With the club's first German title in 49 years in sight, Schalke 04 fans are taking every opportunity to watch a potential new chapter of their team's history being written. The league leaders take on bitter local rivals Borussia Dortmund on Saturday with two matches to go in one of the tightest championship races in years, and have decided to open up their 75,000-seater Veltins Arena for those supporters unable to get to Dortmund for the match.
Schalke lead the table by one point from VfB Stuttgart and two from Werder Bremen, and the difficult away game against BVB could be a deciding factor in the destination of the championship shield. The club announced earlier this week that it would be showing Saturday's game live in its home stadium to give their fans a chance to see the game. Fans would have to pay a six-euro entry fee, but would receive a four-euro food or drink voucher.
One of the reasons why the stadium will be opened is to prevent tens of thousands of fans of traveling to Dortmund for a match that is already considered a security risk with 18,000 Schalke fans expected to be at the game at Signal Iduna Park. Schalke officials are thus attempting to downplay expectations ahead of the match. "We are expecting the championship to only be decided on the final day," Gerd Voss said.
However, with rivals Bremen and Stuttgart also facing tricky games at the weekend, a win at Dortmund for Schalke and defeats at Frankfurt for Werder and Bochum for VfB could hand the title to the Royal Blues on Saturday. But if all three teams win and the league goes to the wire, Schalke still have a great chance with a final game at home against Bielefeld.
Dortmund, who have scrambled to safety from relegation under coach Thomas Doll, have only a mathematical chance of getting into the UEFA Cup places but will be playing for regional pride on Saturday in one of the league's fiercely contested derby games. Winning against Schalke and throwing a massive spanner into the works of their title challenge will be all the incentive Doll's players need.
Frings, Klose boost resurgent Bremen
One former Dortmund star will also be urging his old team to win will be Bremen's Torsten Frings. The diminutive midfielder will be hoping BVB trip Schalke up and pave the way for a recovering Werder to snatch the title on the last day. Frings, who was a Bundesliga runner-up with Dortmund in 2003, hopes to add a league winners' medal with Bremen to the one he secured with Bayern Munich in 2005.
Werder will face Eintracht Frankfurt at the Weserstadion buoyed by a recent return to form after crashing out of the UEFA Cup semi-finals and the news that Frings has committed himself to the club until 2011. The midfielder announced Wednesday that he would not be leaving for Juventus Turin in the summer as previously expected. His contract renewal came a week after striker Miroslav Klose said he will not the leave the club either and will fulfill his contract until 2008.
Frankfurt, dumped out of the semi-finals of the DFB Cup by Nuremberg last month, are four points above the drop-zone and a victory against Bremen would guarantee their top league status for another season. However, Bremen slammed six past them in the Commerzbank Arena in December and with Werder beginning to find their feet again, the Frankfurters could be in for a torrid time.
Stuttgart wary of battling Bochum
Second-place Stuttgart will be wary of resurgent Bochum who flirted with relegation for most of the season only to come alive at the end to claim the scalps of Schalke, Bayer Leverkusen and Hamburg.
The 2-1 defeat of Schalke two weeks ago and last week’s 3-0 mauling of HSV should provide Armin Veh's championship hopefuls with plenty of food for thought. Bochum could still mount a late challenge for a European place but will have to add Stuttgart to their list of conquests and hope everyone else above them lose their last two games.
Fourth-placed Bayern Munich, out of the Champions League places but safely in the UEFA Cup next season, travel to Energie Cottbus. The Eastern German side are safe from the drop and have had a mixed bag of results of late with wins against Leverkusen, Wolfsburg and Frankfurt offset by losses to Hanover and Schalke. Cottbus will want more breathing space from the basement despite being secure and robbing the deposed champions of Bayern in the process would definitely be an added bonus.
Leverkusen, Hanover tussle for UEFA Cup place
DFB Cup finalists Nuremberg will be hoping to put the skids under Hamburg's revival with Bayer Leverkusen breathing down their necks.
Nuremberg already have a UEFA Cup slot as fellow finalists Stuttgart will finish in the Champions League places but with Hanover close behind, Leverkusen will want to snatch fifth place from Nuremberg to make sure of European soccer next season.
Bayer have 45 points while Hanover are on 44 and the fight for Europe could go to the last game of the season. Leverkusen play Hertha Berlin Saturday while Hanover are away to Arminia Bielefeld.
Coaches tackle relegation arithmetic
While opponents Borussia Mönchengladbach are already down, Mainz are still in the relegation dogfight. With six points going begging in the next fortnight, a win over bottom club Gladbach on Saturday and a final day victory over Bayern Munich could see Jürgen Klopp's team survive.
Klopp will have one eye on the Aachen – Wolfsburg game on Saturday, knowing that a draw between the two clubs above his would set up a dramatic finale. If Wolfsburg win, it could be curtains for Mainz as the Wolves would drag themselves to near safety on 39 points. If Aachen win, and Mainz are victorious, it will all hinge on the final game with only one point separating the three teams on the last day of the season.
If that scenario transpires, the impetus could be with Aachen. With Mainz away in Munich and Wolfsburg playing host to title chasers Bremen, Aachen could save themselves by the skin of their teeth by beating Hamburg.