Seven clubs in the thick of a relegation battle, who will step up and be a hero for their club? - © DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga GmbH
Seven clubs in the thick of a relegation battle, who will step up and be a hero for their club? - © DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga GmbH
bundesliga

Holding out for a hero: Who can save Freiburg, Schalke, Fortuna Düsseldorf, Augsburg, VfB Stuttgart, Hannover and Nuremberg from relegation?

With 21 matches played and 13 to go, no less than seven Bundesliga teams are holding out for a hero. And yes, he's got to be strong, he's got to be fast and he's got to be ready for a relegation dogfight.

bundesliga.com shines a light on the men capable of saving Freiburg, Schalke, Fortuna Düsseldorf, Augsburg, VfB Stuttgart, Hannover and Nuremberg from the abyss...

Dodi Lukebakio - Fortuna Düsseldorf (12th, 25pts)

Fortuna Düsseldorf would be a lot worse off without the all-important goals of Watford loanee Dodi Lukebakio. Only two of his efforts have come in defeats, with the other five shared across meetings with three of last season's top four. The Belgian netted the winner against Hoffenheim, reeled off a second-half hat-trick in the 3-3 draw with Bayern Munich and paved the way for leaders Borussia Dortmund's only defeat of 2018/19.

Lukebakio has not scored in the five games since and was even dropped to the bench for the Matchday 20 draw with Hoffenheim, but don't for one minute think that he has had his day in the sun. Fortuna has favoured the brave in games the promoted side have been expected to lose heavily, largely because not a single one of the opposition reckoned on Düsseldorf's faster-than-the-speed-of-night loan ranger. A handful more goals from him, and Die Flingeraner could be safe.

Watch: Dodi Lukebakio is the only player to score a hat-trick against Manuel Neuer

Nils Petersen - Freiburg (13th, 23pts)

Nils Petersen was a surprise, albeit deserving inclusion in Germany's provisional FIFA 2018 World Cup squad last May. The honour was just reward for a prolific season on the domestic front in which he plundered more Bundesliga goals than any other German national, with seven of his 15-strike haul coming after the winter break.

That statistical nugget bodes well for the coming months, especially as Petersen has only found the net five times so far this season and trails Luca Waldschmidt by one as Freiburg's top scorer. In his defence, he's missed four games through injury, while three of his five goals have resulted in wins. He also knows his way around the Bundesliga basement, having spent much of 2012/13 sitting on the edge with Werder Bremen.

Freiburg have every chance of staying up with Nils Petersen scoring the goals. - DFL / Simon Hofmann

Weston McKennie - Schalke (14th, 22pts)

Weston McKennie is only in his second full campaign of Bundesliga football, but the 20-year-old American has proved time and again just what an asset he is to the Schalke cause. He's played in defence, in his preferred midfield role and as a second striker, displaying a willingness to do whatever it takes that could make all the difference in the pressure-cooker environment of a relegation battle.

McKennie does the basics very well - he's currently averaging 61 per cent for aerial challenges won and 73 per cent for successful passes - and has also come up with a couple of match-winning goals in games against Düsseldorf and Lokomotiv Moscow. If he can strike the right balance between industry and attacking bite, Schalke - outscored by 12 of the 18 Bundesliga clubs at the time of writing - shouldn't be flying against the wind for too much longer.

"Right, Weston, we should be looking up, not down." Weston McKennie has become a firm favourite of Schalke coach Domenico Tedesco. - 2018 DFL

Alfred Finnbogason - Augsburg (15th, 18pts)

Alfred Finnbogason's guns are loaded, judging by his performance against Mainz on Matchday 20. The Iceland international scored all three goals as Augsburg gave their survival hopes a shot in the arm with their first win in 10 matches. It was his second Bundesliga hat-trick of the season, and ended a 493-minute goal drought - his longest barren spell since joining Augsburg from Real Sociedad, initially on loan, in January 2016.

Finnbogason is now on track to better 2017/18's career-best tally of 12 Bundesliga goals, which helped Augsburg secure their top-flight status with three games to spare. He also rode to their rescue in 2015/16 and 2016/17 as Augsburg dodged the relegation play-off spot by slender two- and one-point margins respectively. He missed chunks of each campaign through injury however, and, with seven absent marks next to his name already this term, Die Fuggerstädter will be praying the Iceman doesn't need more than an ice pack on any bumps and scrapes he might pick up between now and the season's end. They will therefore have been hugely concerned to see him limp off in their disappointing 4-0 loss in Bremen.

With 10 goals in 13 outings, Augsburg's Alfred Finnbogason has scored a Bundesliga goal every 103 minutes so far this season. - imago/Philippe Ruiz

Benjamin Pavard - VfB Stuttgart (16th, 15pts)

Benjamin Pavard was lost in France when Stuttgart came knocking in summer 2016. The French defender only missed a handful of games as VfB stormed to the Bundesliga 2 title the following season, and was one of just four players not to miss a single minute of the action for a Stuttgart side that fell two points short of European qualification last term. He also started every game of Les Bleus' triumphant 2018 FIFA World Cup campaign.

The statistics underscore Pavard's value. Stuttgart have lost 37 per cent of the 70 Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 games he has been part of compared to 67 per cent of the six he has missed because of injury. He has won 67 per cent of his attempted challenges and found the mark with 88 per cent of his passes, while VfB's three clean sheets of 2018/19 all came on the former Lille sentry's watch. As long as the Bayern-bound super talent stays fit, Stuttgart may have just the one farewell speech to pen in May.

Watch: What makes Benjamin Pavard such a handy defender?

Michael Esser - Hannover (17th, 14pts)

If Hannover live to fight another day, don't be surprised to see a statue of goalkeeper Michael Esser erected outside the HDI-Arena in the not too distant future. The 31-year-old made just three Bundesliga appearances in 2017/18 after being brought in from Darmstadt, but impressed enough during preseason to unseat Philipp Tschauner as the Reds' No.1.

Although the concession of a joint-league-high 44 goals doesn't paint him in the best light, Esser's role in narrow wins over Stuttgart, Wolfsburg and Nuremberg, and draws against Bremen, Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen, Mainz and Freiburg should not be underestimated. He's repelled the most shots of any Bundesliga custodian after 21 matches - 101 in 1800 minutes - and while he dropped a clanger in the Matchday 17 defeat to Düsseldorf, he remains Hannover's best chance of survival. It's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it.

Hannover's Michael Esser is keeping Hannover in with a shot at survival. - 2018 Getty Images

Mikael Ishak - Nuremberg (18th, 12pts)

Nuremberg are saving all their tears for something - but will they be tears of joy or despair? Der Club have been marooned in the automatic relegation zone since Matchday 15 and, until Matchday 20's draw with Bremen, had lost six on the spin. It was Mikael Ishak's goal that broke the cycle, with the Swede looking more and more like relegation saviour material, but the Bavarian club were knocked down once again with a 2-0 loss at fellow strugglers Hannover that saw them slip to bottom.

Ishak is level with captain Hanno Behrens in the Nuremberg scoring charts, albeit with a superior strike rate of one goal (three in total) every 329 minutes to one every 495. As well as rescuing draws against Bremen and Mainz, he also found the net in one of only two Nuremberg wins in 2018/19 and registered an assist in the other - against Fortuna and Hannover respectively. He was only a late substitute in the return fixture against the latter, but a repeat performance in Düsseldorf in two weeks - a proverbial six-pointer to say the least - could hold the key to Nuremberg's destiny.

Nuremberg won't have the joint-tamest attack in the Bundesliga for long, if Mikael Ishak has anything to do about it. - imago/Zink

Chris Mayer-Lodge