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Race for second between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke adds to Ruhr derby occasion

With a win on Tuesday at Hertha Berlin, Bayern Munich will claim the Bundesliga title. Another burning question may also move closer to an answer when Borussia Dortmund host Schalke in the Ruhr derby.

Said question is simple: Who will finish the season as the Bundesliga's second-best side?

Of course, on the bare face of the issue, it matters little who finishes second or third - the teams that finish in those places on the Bundesliga table qualify automatically for the 2014-15 Champions League.

Given the post-Christmas blues of Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Mönchengladbach, both second-placed Dortmund and Schalke in third stand a fine chance of staying in those automatic qualification spots.

Fans of Bundesliga club Schalke. Photo: Getty

The fans are sure to play a crucial role in Tuesday's match.

The order in which that will occur is a matter of pride, however. The two sides go into the match in winning form, but neither has been convincing in recent weeks. Dortmund have lost two of their last five league games, including a shock defeat to relegation threatened Hamburg on February 22.

Since it became clear they would not be challenging Bayern for the title, the gold of Dortmund's shirts seems to have lost a shade of luster. It is something fans have sensed as much as they have seen; as if the squad - overworked due to a plague of injuries - cannot wait for the season to end. The impending departure of star striker Robert Lewandowski to Bayern at the end of the campaign - a year after Mario Götze made the same move - has added to the perceived pall of disappointment.

Schalke, meanwhile, have slowly edged their way up the table, but thumpings at the hands of Real Madrid in the Champions League and Bayern in the Bundesliga over the past month have provided stark reminders at how far they are from elite status. Schalke are on track for their biggest haul of points for some seasons, yet the pressure has never seemed far from much-maligned head coach Jens Keller.

Schalke, at least, a better team than the one that lost 3-1 to Dortmund in October, particularly with the presence of in-form striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

Roman Weidenfeller of Dortmund celebrates after winning the Bundesliga match between FC Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund at Veltins-Arena on October 26, 2013 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. Photo: Getty

Dodging flares at the start of October's Ruhr derby, Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller was leading the celebrations after the final whistle.

Kickoff that night at Gelsenkirchen

was delayed after flares were thrown onto the pitch and from one stand to another.

Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller had to dodge a flare himself when he appealed for better behavior from his club's traveling fans.

Dortmund fans are expecting a response when Schalke's support visit the Westfalenstadion, further heightening the anticipation ahead of the match. So are police and stadium security, with around 3,000 officers to be at the ground in order to keep a semblance of peace.

The numbers paint the picture: Eight games of the season remain; Dortmund are a point and +16 goal difference ahead of their foes on the table; 80,000 people will be at the stadium to watch the two teams meet. Keller summed up the occasion best: "When we can play in the biggest derby in Germany ... that is a pleasure for us all."

Both clubs have long been resigned to Bayern's forthcoming triumph this season, leaving the wrestle for second place - at the expense of the other - as their greatest domestic test.

It is said that pride comes before the fall, and the match is likely to go some way to revealing which team will have fallen behind their Ruhr rivals come the end of the season.

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