With just six games to go, the relegation battle is heating up.
The Swiss Super League has been full of drama, and that is just at the bottom. It is still unclear who will finish last, going straight down to the Challenge League. On the other hand, the relegation playoff spot is a bittersweet outcome, a tie which could be a vital lifeline or an avoidable finale.
FC Thun, FC Sion and Neuchâtel Xamax are the clubs fighting for their lives, separated by just five points in a bid to renew their respective top flight statuses. As the relegation battle enters its final stages, this is where the three teams stand in the fight for survival.
After being rooted to the bottom for 19 straight rounds, FC Thun now sit pretty in eighth, a point clear of the relegation playoff. Although they have emerged from the drop since the restart, Marc Schneider’s side are far from finished in their battle to stay up.
Thun hold a number of unwanted records this season: they have the worst away record, have conceded the most goals and have lost more games than anyone else. Their nine-year stay in the Super League is in jeopardy, but some huge recent wins have shown they will not go down without a fight.
The Bernese club recorded victories over BSC Young Boys, Zürich and Neuchâtel Xamax, winning three straight home league games for the first time since December 2018. Ridge Munsy has been key for them, scoring seven goals in his last nine appearances.
The visits of St. Gallen and FC Basel to the Stockhorn Arena will be tough tests, but the trip to FC Sion on 26th July will be the biggest game of Thun’s season. It could be the decider down at the bottom, and if they can prevail in the relegation six-pointer, their Super League status may well be confirmed.
No club has had a more tumultuous season than FC Sion. Having sat second with 16 points from seven games, Sion crashed and burned as the campaign progressed, picking up a measly 11 points in their next 22 games. It means they occupy the relegation playoff spot, which as it stands would earn them a tie with Grasshopper Club Zürich.
The on-pitch chaos leaked into the roots of the club, with four different managers this season and the sacking of nine players amid the coronavirus pandemic. Sion went 12 games without a win stretching from December to July, yet secured a shock 1-0 result over FC Basel to end their woeful run.
Pajtim Kasami was the man who scored the winner against Basel, just one example of his vital contributions. The experienced Swiss is their top scorer with 10 goals – a third of their total league goals – and has been the beating heart of the Valais side, keeping them in contention for survival.
Sion have fixtures against both relegation rivals, though have not won any of their last three games against the pair. Their games against Zürich and Lugano are winnable, but if they can build on their Basel win and continue with the same mentality, they could leapfrog Thun and escape the playoff finale.
No-one wants to be bottom of the table, and for Neuchâtel Xamax, that feat could not come at a worse time. They are currently five points off complete safety, with one win in their last eight and an embarrassing win percentage of 13%, averaging just a single goal a game.
Perhaps it was the right decision to bring Stéphane Henchoz in as manager, replacing Joël Magnin with one simple objective: keep Xamax up. After winning the relegation playoff by the skin of their teeth last year, they are determined to make it a third consecutive year in the Super League.
While they are the lowest scoring team in the division, Xamax have club legend Raphaël Nuzzolo to maintain their hopes of survival. The 37-year-old has 11 goals and seven assists this season, as the club’s fate undoubtedly rests on their veteran striker performing at the top of his game.
Xamax’s next game against Sion is massive, one they simply have to win at the Stade de la Maladière. It is takes on even more significance when a win would close the gap to one point, especially with games against the top two coming up for Henchoz’s side. Neuchâtel Xamax need a miracle, but anything is possible in Swiss football.
These final few weeks are going to be huge, with not one club sitting as an outright favourite. Thun’s home form has vastly improved, but their record on the road is still dire. Sion have the winning taste in their tongue, albeit after one win in 13 outings. And Xamax have faith in the determined Henchoz, yet need the biggest turn of fortune.
Anyone can go down, whether it is automatically or via the playoffs. All three clubs have to give their all and fight with all their might, if they are to stand any chance of remaining at the pinnacle of Swiss football.
But the question remains: who will be relegated?
Neuchâtel Xamax should finish as the best of the worst, with Henchoz steering them to survival. Thun look likely to qualify for the relegation playoff, not strong enough to survive but ready to fight one last time. Therefore, Sion are set to be the unlucky ones, collapsing at the finish line and succumbing to relegation after 14 years in the top flight.
8th – Neuchâtel Xamax (safe)
9th – FC Thun (relegation playoff)
10th – FC Sion (relegated)
Read more of my Swiss football articles here
Interview: Speaking to Pascal Zuberbühler
Football and politics must not be separated, now more than ever
Swiss Super League Round 27 Preview: Rampant champions back on top