Europa League hopefuls Stuttgart and Werder Bremen locked horns in the Bundesliga on Friday evening, with only one side looking ready for continental competition. The game has been overshadowed by what's to follow.
Werder Bremen opened the scoring on their visit Friday evening to Stuttgart, but never looked like winning the game. The hosts rallied to win 4-1, stretching their impressive run of form to nine games without defeat, including seven wins.
Stuttgart sit fifth in the table, only four points adrift of Borussia Mönchengladbach. Gladbach are winless in five but have a good chance to set that record straight at home against freefalling Cologne on Sunday.
Werder Bremen, meanwhile, remain eighth - with Wolfsburg and Hoffenheim both able to leapfrog them with weekend wins.
Bremen's opening goal came from one of the side's few fluid attacks on an evening when they never really clicked. Marko Marin lofted in a cross from the right and an unmarked Markus Rosenberg connected on the half-volley at the back post. Sven Ulreich in the Stuttgart goal had no chance of stopping the shot, a predicament his opposite number Tim Wiese was about to share.
Christian Gentner blasted home an equalizer from around 25 meters out, his perfectly-placed strike sailed into the top corner of Wiese's goal.
Seventeen (and counting) from 'midfield'
Stuttgart's top scorer Martin Harnik, a former Bremen player, had rediscovered his scoring touch against Augsburg midweek, and proceeded to add two more to his tally against his old club. Neither close-range strike will go in the Austrian international's scrap book, but they took Stuttgart from level-pegging to 3-1 in front.
Harnik has scored 17 league goals for Stuttgart this season from his extremely advanced midfield position. Former Hertha Berlin star Marcelinho, himself nearly a forward by trade, was the last designated midfielder to net that many in a season, seven years ago.
Substitute Cacau wrapped up a comfortable victory in the 89th minute, heading in a free kick from close range.
Bremen's bid for European football is threatening to implode after three draws and three defeats in their past six league games. There's no respite in store next weekend when Bayern Munich come to town. Stuttgart, meanwhile, travel to hapless Cologne that weekend as well.
Schalke vs Dortmund is always a huge game, but now there's a title at stake as well as bragging rights
Derby day in the Ruhr valley
Despite pitting two top-half sides against each other, Friday's fixture felt rather like a prelude to the main event - with probably the biggest game in German football slated for Saturday.
Less than 72 hours after their 1-0 nail-biter against championship rivals Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund head across the Ruhr to Gelsenkirchen to face arch-enemies Schalke in the fabled Revierderby.
Schalke go into the game after an embarrassing 4-1 defeat in Nuremberg, where coach Huub Stevens was forced to field a makeshift backline. Apart from goalkeepers Ralf Fährmann and Timo Hildebrand, no key Schalke players are believed to be doubtful for Saturday's big home game. Dortmund won at their Signal Iduna Park stadium 2-0 in the first half of the season, comfortably controlling that game - but third-placed Schalke would surely be delighted both to get revenge and to raise questions about their rivals' apparent march to back-to-back titles.
Bayern Munich, meanwhile, play host to Mainz - themselves by no means pushovers. Thomas Tuchel's side have won four and lost four of their last eight, but found the net at least once in every game. Bayern's Jupp Heynckes also has to balance his side's league campaign with Tuesday's Champions League semi final first leg in Munich against Real Madrid.
Northern rivals Hamburg and Hanover will also meet on the weekend, while the effectively relegated Kaiserslautern host Nurmberg. Wolfsburg are back at home against relegation-threatened Augsburg, second-to-last Hertha Berlin travel west to face Bayer Leverkusen, with the weekend's action rounded out in Baden Württemberg in the southwest on Sunday evening, as Freiburg entertain Hoffenheim.
Author: Mark Hallam
Editor: Matt Zuvela