BERLIN (Reuters) – Hoffenheim, backed by billionaire Dietmar Hopp, will stare into the abyss when they battle lowly Augsburg over the Bundesliga relegation playoff spot on Saturday.
The once-dazzling young team who shot up the lower divisions before exploding into the Bundesliga in 2008 and leading the title race until the halfway mark that season, have steadily dropped down the table with one victory in their last 12 games.
With 15th place and safety 10 points away, Hoffenheim, in 16th on 16 from 22 games, are desperate to defend their relegation playoff spot to avoid a direct drop.
A win would put them four points clear of 17th-placed Augsburg.
Hopp, who has poured hundreds of millions of euros into the club, a new stadium and infrastructure, said on Thursday he would stick with the team even if they were relegated.
"Even if Hoffenheim go down – which I do not think will happen – work will continue with the same vigour and enthusiasm. Other clubs have also been relegated and won promotion straight back," he told Bild newspaper. "My engagement will remain."
His team’s performances have been going downhill despite a change of coach, with Marco Kurz taking over in mid-December, and they have picked up only four points from five games this year.
Augsburg’s trend has been going in the other direction, with last week’s defeat to Bayer Leverkusen ending a five-game unbeaten run.
At the other end of the table a home win against Werder Bremen on Saturday would put runaway leaders Bayern Munich 18 points clear at the top.
The Bavarians, buoyed up by their 3-1 win at Arsenal in their Champions League round-of-16 first leg on Tuesday, have won 18 of 22 league games and have yet to concede a goal in the Bundesliga this year, leading the standings with 57 points.
"We want to recover as quickly as possible and see what the condition of the team is after the game in London," said coach Jupp Heynckes, who will be making his 1,000th league appearance as coach and player.
"Right now, only the Bremen game is on our minds," said Heynckes, whose team also face holders Borussia Dortmund in the German Cup next week.
Champions Dortmund, in second place on 42, travel to Borussia Moenchengladbach on Sunday without top striker Robert Lewandowski after a sports court confirmed his three-game ban following a red card against Hamburg SV on February 9.
Bayer Leverkusen, in third on 41, travel to bottom-placed Greuther Fuerth on Sunday.
(Editing by Julien Pretot)
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