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High Flyers Prepare to Face Cellar Dwellers

If all things go according to plan, the standings at the top won't change much after the 26th match day in the Bundesliga. Without exception, the league's best teams face the worst. Will anyone crack?

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Currently on top: Goalscorer Lincoln and his club Schalke 04

Looking at this week's schedule, the Bundesliga fan might just let out a big yawn. Schalke play Mainz. Bayern host Rostock. Stuttgart face Freiburg. Reigning champs Bremen travel to Nuremberg. It looks like the league's four best clubs should all walk away with three points -- and not put much effort into it in the process.

This all means that the closest contenders for the UEFA Cup next season like Hamburg, Berlin and Leverkusen can't afford a draw, let alone a defeat.

Schalke first time in Mainz

Schalke Trainer Ralf Rangnick jubelt

Schalke 04 have been on a tear since Ralf Rangnick took over the reins last September

Ralf Rangnick's Schalke 04 are on top of the soccer world in Germany at the moment. After their 1-0 victory against Bayern Munich on Sunday, Schalke now must travel to Mainz, currently languishing 14 places below them. This Sunday match will be the first time the two sides have ever played in the Bruchweg Stadium, so there are no historical statistics that would point to one team or the other.

Jürgen Klopp's boys have played strong at home this season and they pulled off an improbable 0-0 draw at Bremen last week, so Schalke must be cautious after their emotional win against Munich.

Bayern take on Jörg Berger's Rostock who have decided that playing against teams like Unterhaching and LR Ahlen in the second league is not their idea of fun. Rostock have won their last two matches, overtaking fellow relegation candidates Freiburg and Bochum in the process.

Fußball Bundesliga 2004/05 16. Spieltag FC Bayern München - 1. FC Nürnberg

Bayern's golden striker Roy Makaay, middle, is questionable for this weekend

Bayern Munich face problems up front heading into the match. The attack is sputtering, having failed to score in the last 283 minutes. To boot, strikers Roy Makaay and Paolo Guerrero are injured. Goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, not one to mince words, put it best: "No one has the feeling, that we are finding the net a lot."

Stuttgart on the move

Southwestern neighbors Stuttgart and Freiburg are moving in the opposite direction. Coach Matthias Sammer's Stuttgart have regained third place and the confidence they displayed throughout the first half of tge season is back after a shaky start in the second.

There have not been many positives for Volker Finke's Freiburg recently. They have been thrashed black and blue in the past month, with results like 5-0 to Mainz and 7-0 to Bayern in a Cup match speaking volumes of this club's level of play.

This week, midfield star Zlatan Bajramovic let it be known that the last place club's chances to avoid relegation were practically zero. He announced his departure at the end of the season. The writing on the wall is clear in Freiburg: It's time to get ready for the second division.

21. Bundesligaspieltag: Werder Bremen gegen Borussia Mönchengladbach, Klose und Zidan

Bremen's striker Mirolav Klose, left, seems to be asking teammate Mohamed Zidan which way they should be going. Anywhere but down is the answer

Defending champions Bremen may have the most difficult match this weekend against Nuremberg. Although lying in 13th place, Nuremberg have found the net 43 times, more than first placed Schalke. League leading scorer Marek Mintal heads Wolfgang Wolf's goalhappy squad with 21 strikes.

Bremen, despite a Bundesliga best 53 goals, have had a terrible March, including the 7-2 pasting by Olympique Lyon in the Champions League. Thomas Schaaf's team is by no means out of the hunt for the third Champions League ticket next season, but if the chips fall the wrong way, they may be out of all the European competitions come next season.

Challengers with tougher matches

Hamburg, Berlin and Leverkusen -- 5th, 6th, 7th respectively -- all have the potential to finish in the top five but all three have more difficult competition on Saturday.

Fußball: Arminia Bielefeld - Hamburger SV 3:4 (2:3)

Mehdi Mahdavikia celebrated what turned out to be the gamewinning goal against Bielefeld last week as Hamburg enjoy a renaissance in the Bundesliga

Thomas Doll's Hamburg entertain Dortmund. Hamburg played spectacularly last weekend in their 4-3 come-from-behind win against Bielefeld. When these two sides meet, excitement is guaranteed. In 75 matches, 273 goals have been scored, over 3.5 per game.

Hertha Berlin fought most of last week's match against Leverkusen with only ten men and still almost pulled off an improbable victory, only to come away with a 3-3 draw. Falko Götz's side host Bielefeld this weekend. Berlin midfielder Marcelinho has been in top form of late, either scoring -- twice against Leverkusen -- or setting up his teammates. Another draw would be a setback for Hertha who have played out 11 stalemate games this season.

Leverkusen must face up-and-coming Kaiserslautern. Kurt Jara's Lautern have been riding a wave of success with only one loss in their last ten games. That has brought them back into contention for a possible UEFA Cup spot but a win is an absolute must. Something that Leverkusen do not allow much at home with only one loss at the BayArena this season.

Wolfsburg could seal Bochum's fate

Fussball-Bundesliga, VfL Wolfsburg gegen VfL Bochum

Wolfsburg and striker Diego Klimowicz hope they have awakened from their winter hibernation

A 1-0 victory against Hanover last week has revived Wolfsburg's slim chances of reaching a UEFA Cup berth. The Wolves must travel to struggling Bochum who sit in 17th place. Bochum coach Peter Neururer is at his wits end after his club has sunk steadily over the course of the season. Their dramatic UEFA Cup first round exit against Liege in the fall was a portent of their fortunes in the Bundesliga this season. "I have aged a lot," the popular Neururer said in an interview on the Wolfsburg Web site.

Hanover hope to stop their downward slide against Mönchengladbach. Ewald Lienen's Hanover have been the worst team in the second half of the season so far but a good first half should prove to be enough to preserve their first division status. Gladbach, on the other hand, are still drifting perilously close to the relegation zone. Despite, or maybe because of, numerous winter transfers, Dick Advocaat's team hasn't gelled into a formidable unit.

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