The Bundesliga Relegation Battle: Who Will Survive?
One of the most exciting relegation battles in recent memory is raging in the German Bundesliga as we enter the final section of the season. Just nine matchdays remain and the bottom five teams are separated by just five points, while 13th place Köln and 12th place Augsburg are by no means safe yet.
Just two matchdays ago (MD23), Stuttgart, Hoffenheim, Schalke and Bochum were all level on points – something that had never happened before this late into the season during the three points for a win era.
Two teams will be directly relegated to the second tier, while 16th place will only be enough for a two-legged relegation play-off against a 2. Bundesliga club. We look at what the Opta supercomputer predictions are telling us for the battle to survive relegation.
14th Place: VfL Bochum
10.7% Chance of Direct Relegation
12.5% Chance of Relegation Play-off
In 2021-22, VfL Bochum survived as a newly-promoted team following their title-winning campaign in the second tier in 2020-21. This season looked like it was going to be a struggle, however, after they lost their opening six games of the season, becoming just the third club in Bundesliga history to do so after Fortuna Düsseldorf in 1991-92 and FSV Mainz in 2020-21.
Following their 3-1 defeat to Schalke 04 on MD6, Bochum’s long-standing coach Thomas Reis was given the boot and was replaced by Thomas Letsch on MD8. Under Letsch, Bochum have turned their Vonovia-Ruhrstadion into a fortress and for the first time since 1997, went on a five-game winning run at home in the top-flight between October and February.
Following a four-game losing run without scoring a single goal, Bochum have enjoyed two crucial wins in a row away against Köln (2-0) and at home versus UCL-chasing RB Leipzig (1-0) to take them up to 14th and four points clear of the direct relegation places.
The VfL’s biggest weakness throughout much of the season has been their defence. They have both conceded the most goals in the Bundesliga (56) and given their opponents the best chances, with a league-high 47.9 expected goals faced. Defending set-pieces has been a particular struggle, with Bochum allowing their opponents to scored 22 goals from set plays: another league high.
But those two recent wins over Köln and RB Leipzig saw some progress, with back-to-back clean sheets for the first time in 2022-23 – as many as in their opening 23 games of the season combined.
As much as they have struggled to keep out the opposition from set-pieces, Bochum have enjoyed some success from these scenarios at the other end of the pitch – particularly in the new year.
So far in 2023, 46% of their goals have been scored from set-piece situations, with central defender Erhan Masovic proving a particular threat to the opposition. His four goals from non-penalty set pieces in 2023 are a joint-league high alongside Danilo Doekhi of Union Berlin.
Bochum’s key games look to be the relegation six-pointers against current bottom side Stuttgart at home on MD27 and away at Hertha BSC on the penultimate weekend of Bundesliga action.
As it stands, they are the outsiders for relegation, with just over a one-in-ten chance of direct relegation (10.7%) and a little higher to finish in 16th position and therefore in the relegation play-off (12.5%).
15th Place: TSG Hoffenheim
34.0% Chance of Direct Relegation
21.8% Chance of Relegation Play-off
After MD10, Hoffenheim would have been forgiven for starting to think about qualification for European competition this season. They were in fourth position with 17 points, just two points away from second-place Bayern Munich and six off league leaders Union Berlin. Then Hoffenheim went into a tailspin.
A 14-game winless run in which they lost 12 times and picked up just two points saw them drop down the table. That winless run was their longest in the Bundesliga, while they also set another record within this sequence of results, by losing seven games in a row.
In the midst of this terrible run, manager André Breitenreiter – who had only arrived in the summer after winning the Swiss title with FC Zürich last season – was dismissed in February and replaced by Pellegrino Matarazzo. As Stuttgart coach at the start of the season, Matarazzo was dismissed in October after a nine-game winless run. His record didn’t get much better when he took over at Hoffenheim, becoming the first coach in the club history to lose their first five Bundesliga game in charge.
Heading into their final Bundesliga game before the March international break, Hoffenheim found themselves bottom of the league table, a point behind both Schalke and Stuttgart and two points behind their next opponents Hertha BSC. Luckily for Hoffenheim and Matarazzo, they put an end to their awful run and secured a vital 3-1 win at home to the Berlin side on 18 March.
Much of Hoffenheim’s problems stem from their weak defence, one that hasn’t kept a clean sheet in 15 league games now – the longest current run of any Bundesliga team. They have also missed chances at the other end of the pitch, underperforming their xG total (36.9) by just under four goals (33) – only fellow strugglers Schalke (-7.5) have fared worse in this aspect.
Much of their hopes for survival will hinge on the form of star striker Andrej Kramarić, who is their record goalscorer in the German top-flight with 95 Bundesliga goals. He proved his worth with two crucial penalties in their win over Hertha on the last matchday and will undoubtedly be the man to provide the goals that may keep them out of trouble.
Their key games to come are their next home game – on MD27 – against Schalke 04, while the final game of the season could be absolutely huge, with Matarazzo taking his Hoffenheim side back to his former club VfB Stuttgart.
16th Place: Hertha BSC
49.9% Chance of Direct Relegation
19.7% Chance of Relegation Play-off
Hertha BSC only narrowly avoided relegation last season by securing their Bundesliga status in a relegation play-off versus Hamburg. There’s every chance they may have to do the same this time around, or worse, suffer direct relegation in the bottom two.
