The Bundesliga title chase is heating up. Schalke and Stuttgart bump heads in what should be a thriller. League-leaders Bayern Munich have an easier task when they face relegation candidate Mönchengladbach.
Hugs for a hero - Schalke's Hanke scored twice against Nuremberg
It's been a long season. But with seven games remaining, fans around the country still have hope that their club can make the desired move -- either to the top of the standings, or out of the relegation zone. Coaches are depending on key players to reach their goals but 27 games have taken their toll.
At Schalke, for example. In the highlight match against third place Stuttgart, coach Ralf Rangnick has grave personel concerns. Central defender Marcelo Bordon, who transferred from Stuttgart at the end of last season, has hip problems. His fellow defender, Mladen Krstajic, is banned from the game after picking up his fifth-yellow card last week. And to boot, the presence of middle striker Ebbe Sand is questionable after receiving a broken nose.
That means it's time for others to pick up the slack -- like Mike Hanke. The 21-year-old came in for Sand last week and promptly struck twice in the 4-1 victory against Nuremberg. Hanke hasn't minced words about where he should be standing every Saturday -- on the field. "For weeks I've been wanting to start," he said cheekily. "Sometime, I think, coach will understand this."
Yet with highly-paid striker Brazilian Ailton and Sand, who is the heart of the Ruhr valley club, Hanke may have to be satisfied with playing second fiddle for this season at least.
VfB Stuttgart's coach Matthias Sammer is as hot as the color of his hair
Stuttgart are coming off a thrilling victory against reigning champs Werder Bremen to stay within shouting distance of the league title. Only five points behind Munich and Schalke, a win is mandatory for Matthias Sammer's club. A championship, or at least the Champions League qualification, would help finance the recent signing of German midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger from English club Aston Villa.
Easy three for Bayern?
Top club Bayern Munich, coming off their 4-2 Champions League defeat on Wednesday at the hands of Chelsea, welcome a favorite opponent of theirs -- Borussia Mönchengladbach. In 37 matches in Munich, Gladbach have come away with a victory only one time. A horrible statistic for coach Dick Advocaat's club who on 29 points are by no means clear of the relegation zone. Nothing short of a miracle is needed if Gladbach is to win this match.
Stuttgart's Christian Tiffert, red, ended any chance of Bremen repeating as Bundesliga champs when he scored the winning goal just three minutes from time
Behind the top three clubs, there is a big struggle to grab the two automatic UEFA Cup slots. Defending champs Bremen (47 points) travel to Hamburg for a northern derby. Thomas Schaaf's boys find themselves looking more behind them after last week's loss to Stuttgart but have a three point cushion on Berlin and Hamburg. Thomas Doll's HSV must do without the services of their potent offensive players Barbarez, Mpenza (both one match bans) and Lauth (injury). That spells bad news for Hamburg whose defense must stand solidly to stop the league's most powerful attack (56 goals).