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Sports

Stuttering Season Heads into Week Four

The Bundesliga resumes once again after a break for international matches and fans wait to see whether the pause has broken their teams' momentum. Here's a preview of all the matches being played in Week Four.

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Wolfsburg beat Bremen in Week Three but it all seems so long ago

The stuttering Bundesliga season continues after more disruptions this weekend. While the players involved in the German national squad were entertaining World Champions Brazil in the latest of a long line of friendly matches the host nation will play in a bid to stay in shape for the 2006 World Cup, many other Bundesliga stars were attempting to guide their own countries to qualification for the soccer spectacle in Germany in two years time.

Now the international break is over, the domestic contest gets underway once more. Saturday sees the majority of matches from Week Four being played out at 15:30 CET, with the pick of the day being the Ruhrpott Derby between VfL Bochum and local rivals Borussia Dortmund at the Ruhrstadion.

The clash in the industrial heartland of Germany is usually, and quite aptly, a hammer and tongs affair with both teams clattering through 90 minutes of local rivalry like the miners of old at the coal faces of the region's numerous, but now mostly defunct, pits. Saturday's game is unlikely to be any different with both Bochum and Dortmund still only a victory away from the championship pace.

Ruhr derby with much at stake

Bochum in fifth remain unbeaten but have recorded just one win in three. Dortmund, three places behind, have one win, a draw and one defeat to show for the start of the season and will want to get into gear against their opponents from 20 minutes down the autobahn.

Both teams will be looking to get into a position similar to Bayer Leverkusen. An unbeaten streak of 13 games was extended in Week Three with a 4-1 thrashing of Bayern Munich and moved Bayer ahead of reigning champions Werder Bremen to claim top spot.

Leverkusen face an away tie at FSV Mainz this weekend with the opportunity to stretch their unbeaten run to 15, increase their lead over second placed Stuttgart and improve their early chances of a first championship win. Bundesliga virgins Mainz will want to give their own improbable championship aspirations a boost after the 1-1 draw with Hertha Berlin in the last game.

Bavarian giants seek unity

Fußball Bundesliga 2004 Bayer Leverkusen - Bayern München 4 : 1

Leverkusen's huge win exposed more than just the cracks in Bayern's defense.

Bayern Munich, Leverkusen's whipping boys from Week Three, have Arminia Bielefeld in their sights and would be expected to put the Bundesliga new boys to the sword in an act of revenge at being so humiliated at the BayArena. But internal ructions and player revolts have destabilized Bayern of late and coach Felix Magath must rein in his rebellious millionaires if he is to get the Bavarian giants into shape for another credible challenge on the summit of German soccer.

Bielefeld, languishing just one place from the bottom of the league with a single point from a possible nine, should be cannon fodder for the wounded superstars but a shock win or even draw will heap pressure on Munich, stalled in tenth place before Week Four's game.

Champs looking to bounce back

One team unlikely to be losing sleep over the state of the Bundesliga title record holders will be reigning champs Werder Bremen. While the champions are not having it all their own way in these early stages, Bremen will want to get back on track against Borrussia Mönchengladbach on Saturday. The 2-1 defeat against Wolfsburg in their last game stunned the title holders when they expected to extend their tenure at the top of the table. Instead, Bremen find themselves sat just off the pace in third, a point behind Leverkusen and Stuttgart.

The momentum of two wins from two games was quickly wiped out by goals from Brdaric and Thiam sealing victory for the Wolves. Bremen face Mönchengladbach, a team desperate to improve its fortunes after failing to record a win so far this season. The scalp of the champions would be a fine way to improve on their current 15th place in the league.

Thomas Brdaric nach dem Bundesligaspiel, Dortmund : Wolfsburg 1:2

Wolfsburg's Thomas Brdaric cools off as his team's season heats up.

Bremen's conqueror's Wolfsburg are enjoying a small wave of success after losing their first game and winning the last two. Schalke 04 are Saturday's visitors and arrive in Wolfsburg in the midst of a fractious period with trouble in the ranks and mediocre results pinning the Gelsenkirchen club back to 14th place when hopes were high of a serious title challenge this year. A 2-0 defeat by Hansa Rostock in Week Three also saw the dismissal of troubled star Ailton who will be missing from the Wolfsburg game due to suspension. The Royal Blues will hope to add to their single victory so far on Saturday.

Stuttgart and lethal Kuranyi eye summit

High-flying Stuttgart play host to Hamburg, a team which is at the beginning of a tentative revival after being rooted to the bottom of the league for the first two games after defeat after defeat. The 4-3 victory over Nuremberg in their last game lifted the Hamburgers up to 13th place and gave coach Klaus Toppmöller a little breathing space with the vultures circling over his job.

Stuttgart can be glad that striker Kevin Kuranyi has found his stride so early in the campaign. The great hope for the international striker's position has been scoring goals for fun of late with a hat-trick against Austria for Germany two weeks ago, followed by another in the Bundesliga against Kaiserslautern and the equalizer for the national team on Wednesday against Brazil. Hamburg's shaky defense will be on full alert against the lanky Brazilian-born attacker as he and Stuttgart look to overtake Leverkusen and take pole position in the league.

Bundesliga Hertha BSC Berlin gegen FC Bayern München

Berlin's Marcelinho.

Nuremberg take on Berlin this Saturday, the team five places below them. Nuremberg have enjoyed a solid start to the season since being promoted with four points from nine so far, giving them a 7th place berth in the league table. Hertha may prove a handful though as the strike force headed by Brazilian Marcelinho aims to shoot down the league newcomers.

Freiburg undefeated ahead of Sunday

Sunday's games are to be played at the later time of 17:30 CET and feature Hanover 96 against SC Freiburg, and Hansa Rostock at home to Kaiserslautern.

Out of the four teams playing on Sunday, it is a little surprising that Freiburg are the team further up the table at this early point of the season. An impressive unbeaten streak of two wins and a draw from the three games played sees the southerner's ensconced in 6th place ahead of many clubs perceived to be much bigger. Freiburg's form has been impressive and Hanover will be wary of the confidence running through the side.

Hanover are currently occupying the third relegation spot with only Bielefeld and Kaiserslautern below them after but have a game in hand, drawing one and losing the other of their two games so far.

Woeful 'Lautern head north

Kaiserslautern jubelt

Loyal in adversity, Kaiserslautern fans head to Rostock in hope on Sunday.

Kaiserslautern already look in trouble at the foot of the table after losing all three games to date. The journey to the most northern point on the Bundesliga compass will only be worth it for the team and its supporters if the long road home comes with three points.

Kaiserslautern will feel aggrieved that two goals were not enough to beat Stuttgart in their last outing, eventually falling foul of a Kevin Kuranyi hat-trick in Week Three, but will be both wary and slightly optimistic that fellow unlucky losers Rostock managed three against Hamburg while conceding four.

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