Germany: Bundesliga
FT
4 - 2
(2 - 1)
RB Leipzig
Schalke 04
K. Laimer (10), C. Nkunku (19), W. Orban (49), Y. Poulsen (82), C. Nkunku (90)
M. Kamiński (28)
By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Final 15.30 Kickoffs: Schalke relegated, Stuttgart headed for playoffs, Wolfsburg miss out on Europe

There was not a single "dead-rubber" in the final set of Bundesliga 15:30 kickoffs for the 2022/23 season. Accordingly, high drama reigned across the Bundesrepublik as everything from the the title to the relegation race came down to the last moment. 

After all the full-time whistles, FC Schalke's automatic relegation was confirmed. VfB Stuttgart will contest the relegation playoffs next week after Bochum and Augsburg clinched safety on the final day. 

Union Berlin will join champions Bayern, runners-up Dortmund, and third place Leipzig in the 2023/24 Champions' League. Freiburg and Leverkusen are headed to the Europa League while Frankfurt get a crack at the Conference League qualification playoffs. 
Entering the 2022/23 Bundesliga's final round of action, the odds were already stacked against Thomas Reis' FC Schalke 04. The league's 17th-placed side needed both a win against third-placed RB Leipzig and some help from relegation rivals Bochum, Stuttgart, and Augsburg in order to keep their hopes of the relegation-playoff-place alive. A loss away at Leipzig ensured that Schalke would join Hertha as the other side officially relegated to the second flight for the coming campaign.

Schalke trainer Reis had to do without striker Simon Terrode and defender Moritz Jenz due to yellow-card-accumulated suspensions. Sebastian Polter and Marcin Kaminski slotted into the XI for the suspended duo. Reis also preferred Dominick Drexler was also preferred to Kenan Karaman. Drexler started in the ten slot while Rodrigo Zalazar moved out to the right wing. The returning Marius Bülter dispatched Tim Skarke to the dugout.

As reported upon earlier in the day, Tom Krauß would not be able to feature due to injury. Danny Latzka took the German youth international's place. Another report from Germany's main sporting tabloid earlier also proved correct. Preferred keeper Ralf Fährmann was back in time to stand guard between the sticks. Alexander Schwolow thus moved to the bench.

RB trainer Marco Rose had hinted that he wished to give back-up keeper Ørland Nyland a send off in the season finale's dead-rubber. Nyland was indeed preferred to Janis Blaswich in goal. Rose made three other rotations from last week's win over Bayern. Josko Gvardiol, André Silva and Dominik Szoboszlai all sat in favor of Lukas Klostermann, Timo Werner, and Emil Forsberg.

The game got off to quite the electrifying start with with Werner and Konrad Laimer just missing on a double chance in the 3rd. Bülter was able to create some danger at the other end, but it was mostly the Leipzig counter that proved the star-of-the show in the opening phase. Laimer made certain that the Saxon hosts would go in front 1-0 with a polish off of a rebound off a Dani Olmo effort.

Nine minutes and many more Leipzig counters after that, Christopher Nkunku doubled the advantage. The 2-0 came off a nice give-and-go with Olmo, who was credited with his second assist. With relegation rivals VfL Bochum leading at home against Leverkusen, matters were not looking good for Schalke at all. Nkunku narrowly missed the 3-0 twice before the Gelsenkirchen guests were granted a lifeline.

Kaminski headed home a Zalazar corner in the 28th. Reis' men genuinely got rolling after that with some lovely ideas on the charge. Another goal would nevertheless not be forthcoming and the game broke with Rose's Saxons leading 2-1. The equalizer came for minutes after the restart courtesy of a total slapstick scene. Normal RB defensive stalwart Willi Orban shanked a clearance into his own net for the 2-2.

Leipzig remained in gear and worked hard to regain the lead. Fährmann had to make big back-to-back saves on Marcel Halstenberg and Werner in the 53rd and 54th, respectively. The Königsblauen put up a good fight, but were ultimately unable to prevent the momentum from tipping Leipzig's way. Eventually, it was RB legend Yussuf Poulsen who netted the 3-2 after another textbook counter in the 82nd.

Schalke did their utmost to shake off Pulse's nail in the coffin. It still seemed as if all the risks taken by the guests would lead to another Leipzig goal eventually. One finally came deep into injury time. Nkunku completed a brace after latching onto a Nyland long-ball at 90+4. Schalke's relegation is the fifth in the club's history. This despite the fact that Reis led the team to 8th place in the "Ruck-Ründe" table.

Elsewhere in the 2022/23 Bundesliga's final set of 15:30 kickoffs, Schalke relegation rivals VfL Bochum went on to complete a 3-0 victory over visiting Leverkusen at the Vonovia Ruhrstadion on the Castroper Straße. The Revierklub, coached by Reis at the beginning of the season, were able to secure a third consecutive season of top-flight football.

Over at the Mercedes Benz Arena in Stuttgart, Württemberg's VfB had a wonderful opportunity to avoid the relegation playoffs with a big result on the season's final matchday. FC Augsburg could have been overtaken after suffering a 0-2 defeat away at Gladbach. Regrettably for Sebastian Hoeneß' Stuttgart weren't able to replicate the fireworks from last year.

A 1-1 draw against visiting Hoffenheim means that Stuttgart will contest the relegation playoffs next week. The Swabians will find out their opponents - either Heidenheim or HSV - when the 2. Bundesliga concludes tomorrow. Augsburg have escaped relegation in spite of their loss, securing another season of top flight football despite collecting only 34 points.

The big news in the race for Europe is that 1. FC Union Berlin will play in next year's Champions' League. A win for Urs Fischer's Eisern Union over visiting Bremen - combined with a Freiburg loss away at Frankfurt - gifts fourth place to Union's Köpenick side. Frankfurt's win actually means that the SGE have secured a European berth in the form of the UEFA Europa Conference League playoff spot.

Germany's two Europa League sides shall be Freiburg and Leverkusen. VfL Wolfsburg stood a chance of snatching one of the spots at the beginning of the day, but fell 1-2 to relegated Hertha at home. Wolfsburg finish the season in 8th place, one point behind relegated Frankfurt.

The 2022/23 Bundesliga title-race came down to the last minutes. FC Bayern München are once again champions after digging out a late 2-1 over Köln. Borussia Dortmund fought back from a 0-2 deficit to draw Mainz. In the end, it was not enough.

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