Schaaf’s rescue mission as ex-champs Bremen, Cologne fight relegation

By John Bagratuni, dpa

Former Bundesliga champions Werder Bremen and Cologne are fighting relegation on the final matchday, with Thomas Schaaf returning as Bremen coach to keep them up.

Thomas Schaaf is back for a short rescue mission to keep Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga as they and fellow former league champions Cologne try to escape the drop on the last matchday Saturday.

One of Arminia Bielefeld, Bremen and Cologne will be safe, one will have the lifeline of a play-off tie next week, and the other will go straight into the second division along with already relegated Schalke.

Bielefeld are currently in safe 15th ahead of their trip to VfB Stuttgart, one point ahead of Bremen who host Borussia Moenchengladbach, with Cologne playing Schalke another point back.

Schaaf guided Bremen to the domestic double in 2004 during his 14 years in charge and has now been recalled for the final game, and possibly the play-offs, as the club finally lost confidence in Florian Kohfeldt last weekend.

Bremen have lost eight games in a winless run of nine but have at least the play-off berth, from which they survived last season, in their own hands.

Defender Oemer Tokrak has said that Schaaf has “clear ideas” and that the players “have started to enjoy things a bit more again.

“He wants to restore some confidence in us after this bad run so that we believe we can do things better. It’s a really important game for the whole club. All the players know that,” Toprak said.

Schaaf, 60, who has been at the club for almost five decades, said: “We need all hands on deck here. Every player has to have faith in their own qualities and their own skills. It will be especially important to have the belief that we can perform well so that we can play at our maximum on Saturday.”

Four-time champions Bremen have only been relegated once, for one season in 1980, while two-time winners Cologne face a seventh relegation after two years in the top flight and don’t hae their fate in their own hands.

However, Schalke have nothing to play for while Stuttgart against Bielefeld and Gladbach in Bremen are still in contention for seventh place which allows entry into play-offs for the new European Conference League.

That seventh place is currently occupied by surprise package Union Berlin who welcome second-placed RB Leipzig and hope that the return of 2,000 fans will help them clinch the continental berth.

“Such an opportunity does not come up every year, that’s why we want to use it,” captain Christopher Trimmel said.

Freiburg are the fourth team in the running for seventh place when they visit Eintracht Frankfurt.

Champions Bayern Munich end their campaign against Augsburg in the last game under coach Hansi Flick. Munich striker Robert Lewandowski has a chance to gain sole possession of the league scoring record after tying Gerd Mueller’s mark of 40 goals from 1971-72 last weekend.

Borussia Dortmund v Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg v Mainz and Hoffenheim v Hertha Berlin are the other games.

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