Schalke took an abysmal nose dive last week and find themselves three points back of first place Bayern Munich. Bayern and Stuttgart start a stretch of test matches before a final clash in Stuttgart.
Schalke, blue, are on the ground while Stuttgart are flying high
After last weekend's disastrous 3-0 defeat in Stuttgart, the mood in Schalke turned for the worse. Before, there was talk of winning the title. Now they are thinking differently. Coach Ralf Rangnick said in kicker magazine that the most important task "is securing a spot in the Champions League." That means finishing second in the Bundesliga for automatic qualification.
The schedule, however, is against them heading down the home stretch. In their last six matches, they face four teams with international aspirations. This week, sixth place Hamburg are in town. Coach Thomas Doll's club has fallen on hard times of late. At the beginning of the second half of the season, Hamburg sprang to the top third of the standings but luck has not been on their side recently and they've collected only one point in their last three games.
Schalke's coach Ralf Rangnick has had reason to frown in the Bundesliga the past few weeks
Schalke are by no means out of the title race, but it may be Stuttgart who may make the race tight for Bayern Munich. They will need help from other teams though. On 54 points, they lie five back of Bayern. Yet their schedule, like Bayern's, is filled with mediocre opponents. This Saturday, the hardest adversary just may be the long bus ride to Rostock on the Baltic Sea.
Stuttgart's Markus Babbel warned in Sport-Bild magazine that 17th place Rostock, fighting for their lives against relegation, can not be taken lightly. "We can't allow a loss like that of Schalke against Mainz." Stuttgart are playing juggernaut-like and silently have thoughts of winning the championship. If the cards fall right, this could happen. In the final game of the season, Matthias Sammer's team comes up against Bayern.
Champions League adieu, hello Bundesliga
Munich's goalkeeper Oliver Kahn is not one to keep his emotions penned in
Following their ouster from the Champions League at the hands of Chelsea, 18-time Bundesliga champion Bayern Munich can concentrate on the league title. Coach Felix Magath bemoaned the bad luck of the Bavarians against the Premiereship side. Star defender Lucio deflected two balls into his own net in the two fixtures with Chelsea but Bayern are three points in front of second place Schalke and are also in the semifinals of the League cup, "so things aren't that bad," said Magath.
Their opponents, Hanover, could sing a similar tune. Not because they are mixing it up at the top of the table. More because they have stamped their ticket for the first division for next season. Hanover have taken a beating against Bayern in the past, letting in 87 goals in their 31 meetings. What speaks for Ewald Lienen's club is the fact that this game is in Hanover. The only five matches they have bettered Munich have taken place at home.
Reigning champs and fourth place Werder Bremen (50 points) have a big assignment when they host Hertha Berlin (47). Bremen must do without captain and national midfielder Frank Baumann who went under the knife this week for a bad left ankle. Striker Miroslav Klose will also be sitting on the bench with a hurt knee. A victory against northern rivals Hamburg last week impressed coach Thomas Schaaf. Another impressive game will be needed on Saturday.
Berlin's Marcelinho, left, after his stroke of genius from 48 meters against Freiburg
Berlin's midfielder Marcelinho (photo) scored what was probably one of the top three goals in this Bundesliga season against last place and second division bound Freiburg last Saturday. From the edge of the midfield circle, the colorful Brazilian launched a lob over keeper Richard Golz who had wandered too far off his line. The ball flew over the flailing Golz and landed in the net. Marcelinho went on to score on a penalty kick and assisted on Nico Kovac's goal in the 90th minute. A similar performance could cause a big headache for Bremen. But Bremen are not Freiburg.