkeeper Zack Steffen, teamed with a tough run of fixtures (Fortuna still have to play the current top three and the derby away to the impressive Koln), renders me to doubt a patched-up team’s ability to avoid a bottom two finish. Dusseldorf’s home support is normally superb so the absence of fans upon the return of the game will no doubt affect the players. Defender Kasim Nuhu Adams even described it in a recent interview as ‘painful’.
The general 8/11 odds on Fortuna dropping into 2.Bundesliga do not appeal as representing value so instead, a bottom two finish at the 6/4 quoted is my second best for the remainder of the Bundesliga season.
Bundesliga – Fortuna Dusseldorf to finish in the bottom two (6/4 BetVictor)