Hoffman’s Heroics Keep Relegation Battle Alive

Werder Bremen, Fortuna Düsseldorf and Mainz 05 all went into their midweek fixtures against the top three accepting that they were unlikely to pick up any points. While Werder put in a spirited display on Tuesday night, Manuel Nuer denied them a point and ultimately delivered Bayern München a title that seemed unlikely a few months ago.

This gave both Mainz and Fortuna the chance to put some distance between themselves and Werder. However, both were facing the clubs in second and third, respectively. Mainz provided the shock of the week, putting an abject Borrussia Dortmund away with a 2-0 victory that all but guarantees their survival. This victory means that realistically, the best Werder can hope for if they are to avoid the drop is a second chance in the relegation play-off.

For 87 minutes against RB Leipzig, it looked like Fortuna were going to be in the same position as Werder. 2-0 down, they had slipped into the bottom two on goals scored. However, Uwe Rösler decided to push for a comeback during the closing stages. Instead of going into damage limitation mode to protect the goal difference, he took off defensive midfielders Adam Bodzek and Alfredo Morales, replacing them with the more attacking minded duo of Kevin Stöger and Erik Thommy. Yet it was two other substitutes who inadvertently combined to give Fortuna a lifeline in the game.

Kenan Karaman, who has been in great form since his return from injury, completely outmuscled Dayot Upamecano before pulling the ball back to Marcel Sobotka, whose mishit shot deflected in off Steven Skrzybski to get Fortuna back in the game on 87 minutes. It was the Schalke striker’s first goal since joining on loan and was fully deserved after some strong performances over the last couple of matches.

Again, following this goal Rösler could have parked the bus and played out the 2-1, which would have kept Fortuna in the relegation play-off place on goal difference. However, the manager clearly felt that a point was there for the taking and began to encourage his players to push for the equaliser. This was a dangerous tactic mainly because of the strength of Leipzig on the counterattack, with another goal for the hosts potentially undoing all the hard work of pulling one back.

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Fortuna fans hearts would have been in their mouths when in the 92nd minute they saw goalkeeper Florian Kastenmeier racing upfield for a corner. Fortune favoured the brave, as a brilliant corner to the near post was flicked on by Matthias Jorgensen and buried at the back post by Andre Hoffman. This crazy five minutes may well have saved Fortuna from automatic relegation.

So where do the midweek games leave us? Werder against Mainz is certainly the biggest game of the weekend now. Mainz just need a point to all but guarantee survival, while Werder have to win big and then hope Mainz lose their final game against Leverkusen. Werder can only end up level on points with their weekend opponents, so it would come down to goal difference. As of now, Mainz have the superior goal difference, and would also stay up on goals scored.

Therefore, it looks like Werder’s main hope of survival is through the relegation play-off, currently occupied by Fortuna. Mainz against Werder is a lose lose for Fortuna. Either Werder gain ground on them, or Mainz edge closer to safety. Again, Fortuna can catch Mainz, but would need to find the net a couple of times and hope Mainz lose or draw to Werder and get taken apart by Leverkusen on the final day.

Fortuna face Augsburg at the same time, another side who are mathematically still in with a chance of dropping into the relegation play-off position, but this is very unlikely and would take a freak set of results. Augsburg have a far superior goal difference compared to the sides below them, so it would take a complete dismantling at the hands of Fortuna for them to be in any real danger.

Tension will be high during Saturday’s games, especially for Mainz. They know that they are unlikely to repeat their Dortmund heroics against an inform Leverkusen side on the last game of the season. That makes their game with Werder the best chance they have to confirm their status in the topflight.

Fortuna and Werder both play far weaker opposition who will have little to play for by the final day of the season. Union Berlin host Fortuna having guaranteed their survival following a brilliant campaign in which they defied many pundits who saw them as going down automatically alongside SC Paderborn. Werder face another of the promoted sides in FC Köln, whose dip in form since the restart could have been a lot more worrying if it weren’t for the sides below them failing to capitalise.

With neither Union nor Köln having much at stake, both Fortuna and Werder will hope that their opponents are already on their holidays. Leverkusen on the other hand still have a shot at the top four and need all the points they can get to hold off Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Mainz have the advantage and following their impressive result against Dortmund will be expected to see off Werder and guarantee survival. Fortuna then have their best chance to at least guarantee they give themselves a second chance in the relegation play-off by beating Augsburg. If both results go this way, it will end Werder’s long stay in the topflight and be a very low day for fans of one of the biggest clubs in the country.

Whatever happens, the relegation battle is by no means over.