I awoke Saturday morning at a very rain-drenched campsite with absolutely zero mobile-network coverage (thanks, T-semi-Mobile?). I had known before heading out of town for the weekend that I was going to be missing the big battle with the Pills of Bayer Leverkusen, but that did little to suppress my anxiousness to head to the Ilwaco Saturday Market, where there would be a chance to get some hot food, but also the chance to connect to the internet and learn the outcome of the “derby that isn’t a derby,” as well as its impact on the still-strong hopes of a European finish.
Before heading to the Bundesliga mobile app, I decided to scan a few Facebook groups to get a feel for the tone of the chatter. Surpringly, the posts I saw failed to indicate the outcome, which gave me a sinking feeling that we had dropped all three points in spectacular fashion. Once I could not resist looking for the score, I learned the truth. On the surface, a 2:2 did not feel like a disaster, but seeing that a two-goal lead was blown was enough to clarify to me why the post-match mood seemed somewhat tempered.
At the end of the match day, though, the FC can assure itself of a seventh-place finish with a win against Mainz in the season finale. Seventh is not currently a Europa League spot, but would become one should Borussia Dortmund beat Eintracht Frankfurt in the DFB Pokal final the following Saturday.
Let’s look at how things can play out Saturday:
If 1. FC Köln wins the home finale against 1. FSV Mainz:
The simplest of all outcomes for the FC is that they win Saturday, but so too do the teams above them and we are left rooting for Dortmund in the DFB Cup final.
However, results elsewhere Saturday could combine with an FC victory to move Peter Stöger and crew into firmer European footing.
If SC Freiburg drops any points Saturday, the FC would leapfrog their tormentors from the Black Forest into sixth. Despite currently sitting pretty in sixth, Christian Streich’s miracle squad sport a minus-15 goal differential. Only the clubs in the table’s bottom five spots have a worse number in that column. Köln’s plus-seven in differential means a level finish on points puts the FC ahead in the table, meaning Freiburg needs a win to assure a top-six finish in this scenario.
Only the five clubs ahead of them have won more matches than SC Freiburg this season, so they can and do win plenty, but they will finish on the road at FC Bayern. They lost to the record champions at home in their first match of 2017, but that was long before Bayern secured the Bundesliga title and Carlo Ancelotti decided to allow less-utilized players to log time once there was nothing left for which to play. Would a Bayern B-squad be enough to stop a highly motivated Streich-led Freiburg?
There is another question here, though. With Bayern’s season finale also serving as long-time captain Philipp Lahm’s final professional match and no point in resting players for DFB Cup or Champions League finals, will Ancelotti give Lahm a send-off with a full-strength squad? Potentially even let the captain have a say in selecting his teammates for the afternoon?
A full-strength Bayern squad would help maintain some form of integrity in the competition, but they have demonstrated plenty that they have little concern over others’ perception of integrity.
In their nine matches against the five teams above them in the table, Freiburg has been outscored 22-8, winning only once (home to Hertha BSC) and drawing just once (home with Hoffenheim). Otherwise, it’s seven losses for SCF against the table’s top five. If the trend continues, Bayern wins and opens the door for the FC to climb the one spot into a Europa League-qualification place.
Or, rather, at least one spot.
Hertha BSC has a three-point edge on the FC, but a seven-goal deficit in differential. Hence, an FC win paired with a Hertha would allow Köln to pass the Berliners, regardless of the Freiburg result. But should both matches go the FC’s way, it’s up to fifth for Köln and a guaranteed group-stage berth.
And now we have to hope that Bayer Leverkusen can help us out? That alone would make me think the Pills would be only too happy to give a half-assed effort and allow Hertha at least one point. They aren’t particularly fond of our humble little club. Besides, they’ve won just one of their last twelve matches. Would you even be able to tell if they lost due to utter indifference rather than just incompetence.
What works in our favor is the relatively poor form of Hertha. They’ve lost six of their last nine matches. They did win the other three, which were all against three of table’s bottom-five clubs.
Under normal circumstances, you would say this match could go either way. With the visitors having nothing to play for and the home side knowing they can secure Europe with at least one point . . . I’m not getting my hopes up too high for this one to go our way.
If 1. FC Köln and 1. FSV Mainz Draw:
Dropping points Saturday necessarily hands control of the FC’s final fate to others.
