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Schalke, Stuttgart Aim to Topple Wolfsburg

With the Bundesliga tightening at the top of the table, a resurgent Schalke 04 will take on a flagging VfB Stuttgart on Saturday. VfL Wolfsburg will try to fend off both teams as the league leader hosts Mainz 05.

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Will the green Wolves of Wolfsburg still be able to celebrate?

Schalke 04 and VfB Stuttgart are two teams tipped as dark horses for the 2004/05 German championship, and on Saturday they lock horns at the Arena Auf Schalke. Stuttgart are in dire straits after losing their last two matches to SC Freiburg (2-0) and Werder Bremen (1-0) but Matthias Sammer's charges must raise their spirits against an in-form Schalke.

Under Ralf Rangnick Schalke have won four league matches in a row to surge into the title race and Brazilian target-man Ailton is also starting to fire on all cylinders scoring in each of his last two outings. "I can't fault my team at the moment," admitted Rangnick. "But we have to keep our focus with Stuttgart up next at the weekend."

The presence of Brazilian defender Marcelo Bordon will add some spice to the fixture with the Schalke stopper leaving Stuttgart at the end of the season. Stuttgart labelled Bordon a mercenary for leaving and it has left a bad taste in the mouths of both parties.

VfL Wolfsburg will fight to keep their top spot in the league table as they host newly promoted FSV Mainz 05. Last season no one would have believed this match-up could be a Bundesliga highlight, but Mainz have proven they are prepared to play with the big boys with their surprisingly strong start this year.

The Wolves will hope to keep their Cinderella season after taking a hit midweek with their loss against Bayern Munich. VfL coach Erik Gerets used an auto metaphor to describe the performance of the team that is so closely tied to automaker Volkswagen. "Some critics think that the turbo is gone and the diesel is back. I've been waiting to see how we react after we play poorly," he said.

Bayern awake

After a slow start to the campaign -- their worst in 25 years -- Bayern Munich are creeping ominously towards the Bundesliga summit and travel to downbeat Borussia Mönchengladbach on Saturday. In the mid-1980s these two teams were fighting it out for the Bundesliga title but Gladbach fired their coach, Holger Fach, on Wednesday and just want to stay in the German top league.

Claudio Pizarro

Munich's Claudio Pizarro

Taming Bayern's Peruvian striker Claudio Pizarro could be the key after the marksman netted both goals in the 2-0 midweek win over Wolfsburg.

"Claudio is very important for us and we have missed him," admitted Bayern handler Felix Magath. "He can hold the ball up and we play a lot better with him in the team."

German champions Werder Bremen showed their determination to fend off Bayern and other title pretenders with their 2-1 comeback win over Stuttgart on Wednesday. Bremen will be buoyant after winning the encounter with ten men, but on Saturday they entertain a revived SV Hamburg who have won their last two games under new coach Thomas Doll.

Borussia Dortmund climbed away from the relegation zone with Tuesday's 1-0 win over Hertha Berlin and hope to follow that up with three points at home against Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday. Dortmund have yet to win at the Westfalen Stadium this season but should need no incentive against Leverkusen in a powder-keg fixture.

Leverkusen thrashed Dortmund 3-0 in April 2003 to all but end their hopes of qualifying for the UEFA Cup. Bayer will also be revved up for the match with the painful memories of 2002 -- when Borussia denied them the title on the final day of the season -- hard to forget.

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