April 26, 2018 / 11:58 AM / a year ago

Soccer: Crunch time for half dozen clubs in Bundesliga's final dash

BERLIN (Reuters) - More than half a dozen clubs could learn their fate at the weekend as the Bundesliga enters the final stretch with three games remaining and issues to be resolved at both ends of the table.

Soccer Football - Bundesliga - FC Cologne v Schalke 04 - RheinEnergieStadion, Cologne, Germany - April 22, 2018 Schalke's Yevhen Konoplyanka celebrates scoring their second goal with Breel Embolo (L) and team mates REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

With the title secured by Bayern Munich long ago, interest has turned to the battle for the Champions League spots with Schalke 04, in second place, hosting Borussia Moenchengladbach on Saturday.

The Royal Blues will secure their return to the Champions League with a win. A draw or even a defeat could also be enough in combination with other results.

Schalke have enjoyed an outstanding season and have lost just one match in their last nine, which has lifted them to 56 points, ahead of Ruhr valley rivals Borussia Dortmund, who are third on 54.

“No one believed we could play such a great season,” Schalke defender Naldo said. “But we developed really well and learned our lessons from last season. We are showing a completely different mentality now and the coach is really good for us.”

Schalke’s 32-year-old coach, Domenico Tedesco, has enjoyed a whirlwind debut Bundesliga season and has managed to re-instil a sense of hope among Schalke fans, who have been starved of success.

“I hope we can bag a lot of points until the final matchday and obviously the Champions League is an issue now,” Naldo said. “But all we focus on is getting the three points, we do not look at the standings.”

Dortmund travel to Werder Bremen, knowing that a win could also secure them a top-four finish. For that to happen, however, they will also need Hoffenheim to draw or lose against Hanover 96 on Friday.

The top four teams qualify automatically for the Champions League group stage while the next two compete in the Europa League.

At the other end of the table former champions Hamburg SV, the only team to have never played in the second division since the Bundesliga’s creation in 1963, have their backs to the wall, sitting in 17th place on 25 points.

They take on fellow strugglers VfL Wolfsburg, who were champions in 2009 but are now battling to avoid the drop with 30 points, as many as Mainz 05 in 15th and Freiburg in 16th, the relegation playoff spot.

Defeat could mean relegation for Hamburg if fellow strugglers Mainz and Freiburg win their games against RB Leipzig and Cologne respectively.

Bottom club Cologne could also have their relegation confirmed. They need to win and hope other results go their way to avoid falling out of the top flight this weekend.

Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Toby Davis

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