Schalke 04 wasn't able to enjoy topping the Bundesliga table for very long. After a week at number one, they're back to being the underdogs as the German league takes a back seat to World Cup qualification this week.
Bayern Munich grounded Schalke and reconquered the German table
Whenever German soccer powerhouse Bayern Munich aren't leading the Bundesliga, they seem to have a way of upping the pressure, then sitting back and watching the teams ahead of them choke.
That's the only explanation for Schalke's 2-1 loss away at the hands of lowly Mainz 05. After four months of playing catch-up, goal difference elbowed Schalke off the Bunesliga summit with eight games left in the season.
Mainz's surprise 2-1 win ended Schalke's Bundesliga reign
Earlier this season Munich also pushed VfL Wolfsburg, currently in eighth, out of the leader's spot, then watched the Wolves fall to the middle of the table with six losses in nine games during the season's second half.
Easier to be the underdog
Munich midfielder and German national team captain Michael Ballack started the psychological warfare against Schalke before Sunday's game, claiming it's easier to hunt than be hunted.
"Schalke do not have a lot of experience at the top and their last one was negative," he said, referring to the 2000-2001 season when Munich scored in the fifth minute of injury time to salvage a 1-1 tie and the one point they needed to take the German title in the final week. "I am interested to see what goes on in their heads."
The loss to Mainz spelled out an early end to the Schalke's honeymoon after they moved ahead of mighty Munich the week before, but the Royal Blues' coach Ralf Rangnick (photo) said his team's season is far from over.
With eight games to go, Schalke trainer Ralf Rangnick said not to count his team out yet
"I always said the match after Bayern would be the most difficult," he confessed. "We are disappointed, but there is a long way to go."
Even with 24 points yet to be divided, Rangnick will need to stay focused as Schalke's schedule is considerably more difficult than Munich's.
Matches against Stuttgart, Hamburg, Hertha Berlin and Bayer Leverkusen will keep Schalke on their toes while Munich remain the bookmakers' favorites and face off against the league's bottom half in games against Bochum, Monchengladbach, Nuremberg and Mainz.
Silverware equals acceptance
Felix Magath said he won't be a real part of Bayern Munich until he wins a cup
Still, there's also a good deal of pressure on Munich manager Felix Magath as well.
He claimed leading the Bundesliga with eight games to go, quarter-final qualification in the Champions League and the German Cup semi-finals aren't enough. He won't be able to step out of the large shadow cast by his predecessor Ottmar Hitzfeld until he makes his own contribution to the trophy case.
"I have not been 100 percent accepted as Bayern coach," Magath told magazine Der Spiegel newsmagazine. "You need to win titles here for that."