Starke: Struggling Hoffenheim a laughing stock

The battle to avoid relegation is heating up in the Bundesliga with 11 teams locked in a fight for survival separated by seven points just past the season halfway mark.

In one of the mostly tightly packed lower halves of the table for years, bottom-placed Freiburg, on 17 points, are just two wins and a draw away from Hoffenheim in eighth place.

Hoffenheim are in disarray following the sacking of coach Holger Stanislawski on Thursday after their German Cup exit at the hands of second division Greuther Fuerth on Wednesday and only one win in their last 10 league games.

"There is a lot of unrest in the club," said Hoffenheim keeper Tom Starke after their surprise cup exit, adding that the team had become a laughing stock.

"The whole club is shaking and it is internal problems that we ourselves created. The whole of Germany is laughing at us."

He also warned of the danger of relegation given the unrest.

"The danger is there because we are not pulling together and there is too much unrest," he said. "There is no reason to pretend things are good."

Hoffenheim investor Dietmar Hopp had demanded a semi-final spot in the cup to make amends for their bad league run and sharply criticised Stanislawski for a lack of game strategy.

Stanislawski was sacked early on Thursday after just over half a season in charge and two days before they face Werder Bremen, who are eager to remain in the top five and the hunt for a European spot.

While Hoffenheim have a slight buffer before things get really serious, 17th-placed Augsburg are out of excuses when they face Nuremberg, lying in 14th four points ahead.

"Only a win will do. Nothing else," said Augsburg's Sebastian Langkamp.

In another relegation battle, Freiburg travel to VfL Wolfsburg, whose coach Felix Magath has yet to find a way out of their own crisis.

The 2009 Bundesliga champions are on 24 points in 10th place, having failed to find any consistency, with Magath last week deploying his 36th different player this season, a Bundesliga record.

Hertha Berlin, who take on VfB Stuttgart are fighting to stay up months after winning promotion but new coach Michael Skibbe has so far failed to make any impact, presiding over four successive defeats, three of them in the league.

At the top, leaders Borussia Dortmund entertain Bayer Leverkusen eager to extend their unbeaten run of 14 league games while their opponents have one eye on next week's Champions League encounter against Barcelona.

Second-placed Bayern Munich, two points behind, host lowly Kaiserslautern, currently in the relegation play-off spot of 16th, a point off the bottom.


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