SpVgg Greuther Fürth were able to delay relegation by at least a week thanks to the 0-0 draw at TSG Hoffenheim on Easter Sunday. With four games to play this season, the bottom of the table team are eleven points behind the play-off spot. Only a win against Bayer 04 on Saturday would maintain the theoretical chance of the Cloverleaves avoiding the drop – albeit that would only apply with a suitable result from the match between fifteenth-placed Hertha Berlin and sixteenth-placed VfB Stuttgart. Even the biggest fans of the team from Franconia can hardly believe in a last-minute salvation. That would be equivalent to a football miracle. Fürth have not won in eight games and they have only scored one goal in the past four matches, setting a record low for the club in the Bundesliga.
At the same time, a look at the second half of the season table shows the newcomers could have had a much better chance of staying up. This calendar year shows the team under coach Stefan Leitl picking up twelve points, which is one more than in the whole of the first half of the campaign. That puts them fifteenth in the table in games after the winter break. Although the team failed to score in the last four matches, they only lost to Borussia Mönchengladbach (0-2) and succeeded in picking up three draws against SC Freiburg, Eintracht Frankfurt and Hoffenheim. "Perhaps we could have hoped for more in the end as we played really well," said striker Branimir Hrgota after the goalless draw at TSG.
As so often this season, Stefan Leitl has had to struggle with injury problems in the run-in. Striker Havard Nielsen went off injured after eleven minutes in the game in Sinsheim. The 28-year-old Norwegian will probably be unavailable against Bayer 04. There is a big question mark over the appearance of the three midfield players Jeremy Dudziak (Achilles), Paul Seguin (torn muscle) and Max Christiansen (muscular problems). Defender Nick Viergever missed training on Wednesday but he is still a possible for Saturday. Right-back Marco Meyerhöfer is ruled out for several months after breaking an ankle in Frankfurt. Definitely ruled out is the suspended defender Maximilian Bauer. Gideon Jung and Jessic Ngankam were able to get minutes on the pitch in recent matches following injury lay-offs. The latter suffered a torn cruciate in July 2021 and he made his comeback up front as a substitute in the 2-0 defeat against Borussia Mönchengladbach. "You could see the lad has great potential," said Leitl in praise of the 21-year-old who is currently on loan from Hertha Berlin.
Fürth’s coach made tactical changes after the 6-1 home defeat against RB Leipzig in the middle of March and has since played with a back three that changes to a back five with the opposition in possession: Gian-Lucca Itter (on the left) and Simon Asta or Jamie Leweling (on the right), who played as a striker at TSG, drop back on the flanks. This system has made the Green and Whites more solid in defence. Keeper Andreas Linde has only had to pick the ball out of his net twice in the last four games. Tobias Raschl (22), signed from Borussia Dortmund in the winter, has impressed in holding midfield. The offensive midfield players are the USA international Julian Green and Timothy Tillman. The skipper Branimir Hrgota has recently often played as a lone striker. The 29-year-old Swede is the team's best finisher and provider with eight goals and four assists.
In recent weeks, the Cloverleaves have done well with the maxim of keeping it tight at the back. "We were very compact and didn't given much away," said Leitl after the 0-0 draw at Hoffenheim. The coach identifies progress for his team mainly "through disciplined pressing" and he emphasised: "The route we've taken since the winter break is extremely positive."
The stability gained in defence does have a downside. Fürth have only scored four goals in the last eight games including an own goal from Bochum's Bella Kotchap. The Green and Whites have a meagre return of 24 goals this season. Only Bielefeld have scored less. It's also significant that Hrgota has scored five of his eight goals from the penalty spot. The Cloverleaves simply fail to produce enough of a goal threat from open play. That is demonstrated by the total of just 284 shots on goal and 252 crosses, which puts SpVgg at the bottom and next to bottom place respectively in those stats.
Even the biggest optimists at the Sportpark Ronhof probably don't believe SpVgg Greuther Fürth will avoid playing in the second division in the 2022/23 season. Relegation could be sealed on Saturday in the game against the Werkself. Whatever happens: Fürth have demonstrated their ability to compete in Germany's top flight since the winter break and they have always had a realistic perspective of their own situation. "Many people thought we would have fallen apart after just five points in the first half of the season," writes CEO Holger Schwiewagner in the current edition of the Cloverleaves magazine. "But the policy of a steady hand, associated with dedicated and hard work, has shown what we are capable of at Fürth. The fact we again and again reached the limits of our potential is in the nature of things." The Green and Whites want to show that they can compete on equal terms in the last two home games of the season against Bayer 04 and Borussia Dortmund.
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