The Bundesliga returns to action with smaller group battles beginning to materialize within the league. While the top teams try to keep up with the pace setters, teams near the bottom fight for their futures.
Stuttgart keep on Wolfsburg's tail in the tight contest at the top
The Bundesliga enters its eighth week the top three teams threatening to break away after a tense and close first few weeks. Leaders Wolfsburg sit just one place above unbeaten Stuttgart with the ominously approaching Bayern Munich four points off the top.
The next three teams -- champions Werder Bremen, Mainz and Bayer Leverkusen -- are all in sight of the pacesetters but cannot afford to concede too many points if they want to remain in contention. Six points separate first from sixth at the crowded summit while those outside the top half dozen are nine points and more behind.
Wolfsburg, who play Hannover on Sunday, may be temporarily displaced as league leaders by the end of Saturday if Stuttgart continue their good start to the season with a home win over Borussia Dortmund. Matthias Sammer's team could claim top spot if they can capitalize on recent form, both their and their opponents. Sammer entertains his old charges at the Gottlieb Daimler stadium safe in the knowledge that his Stuttgart team have yet to lose a game so far.
Unbeaten VfB face careless BVB
Ewerthon prays that Dortmund can hang onto a lead and win a match for once.
His old team, however, are having trouble holding onto leads and seem to have an aversion to winning games they have taken control over. A succession of careless draws have attributed to Dortmund's disappointing ninth place. A defeat on Saturday, and subsequent wins by any number of teams below them, could prove disastrous. Dortmund are the equivalent of one win from bottom place.
Bayern Munich could continue their steady climb to the top with a win over Schalke 04 at the Olympic Stadium this weekend. Victory will give the Bavarian giants 17 points, equal to Stuttgart before the Week Eight games. Bayern's bruising 2-1 defeat of Bremen last week showed the team's growing resolve to fight for the title, which could prove bad news for the delicately restored confidence of Schalke.
The Gelsenkirchen Royal Blues were languishing in 15th place before beating Bochum 3-2 at the weekend, a win that pushed them up to seventh. But as their season has shown so far, Schalke are capable of hitting just as many lows as highs. They will have to be at their most composed against a Bayern team gathering momentum.
Bayer put brakes on the slump
Any slip-up by Bayern could be capitalized on by a relieved Bayer Leverkusen team which put the brakes on a slide last week that threatened to undo some exquisite work in the early exchanges of this Bundesliga season. Although a 3-0 win over a stalling Hamburg side seemingly unable to lift themselves from the basement was relatively routine, it was an important victory after successive defeats.
Leverkusen visit the capital to face a happier Hertha Berlin team which has climbed from the doldrums of 16th to eighth place after turning over Kaiserslautern 2-0 in Week Seven.
Champions Werder Bremen face a tough game against Mainz on Saturday. Battered off the ball against Bayern, Bremen will have to find their resolve in time to face the challenge of the Bundesliga virgins who have not only made a good start to their first top flight campaign but have shown that a top five spot fits very comfortably thank you very much.
Confident Mainz take on Bruised Bremen
Bremen were on the end of a physical defeat by Bayern Munich last week.
It doesn't seem to matter to Jürgen Klopp's team if its home or away, Mainz are capable of getting a result anywhere and against anyone. Confidence is high and Mainz may prove hard to handle for a Bremen team eager to compose themselves after being slugged by an unspectacular but motivated Bayern performance last week.
Freiburg, who were beaten by Mainz in Week Seven, travel to Nuremberg in a bid to stop an early season slide. Dropping four places after last week's defeat, Week Three's sixth position seems a beautiful dream for Freiburg who now sit in 13th. Nuremberg, a place above their visitors in 12th, know all about the dizzy heights after gradually sliding down the league from second at the start of the season.
It could have been worse had it not been for the generous nature of Dortmund's current form, handing the Nuremburgers a draw when defeat at the Westfalen stadium looked unavoidable. A win could lift either up a notch or two but a defeat could send them stumbling further down the ladder.
Elevators look for change of direction
Bochum fans are used to going up and down leagues but would like some stability this year.
Another team that is experiencing the effects of such a close run competition this year is VfL Bochum. The so-called Elevators may not be so used these days to the relegation-promotion habit which earned them their nickname but they are definitely going in the wrong direction after losing to local rivals Schalke last week.
Bochum were fifth after three games and seemed to be steady around seventh place until a draw against Freiburg and a drubbing by Bremen knocked them out of the comfort zone. Now in 14th, two points off the bottom, Bochum face Hansa Rostock, the current occupiers of the wooden spoon position, at home in Week Eight.
Rostock lost the clash of the bottom clubs last week against Hannover, a result that lifted their conquerors to tenth while consigning Hansa to their fourth game without a win. Bochum's form before the 4-1 thrashing by the champions two weeks ago was solid and the Ruhr side may be looking to get back on track at the expense of struggling Rostock.
Toppmöller's Hamburgers risk grilling
The way out of the drop-zone seems lost on Toppmöller's HSV.
Hamburg are far from out of the relegation woods despite glimpses of hope streaming through the branches of the league's upper echelons in recent weeks. Possible salvation came knocking with a win over Schalke 04 in Week Six but the Hamburgers were made mince-meat by Leverkusen at the weekend and were sucked back down to second from last place.
Opponents Arminia Bielefeld, who enjoyed a major leap in the league with their 2-1 win over Nuremburg in Week Six, slipped up against Stuttgart last time out and slipped from eighth to 11th. Their inconsistent form may well offer Hamburg another lifeline to escape the pull of self destruction but could consequently consign Klaus Toppmöller's team to the depths again and leave the coach's position untenable.
Relegation zone battles come thick and fast
Victories are becoming a distant memory for Borussia Mönchengladbach.
With the high-flying Wolves taking on Hannover on Sunday, riding high after beating Borussia Mönchengladbach 2-1 to hang onto top spot last week, the last of Week Eight's games features 'Gladbach and Kaiserslautern, another team to suffer against the Wolves a week before.
Kaiserslautern looked to have been heading out of the danger zone but back-to-back defeats have left them in the final relegation spot with 'Gladbach just above them, hovering over the bottom three with the same number of points as 'Lautern but with better goal difference. With both teams sharing such close proximity, anything less than a win would see them change places and risk making that third relegation place their very own.