Last weekend, the top three Bundesliga teams played poorly. At the end of the day, Bayern Munich is only a point clear, giving Bayer Leverkusen added incentive on their trip to Munich.
Beating Bayern Munich's stars is better than gold
It's been a long time. The last Bayer Leverkusen victory against Bayern in Munich was over 15 years ago. Leverkusen coach Klaus Augenthaler was Bayern's captain at the time. After the 1-0 win in October 1989, Leverkusen overtook Munich at the top of the standings.
That won't be possible this time around, but Klaus Augenthaler's side can improve their position dramatically if they return to the Rheinland with three points.
"Getting points in Munich is always nice," said Augenthaler. But Leverkusen will have to fight hard to get those points -- Munich has won nine of the last ten contests at home.
Bayern Munich (in red) came away from Berlin with a 0-0 draw
During the week, Munich felt the brunt of a winter storm. Felix Magath had his squad practice in the snow and ice, not exactly the kind of conditions that Leverkusen have been training in. And the Bavarians have another possible advantage -- wanting revenge. In the first leg match at Leverkusen, Bayern took a pummeling, dropping the game 4-1.
Competition looks to benefit
A Bayern loss would reshuffle the deck for the title race. Bayern's nearest competitor, Schalke travel to lowly Rostock. The team from the Baltic Sea port has won a pitiful two games this season -- but one of them was at Schalke, 2-0.
While Rostock are announcing newcomers, Schalke coach Ralf Rangnick must be asking himself if he won't have to play on Saturday. A handful of players, some of them key, are out. Christian Pander, Hamit Altintop and Michael Delura are questionable because of a flu bug. Defender Marcelo Bordon's Achilles heel is acting up. In addition, Gerald Asamoah and Levan Kobiashvili must sit out because they received their fifth yellow cards of the season last week.
Stuttgart's Cacau spun his wheels last week against Nuremberg
Third place Stuttgart have a chance to make good on last week's poor home loss to Nuremberg. Yet they will not have it easy at home. The opponent is FC Kaiserslautern. Matthias Sammer's Stuttgart need the points if they want to have a say in the title race. The defeat last week, Matthias Sammer said in Sport-Bild, is no reason to count his club out.
Kurt Jara's FCK have been playing fine soccer of late, winning four of their last five matches. The "Red Devils" must play solid defense in order to win. Kevin Kuranyi scored all three goals in the first leg 3-2 victory for Stuttgart.
In the relegation zone
Things are not looking rosy for Peter Neururer's Bochum club. They made it to the UEFA Cup last season, now they lie in 16th place and six points separate themselves from a non-relegation spot.
Bochum's fans have had little to cheer about this season as the team has only won twice at home
They play host to promoted side Bielefeld who are in 12th place but have themselves have been encountering difficulties of late. They have the talent. Patrick Owomoyela is again in Germany's national squad. Delron Buckley scored ten goals in the first leg.
Moving away from the relegation zone, albeit slowly, are Dortmund. A win and a draw in January moved them up to 13th place, seven points from relegation. They travel to Hanover, a team they at least frequently score against -- in the last 22 meetings against Hanover, they have tallied at least a goal.
Sixth place Hanover won their last match, 1-0 against Bielefeld. Without a lot of fanfare, they have slipped into the fight for a UEFA Cup spot.
Berlin's playmaking midfielder Marcelinho (left) must sit out a one-game suspension against Mainz
Also battling for a top five spot in the Bundesliga are Hertha Berlin (7th place). They travel to Mainz who are having a host of problems lately. Coach Jürgen Klopp has always proclaimed that his team should have fun on the pitch. This they did in the beginning. But with five consecutive losses, the players are losing their sense of humor. As expected, Mainz is engaged in a relegation fight, it just came a lot later than everyone thought it would.
Nuremberg and league-leading goalscorer Marek Mintal (14) host Hamburg. Both teams are in the middle of the field at the moment but Wolfgang Wolf's Nuremberg need the points more.
Interesting Sunday matches
Mönchengladbach hopes that Giovane Elber will celebrate for them as much as he did with Bayern Munich
Mönchengladbach have undergone a massive facelift under coach Dick Advocaat. The former Dutch national coach brought in his seventh addition to the club since the end of the first leg -- and it was a huge surprise with Giovane Elber coming from Olympique Lyon. Nevertheless, the former Stuttgart and Bayern Munich striker is still recovering from an injury and cannot practice for another two weeks.
Gladbach play at home against 17th place Freiburg who beat Wolfsburg last weekend.
Wolfsburg are plummeting from their first half heights. Erik Gerets' team faces defending champions Bremen. Wolfsburg were still setting their hopes high by speaking title in the winter break. Now reality has set in.
With a victory away, Bremen would be back in the title hunt -- assuming they get some help from Leverkusen.