Whilst most eyes will be trained on the Fernduell between 1. FC Heidenheim and Hamburger SV at the top of the 2. Bundesliga on Sunday, for 1. FC Nürnberg and Karlsruher SC the final matchday is just as important as they look to avoid finish 16th and a play-off to avoid relegation to the 3. Liga.
Whilst promoted Karlsruhe might have expected to be in this situation at the start of the season, for Nürnberg, relegated from the Bundesliga just last year, this has simply been a “shit season,” to use the words of captain Hanno Behrens.
They were humiliated by VfB Stuttgart last week but still hold the advantage coming into their game against Holstein Kiel – but anything less than a win would leave them dependent on bitter rivals SpVgg
Keller wants to forget Stuttgart mauling
In an 18-team league a mediocre season is all it takes to drag a team into a relegation scrap and that’s exactly what it has been for Nürnberg. However after a Robin Hack-inspired 6-0 win against SV Wehen Wiesbaden in their third-to-last game, it seemed they had what it takes to pull away from danger when it really mattered.
The humiliating defeat to Stuttgart five days later proved otherwise, leaving Der Club in a delicate position. Whilst automatic relegation has been averted, the knives are out, with some reports even suggesting that coach Jens Keller and sporting director Robert Palikuća could be booted out even before a potential play-off against the (probably) fourth-placed 3. Liga side.
The club have denied that but nevertheless it’s a now-or-never game for Keller’s men. “Stuttgart was a slip up,” insists the man who replaced Damir Canadi in November, and understandably he is keen to forget all about it.
He is hoping they will repeat the strong away performances seen against Wiesbaden and against champions Arminia Bielefeld (a 1-1 draw) before that – in fact they have the fourth best record in the league this season. These wins had been ” characterised by aggressiveness, compactness and team spirit,” Keller feels. Most of all, he says they want to win “and not put our fate in Fürth’s hand” – which B*ld says would be “the greatest humiliation.”
Keeping a clean sheet could be key, as they haven’t won when conceding since beating Kiel at the end of the 2017-18 season. Nevertheless they will fancy their chances here. Only Dynamo Dresden have a worse record since the restart than the Storks, and they will be without key players like Alexander Mühling and Lee Jae-song. On the plus side, they will have coach Ole Werner back in the dugout, after he missed the last two games due to a family bereavement.
…if Nürnberg win: They stay up automatically and Karlsruhe go into the play off.
…if Nürnberg draw and Karlsruhe win: Karlsruhe will stay up due to their superior goal difference.
…if Nürnberg draw and Karlsruhe fail to win: Nürnberg stay up, Karlsruhe go into the play -off.
…if Nürnberg lose and Karlsruhe win: Karlsruhe stay up, Nurnberg go into the play-off.
…if Nürnberg lose and Karlsruhe fail to win: Nürnberg stay up,Kalrsruhe go into the play off.
Eichner keeping an eye on rear view mirror
Christian Eichner has strengthened the resolve of Karlsruhe since replacing Alois Schwartz in February, and their dramatic comeback to draw 3-3 with Bielefeld last week realistically condemned Dresden and Wiesbaden to automatic relegation. Nevertheless, there is still work to do.
Eichner admits he still has “a look in the rear view mirror” out of respect for the competition, even though a ten-goal swing would be required just for 17th-placed Wiesbaden to overtake them. Nevertheless, “there is also a pane in the front of the car for looking ahead – and it is a bit bigger,” as he puts it.
Up ahead, he will see that Nürnberg are two points better off, meaning his side would have to win to avoid a play-off and only then would be hoping for a slip up from Der Club. First and foremost, Eichner has no doubt that his side “have to concentrate on ourselves, we have to win first.” He points to their poor away form, with just two wins on the road this season.
Nevertheless, he is confident. “I have great hope that the team will take so much strength with it that it will be possible to make the big hit,” he says. He adds that the “primary goal” is to for his men, led by former Fürth striker Philipp Hofmann, to be active and “try to get into duels and find their way into the game.”
He describes the possibility of Fürth going easy to allow their rivals Nürnberg to drop into the play-off place as no more than “curd cheese.” And Fürth themselves have also dismissed such a notion. “We play for ourselves,” says sporting director Rachid Azzouzi, with coach Stefan Leitl putting it even more bluntly – “nobody cares here.”