Drama in Stuttgart, drama in Dortmund, drama in Bielefeld, and drama in Leverkusen. The final Bundesliga matchday provided plenty of storylines both at the top and the bottom of the table.
SC Freiburg and RB Leipzig were in direct competition for the final Champions League spot at the very top. Two points apart, the two clubs, who will also face each other in the DFB Pokal final next weekend, were trying to clinch the fourth and final UCL spot.
On paper, the situation appeared to be straightforward. Leipzig only needed a point against already relegated Arminia Bielefeld. Freiburg, in turn, needed to beat an inform Bayer Leverkusen with in-demand stars Patrik Schick and Moussa Diaby.
Schick provided the lead for Leverkusen in the 54th minute when he broke away and found teammate Lucas Alario for the lead. Bielefeld and Leipzig were still tied at 0-0 at that point. The matchday slowly paced towards an inevitable conclusion until the 70th minute when Janni Serra gave Arminia the lead over Leipzig.
Suddenly, there was a murmur throughout the BayArena in Leverkusen. “Of course, we were aware of what was happening in the other game,” Freiburg’s midfielder Vincenzo Grifo said after the game. Then in the 88th minute, Freiburg equalized out of nowhere when Janik Haberer scored.
There was now a buzz in the BayArena among Freiburg fans. Could tiny little Freiburg overcome the odds and reach the Champions League for the first time in history? Ultimately, the answer was no; Leipzig equalized in the 93rd minute thanks to a goal by Willie Orban. But the Breisgau Brasilianer were not aware of the result at that stage.
“We didn’t know that Leipzig had equalized,” Freiburg head coach Christian Streich said after the game. And with that in mind, Freiburg threw everything into Leverkusen’s box, including goalkeeper Mark Flekken. Leverkusen made good use of the empty net, with Exequiel Palacios scoring from the halfway line to put the game to bed.
Despite a fantastic season, the disappointment was noticeable on Streich’s face after the game. “It was difficult after the equalizer because we went all in,” Streich said. Despite the disappointment, the coach right away highlighted the positives. “We finished sixth! Big compliment to the team; they gave it their all and played a consistent season.”
Freiburg, of course, still has the chance for silverware when they face Leipzig in the Pokal next weekend. Neither side has won the competition, and some have turned the matchup into a clash of cultures between a traditional small club (Freiburg) and an investor-led club (RB Leipzig).
While Leipzig and Freiburg have one more match, Hertha Berlin will have two more games this season. Hertha entered matchday 34 two points clear of 16th-placed VfB Stuttgart above the relegation-playoff dropline.
And for the longest time on Saturday, it appeared that they would remain there. Hertha had taken an early lead against a lethargic Borussia Dortmund side in the 18th minute when Ishak Belfodil scored. Stuttgart, in the meantime, was held to a 1-1 draw by a Köln side still battling for a spot in the Europa League.
Unlike Freiburg and Leipzig, the late drama here would result in a switch in positions. In Dortmund, future Man City star Erling Haaland equalized for the Black and Yellows, and then young Yousssoufa Moukoko made it 2-1 for BVB
At that point, Stuttgart was still headed to the relegation playoffs. Like it was the case in Leverkusen with Freiburg, the Schwaben threw everything into Köln’s box, and unlike Freiburg, they would be rewarded.
In the 92nd minute, Wataru Endo headed home Stuttgart’s second to secure the three points that would guarantee them safety. What followed were dramatic scenes with Stuttgart’s American coach Pellegrino Matarazzo storming over the entire pitch in celebrations, fans could not be held back, and players were on the barricades.
Six more minutes were added, but the result stood, sending Hertha to the playoffs against whoever finishes third in the 2.Bundesliga on Sunday. “That was pure ecstasy, a wonderful moment, incredible,” Matarazzo said after the game. “I’m so happy for the boys. You don’t forget moments like today.”
Manuel Veth is the host of the Bundesliga Gegenpressing Podcast and the Area Manager USA at Transfermarkt. He has also been published in the Guardian, Newsweek, Howler, Pro Soccer USA, and several other outlets. Follow him on Twitter: @ManuelVeth