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Sports

Bundesliga preview: Schalke and Leverkusen battle for Champions League spots

Champions League won't be off the minds of Schalke's players on Saturday as they face Bayer Leverkusen. Elsewhere, Matchday 26 could be the end of the road for some of the Bundesliga's coaches.

With their respective Champions League exploits coming to an end over the past fortnight, Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen turn their attention onto securing their ticket back to European football's top-table next season.

It's a classic 'six-pointer' in the words of Schalke head coach Roberto Di Matteo, whose Royal Blues side are three points behind Leverkusen who occupy the final qualifying position in fourth, with Borussia Mönchengladbach a further two points ahead in third.

Solid on home soil

Fußball 1. Bundesliga Schalke 04 vs. Hamburger SV

Di Matteo's focus will now be on league duties after Real Madrid defeat

Champions League qualification is imperative for a club like Schalke, both on and off the pitch. The Royal Blues have finished in the top-four for the past three seasons and after a change in the dugout in October, with Di Matteo replacing Jens Keller, have looked to re-establish their place in the top-four.

While Schalke's form has been patchy at times - especially on the road - points have been collected consistenly at the Veltins-Arena. "Our home record is good and our fans really get behind us,” said the former Chelsea player and coach on Thursday.

Schalke has lost just once at home of out 10 games since Di Matteo was appointed. The Italian hasn't been scared to dip into the club's prodigious youth academy with names like Max Meyer and Leroy Sane now on everybody's lips after a breathtaking virtuoso display in Madrid.

Rookie goalie Timon Wellenreuther has been drafted into the side as a replacement for Ralf Fährmann and Fabian Giefer who are both out. But after a continued spell of mistakes, Wellenreuther's spot has come under scrutiny. Yet the 19-year-old is backed by the Italian coach who handed him his league debut at half-time during the 1-1 draw with Bayern Munich.

"I have confidence in him," added Di Matteo. "We had a good talk during the week. I'm certain that Timon will deliver a good performance."

Coaches under pressure

1. FSV Mainz 05 v VfB Stuttgart - Bundesliga

How long will Huub Stevens' misery continue at Stuttgart?

The consequence of the battle at the bottom going right to the wire is that coaching changes are to be expected at this time of the season. It's a case of stick-or-twist for bottom-placed Stuttgart who, without a win in nine matches, look increasingly resigned on relegation to the second division.

The club's coach, Huub Stevens, hasn't been able to stem the tide since taking over for a second time in 12 months with one sole aim: to keep Stuttgart in the Bundesliga. The Dutchman presided over last week's heavy defeat at Leverkusen, but has continued to receive support by sporting director Robin Dutt.

But nine games without a win was also the point of destiny for Thomas Schneider who was one of the coaches sacked last season. Stuttgart takes on Alex Meier-boosted Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday with the talisman the top goalscorer in the division with 19 goals this season.

Then there's Tayfun Korkut at Hannover. The Reds are nine games without picking up a victory and have now slipped into the relegation battle with four points the margin between themselves and Paderborn, occupying the relegation play-off position. A defeat at home to Borussia Dortmund would likely throw Korkut's future at the club further up into the air.

On Friday, Hamburg and Hertha Berlin lock horns again days after the Olympic 2024 decision went in favor of the Northern Germans.

But Hamburg's woes on the football pitch appear to have no end in sight following a winless run of five matches. Josef Zinnbauer's side are just two points above the drop-zone and reports suggest another defeat for HSV would see the axe fall on their current boss.

With nine games left, there's no wonder clubs are beginning to panic with the margins so narrow at the bottom of the league.

Bundesliga Matchday 26 fixtures: Hamburg vs. Hertha Berlin (Friday), Hannover vs. Borussia Dortmund, Cologne vs. Werder Bremen, Stuttgart vs. Eintracht Frankfurt, Paderborn vs. Hoffenheim, Schalke vs. Leverkusen (late Saturday), Mainz vs. Wolfsburg (Sunday), Bayern Munich vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach (Sunday)