The one thing that is certain in this case is that the best the FC could hope for with a draw is seventh place. Only a win puts fifth and sixth in play.
A single point would put the FC out of the reach of all but two clubs: SV Werder Bremen and Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Let’s start with the ponies. In order for our dreaded rival to pass the FC in the table in this scenario, they would have to not only win, but win big.
And I mean, REALLY big.
‘Gladbach would have to win by at least eleven goals over visiting SV Darmstadt 98, who will be making their final Bundesliga appearance on their way back down to the second division following their two-season run in the top flight. An eleven-goal victory would do it, however (assuming the Köln draw didn’t feature ten goals, at minimum).
This tidbit might trigger flashbacks for some FC fans to the final match day of the 1977-78 season, on which the ponies shellacked Borussia Dortmund 12-0 in an effort to close on first-place Köln, with whom they were level on points, but trailing by ten in goal-differential. The FC downed FC St. Pauli 5-0, meanwhile, giving the good guys a three-goal advantage once the smoke had cleared.
This largely leaves Werder Bremen, who had gone from relegation scare to European hopes on the strength of an eleven-match unbeaten run until they ran into Köln in the season’s final Friday night match.
Werder lost again last weekend to Hoffenheim, leaving them unable to take advantage of Köln blowing that two-goal lead in Leverkusen and move back into sixth.
Bremen’s last hope involves Mainz taking points off Köln, but even then are left needing a win at Borussia Dortmund Saturday. Unlike SC Freiburg, though, Werder will be undoubtedly facing a highly motivated club. Dortmund are third, with just their four-goal edge in differential keeping them ahead of Hoffenheim for the last group-stage spot in Champions League. Fourth still gets a trip to the final qualification round, but that is not enough to make Dortmund willing to put their effort on autopilot for the finale. Werder played the BVB tough at home, but their shaky defense (60 goals surrendered, which is tied for second-most in the league) will be tested by Dortmund’s second-best attack.
Overall, a draw might still be good for a seventh-place finish for the FC, but there is little point in strategizing for anything but a win.
If 1. FC Köln loses to 1. FSV Mainz:
Besides the crushing emotion of letting slip the opportunity to control destiny?
Well, it would mean that the FC would be passed by a victorious Mönchengladbach, regardless of final score. After having been in front of the ponies the entire season, it would be a particularly sour finish to not only lose the possibility of Europe but to also fall behind our dreaded rival in doing it? Brutal.
Unless the loss was by nine goals or more, Bremen could not pass the FC with a draw in this scenario. They still need a win to have any chance at a top-seven finish.
As for the rest of the table below . . .
And that’s it, actually. Schalke, Frankfurt, and Leverkusen – tenth, eleventh, and twelfth, respectively – have neither hopes of Europe, nor fear of relegation; all three will be playing only for pride Saturday.
Mainz, currently 14th, have only theoretical chances of going down, though stranger things have happened. They own an eight-goal edge in differential over 15th-place Wolfsburg and a seven-goal advantage over 14th-place Augsburg. All three are on the same number of points, but should Wolfsburg win, that would mean Hamburger SV lost and therefore secured the relegation-playoff spot. Hamburg could pass a losing Mainz with a win, but that would expand Wolfsburg’s differntial gap to at least nine, meaning Köln would have to beat Mainz by at least ten to give Wolfsburg any hope of being helped out of their situation. Obviously, the FC won’t need too large a lead before they’d likely shift into a largely defensive stance.
i.e. Mainz is NOT going down.
Wolfsburg’s better hope, should they not take at least the one point that would secure HSV in 16th, would be for Augsburg to lose to Hoffenheim by at least two goals more than whatever their final deficit to Hamburg ends up being.
But let’s face it. Hamburg is destined to play in their third relegation playoff in four seasons. The real question is whether they can finally lose one. They were sooooooo close!
Eintracht Braunschweig (probably), you up for it?
The foul that gave Diaz the free kick at the end of regulation . . . questionable, but you’ll have to trust me as it’s not shown here.
Whatever happens . . .
There will be the initial reaction to either the good or poor fortune, but eventually will have to look back and consider the season a wild success by most measures. Our FC is entering the final match day of their third season after promotion to the top flight and playing for Europe, rather than being caught in the relegation dogfight that