Our next opponents: Culmination of a special season

Regardless of the outcome of SC Freiburg’s fixture at the BayArena on Saturday 14 May (kick-off: 15.30 CEST): The team under head coach Christian Streich has had a great season, qualified for a European competition and in with the chance of the title. However, there has recently been an unusual problem. The lowdown on our next opponents.


SC Freiburg will play in a European competition next season for the fifth time in the club’s history. Which one it will be remains open. The team from the Breisgau secured a place on the European stage two weeks ago with a spectacular 4-3 win away to TSG Hoffenheim and their 15th win of the season put them in fourth place with a good chance of qualifying for the Champions League. The situation changed a week later. The 4-1 defeat at home to Union Berlin last Saturday was a bitter setback after the recent wave of success for Freiburg – RB Leipzig overtook them in the table. SCF are still in with a slight chance of qualifying for Europe’s premier club competition. However they not only have to win their away game at the Werkself but also hope that Arminia Bielefeld beat Leipzig who are currently two points ahead with a significantly better goal difference.

Even if Freiburg fail to surmount the final hurdle, Christian Streich’s team have had a great season. With 55 points, SCF have also beaten their previous best since the introduction of the three points for a win rule set in the 2000/01 season. Thanks to their goal difference, participation in the Europa League is almost certain. Christian Streich, who celebrated ten years as the Freiburg head coach last winter, has taken SCF into Europe for the third time. And the 56-year-old coach is rightly proud of that success: “I’ve not been in European competitions that often and I’ve been a coach for a long time. So you can imagine what that means to us. The players have simply deserved playing in Europe next season. It’s also great for our fans that we’ve done it.” And SC Freiburg also have a big day on the domestic scene: They are challenging for their first big title on 21 May in the DFB Cup final against RB Leipzig.


SC Freiburg’s outstanding player of the season said his goodbyes to the fans in the home end after his final home game. At Leverkusen and, of course, in the DFB Cup final, Nico Schlotterbeck will give his all for SCF two more times. The 22-year-old central defender and new international, who has the best rate of challenges (68.7%) of all Bundesliga players, will play for Borussia Dortmund next season. A suitable replacement for Schlotterbeck has already been found: Matthias Ginter returns to his first club in the summer from Borussia Mönchengladbach. “We are incredibly happy to have him back. He’s a Freiburg lad and he came through our academy,” said Christian Streich about the 28-year-old established international.

The full concentration of the coach is first required for the challenge in Leverkusen. The 56-year-old manager does not have to ring the changes. Noah Weißhaupt (shoulder), Kevin Schade (stomach) and Yannik Keitel (rehab after toe operation) are still sidelined. Alongside Nico Schlotterbeck in defence are the second central defender Philipp Lienhart, the captain Christian Günter on the left and Lukas Kübler on the right. Kübler is set to make his 100th Bundesliga appearance against Bayer 04. Nicolas Höfler, who could play his 200th league game in Leverkusen, could also celebrate a landmark. As almost always, Maximilian Eggestein could play alongside him in defensive midfield. Up front, Vincenzo Grifo, with nine goals and ten assists Freiburg’s best score and provider, plus Roland Sallai and striker Lucas Höler are first choices. Nils Petersen, Jeong Woo-Yeong and Ermedin Demirovic are options for the second place in the middle of the attack.


Why are Freiburg so strong this season? Lukas Höler provided a reply to that question after the 4-3 win against Hoffenheim: “The whole team, all the players, the coaching staff, all the management, the masseurs are all together and we’re a really great group. We all stick together, everyone is there for each other regardless of who is on the pitch or who is on the bench. That’s unique.” The well-oiled collective also has some special qualities. For example, at set pieces. 24 goals have come from dead balls: That’s the most in the league. Another one came in the game against Hoffenheim with captain Christian Günter putting in a free kick for striker Lukas Höler to score a second goal. Set pieces often end in headed goals – and the team from South Baden lead the way in Germany’s top flight with 16 goals in that category. SCF have also been very effective this season and are leaders in terms of converting clear-cut goalscoring opportunities.


For much of the season, the Streich team has had one of the strongest defences in the league. However, this quality has suddenly deserted them in recent weeks. Freiburg have conceded ten goals in the last three matches. Streich was also not completely happy after the 4-3 win in Sinsheim: “We conceded too many chances on goal and were not good in winning the ball back.” The 4-1 home defeat against Union Berlin led the 56-year-old coach to have a “serious word” with his players. There were too many individual errors and the group did not defend well. “That’s not on at this level, it’s unacceptable.”


The dream of being in the Champions League is now difficult to realise for Freiburg. The Werkself will be keen to end an impressive season with a win in front of a full house at the BayArena on Saturday. On the other hand, the direct rivals RB Leipzig in fourth place have everything in their own hands against Arminia Bielefeld lying 17th in the Bundesliga. SCF are almost certain to qualify for the Europa League even with a defeat at Leverkusen. That would be a huge success for the club. The Streich team could crown an outstanding season at the Berlin Olympic Stadium on 21 May. The DFB Cup final against RB Leipzig will be an equally balanced encounter. If Freiburg rediscover their defensive stability then the club could pick up a first big title.


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