Come half five German time on Sunday (or ‘halb sechs´ as they say there), Arminia Bielefeld will get to lift the 2. Bundesliga trophy, a deserved feat for a wonderfully-played season, although doing so in an empty stadium will feel rather hollow.
Before then though, they face 1. FC Heidenheim, for whom the game itself has much more importance. A win would guarantee them third place and a shot at promotion to the Bundesliga ahead of Hamburger SV, beaten by Frank Schmidt’s side last week.
Bielefeld have nothing to play for but ride but want to close of the season with another victory – whatever curious incentives they may have to do otherwise. For Heidenheim, this will be a tough test.
Money and sentiment won’t influence Neuhaus
In the top two divisions of German football, TV money is distributed according to a five-year table. Having been out of the Bundesliga since 2009, Bielefeld would be a clear 18th in this regard next season, therefore receiving the least from the pot. Or will they? What if a club with a weaker five-year record in the second tier was to come up with them? Suddenly, Bielefeld would be 17th, worth an extra €2 million.
It is for this reason some have suggested the crackpot theory that they would be quite happy to let Heidenheim win and have a shot at promotion in the play-off. Of course, Bielefeld are having none of it. “Everyone would like to have as much money as possible,” said Uwe Neuhaus to the media on Friday, “but we don’t deviate from ignore sporting fairness. We want to win the game.” You’d be a fool not to believe him.
Neuhaus acknowledges that his side are up against a team who are “in a really good mood.” He had high praise for his counterpart Schmidt as well. “It is always a close duel against his team,” he says. “They cannot be shaken off, but get up again immediately after each duel. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”
“All players had a week off, freshness is not an issue,” explains Neuhaus regarding the team situation. “I will set up the team that I am sure will win the game, although there are several options.” Amongst those, Reinhold Yabo returns from suspension, with Florian Hartherz and Cebio Soukou also in contention to come into the team that drew with Karlsruhe last weekend.
There will be no sentiment in Uwehaus’s selection. “Just because a player leaves the club, that doesn’t mean they play automatically,” he says. Only Jonathan Clauss, bound for Lens, is known to definitely be leaving but others, including Hartherz, Tom Schütz and Patrick Weihrauch are yet to sign new deals. Neither has Kenau Staude, however he joins Joakim Nilsson, Jóan Símun Edmundsson, Nils Quaschner and Sebastian Müller in the casualty list for this match.
…if Bielefeld win: Hamburg can take third place with just a point against Sandhausen due to their superior goal difference.
…if they draw: Hamburg would have to beat Sandhausen to move above Heidenheim into third.
…if Heidenheim win: They will finish third and head into the play-off.
Heidenheim have to do it themselves
Heidenheim hadn’t been in the top three since an opening day win against VfL Osnabrück until Konstantin Kerschbaumer scored the most dramatic of last-minute winners against Hamburg. In some ways, that was the easy bit. They still need to beat Bielefeld or hope for a helping hand from SV Sandhausen – Hamburg’s opponents – and even if they finish third they still have to beat Werder Bremen over two legs.
When Schmidt took over Heidenheim, they were in the then-fourth tier Oberliga Baden-Württemberg. At the end of his thirteenth season in charge, they are three games from the final frontier of the Bundesliga. “The anticipation is great,” he says ahead of the match. He is not worried about events elsewhere – “the only thing we can influence is to win our game,” he says.
He admits it will be a tough task against “the absolutely legitimate second division champions,” unbeaten in 2020. Whilst “there is no single way to victory” against them, Schmidt feels they will “have to defend against Bielefeld’s attacking strength well” but they will also have to “take advantage of our own chances.” He reverted to a DIY analogy to describe the situation:
“Bielefeld is a really thick board that we have to drill through. But we have a few corresponding ‘drills’ ourselves.”Frank Schmidt.
He will probably have to do without Arne Feick, whose departure was confirmed during the week, due to a knee injury. Tim Kleindienst – one of his most potent ‘drills’ with 14 goals this campaign – had knee problems earlier in the week but “that shouldn’t be a problem” according to his coach. Everyone else is available. Oliver Hüsing had made his return to the squad following an ankle problem that has kept him out for most of the restart.
Also returning was Marc Schnatterer, who made a key contribution from the bench against Hamburg with involvement in both goals. It has been the captain’s less productive season since joining the club 12 years ago, as age appears to catch up on him and other players step up to the plate, however it would be very poetic if he was to make a key contribution to the club reaching the final frontier.
Date: Sunday 28th June 2020.
Kick-Off: 15:30 CEST, 14:30 BST, 09:30 EDT.
Watch / Live Stream: Sky Sport Bundesliga 4 (Germany and Austria), BT Sport 2 (UK and Republic of Ireland), Fox Soccer Match Pass (USA).
Bielefeld will be a tough board for Heidenheim to fully penetrate. Expect a draw here, with the inevitable Hamburg slip-up making it enough for third place.