BERLIN: Six clubs, including some big names, are locked in a fight for Bundesliga survival with only two matches remaining.
Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg and Hamburger SV all need points to be sure of avoiding relegation, while Mainz, Augsburg and Ingolstadt hope to beat them to it. One of the six will go down automatically - Darmstadt is already relegated - while a relegation playoff offers a second chance for another against the side that finishes third in the second division.
All their games take place at the same time.
Ingolstadt, which plays at Freiburg on Saturday, is the worst placed side, four points from safety and ruing Kai Havertz's late equalizer for Leverkusen in their 1-1 draw last weekend.
But Ingolstadt coach Maik Walpurgis isn't giving up.
"The Bundesliga has already written so many crazy stories. Why not this year, too?" Walpurgis said.
Hamburg, currently with 34 points in the playoff place, plays at Schalke before its potential all-or-nothing meeting against Wolfsburg at home on the final weekend. Hamburg, the only founding member of the league to have played every season, is facing the prospect of its third playoff in four seasons.
Schalke, with 41 points, has only theoretical chances of salvaging a European place but will be compelled to put on a good performance in front of its own frustrated fans.
Mainz, level with Hamburg, hosts local rival Eintracht Frankfurt for a derby between the two worst sides in the second half of the season. Frankfurt's best chance of European qualification is by winning the German Cup final against Borussia Dortmund.
Wolfsburg, the 2009 champion, hosts Borussia Moenchengladbach, which is led by former coach Dieter Hecking. Hecking was fired after a poor start by Wolfsburg in October. Andries Jonker is the Volkswagen-backed club's third coach of the season, its worst ever in the Bundesliga.
"We've given away the season," Wolfsburg striker Mario Gomez said.
Augsburg was the prime candidate for the drop but carved some breathing space with wins over Cologne and Hamburg, though former player Andre Hahn's late equalizer for 'Gladbach in last weekend's draw may yet prove decisive. Augsburg hosts Borussia Dortmund on Saturday, when the visitors will be hoping to consolidate third place for automatic Champions League qualification at Hoffenheim's expense.
Dortmund is two points ahead of Hoffenheim, which visits Werder Bremen. Bremen is pushing for a European place after a remarkable recovery in the second half of the season.
Leverkusen, which was playing Champions League soccer this season, appears to be in the worst shape of all the relegation rivals after six games without a win under new coach Tayfun Korkut. The decision to fire predecessor Roger Schmidt appears to have backfired in what sporting director Rudi Voeller has called a "cursed season." Korkut has only one win in nine games and his side is only three points above the relegation playoff place.
It could get worse for Leverkusen with defeat at home to Cologne in the Rhine derby on Saturday. Cologne fans are taking particular "schadenfreude" in seeing their old rivals struggle, particularly as Leverkusen was widely seen as a title-contender before the season began.
Cologne is also bidding for a Europa League place. The team is only one point behind sixth-place Hertha Berlin and two behind fifth-place Freiburg.
Hertha, which was previously third, is in danger of ending the season with nothing after nine straight losses away from home. The team has a chance to end that run at already-relegated Darmstadt, which will be looking for a good send off in front of its own fans.
Bayern Munich, which wrapped up its fifth straight title with three games to spare, hosts promoted Leipzig, which is already assured of direct qualification for the Champions League.
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