Germany: Bundesliga
4 - 0
(1 - 0)
Mainz 05
A. Hanche-Olsen (32), B. Gruda (60), L. Jae-Sung (80), L. Jae-Sung (84)
By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

15:30 Kickoffs: Mainz consign Darmstadt to effective relegation, Bayern scalped, Köln steal late win

A highly significant set off results in the Bundesliga's latest batch of 15:30 kickoffs furnished big news for the title, top-four, and relegation races. FC Bayern München are now 16 points behind soon-to-be-crowned champions Bayer 04 Leverkusen after losing away at Heidenheim while the league leaders snatched three points from Union Berlin. Arithmetic confirmation of the title must nevertheless still wait. 

RB Leipzig placed pressure on Borussia Dortmund ahead of the BVB's meeting with VfB Stuttgart later this evening. Marco Rose's German Red Bulls are now ahead of Edin Terzic's Schwarzgelben in fourth place following a convincing 4-1 win away at Freiburg. Regarding the relegation race, VfL Bochum, FSV Mainz 05, and 1. FC Köln are now the three teams vying to capture the relegation playoff place.
In a match with major ramifications for the 2023/24 Bundesliga relegation race, Bo Henrikensen's FSV Mainz 05 prevailed over Torsten Lieberknecht's last-placed SV Darmstadt 98 4-0 at the MEWA Arena. The victory enabled the "Carnival Club" to open up a nine-point gap on the Lilies in the relegation playoff place; a difference unlikely to be made up over the course of the campaign's final six rounds. The scoreline left the Hessians with a minus 43 goal differential in their first season back in the top flight. Barring something unforeseen, Lieberknecht's Lilies are headed straight back down.

Henriksen made three changes to the side that drew Leipzig 0-0 last week. Dominik Kohr replaced Joshua Guilavogui in central defense while attackers Ludovic Ajorque and Karim Onisiwo made way for Jae-Sung Lee and Brajan Gruda. The Nullfünfter - as has been common under their two other trainers this year - lined up in a 3-4-3 formation. Lieberknecht maintained the 4-4-2 formation he initially deployed against Bochum last week. Three changes saw Matthias Bader and Fabian Holland replace previous starting fullbacks Jannik Müller and Emir Karic. Bartol Franjic filled in for the suspended Klaus Gjasula alongside Julian Justvan on the double six.

Henriksen's hosting side stormed out of the gate, creating scoring chances both from dead balls and in open play. Kohr narrowly missed a conversion of a Nadiem Amiri corner in the 3rd. Some two minutes later, FSV lead-striker Jonathan Burkardt forced a major save out of SV98 keeper Marcel Schuhen. After FSV keeper Robin Zentner completed a double save on a promising Darmstadt counter in the 6th, matters calmed down for a bit as both sides focused on keeping the ball secure. Only some distance efforts well wide of the mark came prior to the half-hour-mark. The Pfälzer hosts finally grabbed a mostly deserved lead in the 32nd.

Nullfünfter defender Andreas Hanke-Olsen turned in an Amiri free-kick acrobatically (and perhaps not intentionally) extended to him by Lee. Not much else happened as the opening 45 drew to a close. Henriksen's men took a mostly deserved 1-0 lead into the tunnel. Lieberknecht reacted to the half-time deficit with a double substitution. Attackers Gerrit Holtmann and Aaron Seydel came on for winger Braydon Manu and defender Thomas Isherwood. Despite an ambitious 4-3-3 reformat, the Lilies weren't able to produce any real scoring chances. A severe passing error out of the back led to Mainz doubling the advantage at the hour-mark.

Holland played an ill-advised ball back to Franjic in the 60th. The high-pressing Burkardt pounced Franjic's attempt to play the ball back to keeper Schuhen and then cut back for Gruda. Mainz's rising Germany U21 international had an easy finish in front of the completely out-of-sorts SV98 back ranks. The Carnival Club went on to dominate proceedings after the 2-0. Amiri missed a chance at the 3-0 by only centimeters less than two minutes later. The former Leverkusen man also sent a free-kick onto the roof of the net in the 68th. Burkardt made a hash of a wonderful opportunity in the 73rd.

Lee finally scored the third goal ten minutes from time after some fantastic set-up work from Amiri and captain Silvan Widmer. Four minutes later, Lee completed a scorer's brace. FSV sub Tom Krauß didn't have to work terribly hard to unlock the South Korean international on the 4-0 in the 84th. In scenes reminiscent of the Augsburg debacle some four rounds back, Lieberknecht's men simply stopped playing. The hosts took their foot off the gas a bit themselves and no additional goals were scored.

Elsewhere in the Bundesliga's 15:30 kickoffs, German record champions FC Bayern München suffered yet another humiliating set-back in what will be the first league campaign in 11 years that they won't hoist the Meisterschale. Thomas Tuchel's FCB rushed out to a 2-0 lead over Frank Schmidt's newly promoted 1. FC Heidenheim at the Voith Arena.

Schmidt's BaWü borderers nevertheless - just like last week - able to engineer a remarkable comeback. Heidenheim leveled with two quick goals inside of two minutes for the second consecutive week. FCH striker Tim Kleindienst then - also for the second consecutive week - gave his side the lead with a scorer's brace. Unlike last week, there would be no comeback. Heidenheim took all three points with a 3-2 victory.

Bayern's loss didn't enable Bayer 04 Leverkusen to arithmetically clinch the title. This despite the fact that Xabi Alonso's Werkself took care of business with a 1-0 win over 1. FC Union Berlin. A 16-point-advantage over Bayern with six match-days left is obviously more than enough to position the final nail in the dead title race's coffin, but Germany's red company team must wait another week to make it official.

There was more interesting news for both the top-four and relegation race in the two remaining kickoffs. RB Leipzig were able to move ahead of Borussia Dortmund on goal-differential after easily dispatching Freiburg 4-1 at the Europa Park Stadion. Nothing went right for Christian Streich's Breisgauer in the home loss. RB striker Loïs Openda bagged a brace. SCF striker Lucas Höler missed a penalty.

There was some serious late drama at the RheinEnergieStadion in Germany's cathedral city as 1. FC Köln completed a late comeback victory over relegation rivals VfL Bochum. Thomas Letsch's Revierklub took a 1-0 lead into second half injury time before Steffen Tigges and Luca Waldschmidt turned a sure loss into three points with back-to-back strikes. Köln are very much alive in the fight for survival thanks to the result.

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