Although there were signs of progress under new coach Sandro Schwarz earlier in the season, the desired results failed to materialise. Hertha have failed to finish a matchday this season higher than 13th in the table.
After going the first four games without a win (D1 L3), the Berliners went on a five-game unbeaten run (W1 D4) but since then the poor form has returned with 11 losses in 16 Bundesliga matches seeing them average only 0.8 points per game. Despite this, Hertha have stuck with coach Schwarz and are the only team within the bottom five to have kept with the same manager all season so far.
Since the turn of the year, Hertha’s defence has been the major issue. They have conceded 26 goals in the Bundesliga post-World Cup, which is more than any other team, while that total is more than they conceded before the winter break (22) in five games fewer.
Regular goalkeeper Oliver Christensen hasn’t been able to keep out the goals. His goals prevented tally of minus 8.9 is the worst of any Bundesliga keeper in 2022-23, conceding 48 goals (excluding own goals) from an expected goals on target total of 39.1. Of this deficit, 7.0 has been in 2023, showing how poor his form has been defensively across the Bundesliga since the return following the winter break.
Hertha’s survival will probably come down to how many points they can pick up from their remaining four home games this season. So far in 2022-23, the Berlin side have picked up a league-high 81% of points in home games (17/21), while two of their last four games at the Olympiastadion Berlin are against direct relegation rivals: Stuttgart on MD31 – the only team yet to win an away game in the 2022-23 Bundesliga – and Bochum on MD33, who have lost the most away games in 2022-23 (11).
17th Place: Schalke 04
57.9% Chance of Direct Relegation
18.3% Chance of Relegation Play-off
For a long time, Schalke seemed to be suffering a similar decline to that of 2020-21, when they proved competitive in the Bundesliga and ended the season with just 16 points – the lowest of any team in the three points for a win era. Across the first half of this season, they’d picked up only nine points – just two more than their disastrous 2020-21 campaign (seven). However, the second half of the campaign has seen a transformation.
In part thanks to the arrival of winter additions such as Moritz Jenz and Michael Frey, Schalke have picked up 12 points from 10 games in 2023 so far, but most importantly they have seen their defeats reduce dramatically (two).
They are currently on an eight-game unbeaten run, which began with four goalless draws – the first team in Bundesliga history to do this. Since then, two wins (both against relegation rivals Stuttgart and Bochum) and two more draws have given them a fighting chance of survival in 2022-23. Since the halfway point of the season (17 games), the only other Bundesliga side to go undefeated are rivals Borussia Dortmund.
Since the halfway point of 2022-23, Schalke have posted league-best tallies for goals conceded (four) and expected goals against (8.5), which is a remarkable turnaround from the first half of the campaign in which they conceded a league-high 41 goals from 17 games.
Despite their recent upturn in form, the Opta supercomputer still gives them the highest chance of direct relegation via the bottom two places (57.9%). Whilst their defence has improved, Schalke do still have the weakest attack in the Bundesliga with just 21 goals and a league-low 9% shot conversion rate, this despite seven goals in their last four league matches.
Matchdays 27 and 28 could well decide their fate, with games against relegation rivals Hoffenheim and Hertha BSC. They’ll need to pick up positive results in those games, as their last three league fixtures of 2022-23 see them face difficult matches against three of the current top six sides: Bayern Munich away, Eintracht Frankfurt at home and RB Leipzig away.
18th Place: VfB Stuttgart
43.9% Chance of Direct Relegation
19.2% Chance of Relegation Play-off
VfB Stuttgart set a club first in 2022-23 by going nine Bundesliga games without a win to start the season, which saw Pellegrino Matarazzo depart as head coach and replaced by interim manager Michael Wimmer. Whilst Wimmer enjoyed three wins in six games in charge, Bruno Labbadia took over the club for the first time in nearly 10 years.
However, Labbadia hasn’t been able to steer the Stuttgart ship clear of danger, with just one win and six points (D3 L6) collected across his 10 games in charge of the club. With their 1-0 defeat to Wolfsburg before the international break, VfB fell to the foot of the table for the first time in 2022-23.
A worrying trend for Stuttgart has been their inability to stop the opposition from scoring, despite not presenting them with the easiest chances this season.
On average, Stuttgart’s expected goals against per game of 1.30 is bettered by only five Bundesliga teams in 2022-23, while it’s exactly the same as league leaders Borussia Dortmund. However, they have conceded nearly 10 goals more than expected (42 from 32.5 xG), which is the second worst difference in the Bundesliga (-9.5) behind only FC Köln (-11.2).
Stuttgart fans should be worried about finishing in the bottom three this season. Whilst the Opta supercomputer gives Schalke and Hertha a bigger chance of finishing in the bottom two, and only Hertha and Hoffenheim have a bigger chance of appearing in the relegation play-off, Stuttgart’s inability to pick up a win on the road could harm them.
As the only club yet to win an away match in 2022-23 (D5 L7), it’s concerning for Stuttgart that five of their last nine games come away from home, with two of those against rivals for the drop – Bochum on MD27 and Hertha BSC on MD31.
The final game of the season will also be a grudge match, with former coach Matarazzo returning to the Mercedes-Benz Arena with his current side, and fellow relegation threatened outfit Hoffenheim. That game as the potential to be the ultimate relegation showdown.
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