Bayern counting down games to Bundesliga title

BY CIARAN FAHEY Associated Press Published:

BERLIN (AP) -- The Bundesliga is all but decided.

Bayern Munich, which visits Wolfsburg on Saturday, is playing in a league of its own with Borussia Dortmund 20 points off the pace.

Eight teams are fighting against relegation, with three six-pointers taking place Saturday between Stuttgart and Eintracht Braunschweig, Hamburger SV and Eintracht Frankfurt, and Nuremberg and Werder Bremen.

Dortmund will visit another relegation candidate, Freiburg, on Sunday.

Here are five things to know about this weekend's matches:

___

HAMBURG HEX

Hamburg coach Mirko Slomka is struggling to get 11 players together for his side's clash with Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday.

The club's injury worries were exacerbated by the international break. Defender Marcell Jansen has been ruled out for several weeks after tearing a ligament in his left ankle in Germany's 1-0 win over Chile, while striker Pierre-Michel Lasogga returned from his first national call-up before Wednesday's game with muscle problems.

Slomka also has injury concerns over Rafael van der Vaart (flu), Milan Badelj (broken hand), Hakan Calhanoglu, Petr Jiracek and Ivo Ilicevic (all thigh strains), Lasse Sobiech (concussion) and Lam Zhi Gin (groin problems). Replacement goalkeeper Jaroslav Drobny and midfielder Kerem Demirbay have not yet recovered from hamstring injuries. Maximilian Beister and Slobodan Rajkovic are both ruled out to the end of the season with cruciate ligament injuries.

Hamburg snapped its seven-game losing streak with a 3-0 win over Borussia Dortmund in Slomka's debut, but lost the northern derby to Werder Bremen last weekend and remains in the relegation playoff place.

"It's about pure survival," Hamburg goalkeeper Rene Adler said. "In the coming two home games we must mix aggression with playing football again."

___

LAST CHANCE

Thomas Schneider has one game to save his job.

His Stuttgart side has lost eight in a row and another defeat against Eintracht Braunschweig would see the bottom side draw level.

Stuttgart's board of management decided to stick with the 41-year-old Schneider on Tuesday.

"The advisory committee is 100 percent behind this decision," said Stuttgart president Bernd Wahler, despite media reports suggesting Thorsten Fink, Zvonimir Soldo, Krasimir Balakov, Ralf Rangnick and Huub Stevens were all being considered as possible replacements.

Braunschweig's lowest point in the season came in the 4-0 home loss to Stuttgart in September, but the promoted side has recovered from the worst ever start to a Bundesliga season and still believes it can avoid the drop.

"It did look a lot worse," said Braunschweig coach Torsten Lieberknecht, who recently extended his contract to 2017. "Stuttgart as a direct rival (for relegation) -- for it to have come so far was unthinkable after the reverse fixture."

___

SCHALKE SHOCK

Schalke hopes to recover from what Kevin-Prince Boateng called its "horror week" when its hosts Hoffenheim on Saturday.

Humiliating defeats at home to Real Madrid in the Champions League (6-1) and then at Bayern Munich last weekend (5-1) have brought Schalke back to earth after the side started the year with four straight wins.

"It doesn't get any worse. That was highly embarrassing. We lined up like a school team tactically, beyond bad," Schalke captain Benedikt Hoewedes said.

Schalke coach Jens Keller needs to reshuffle his back line with Felipe Santana and Atsuto Uchida (both hamstring) and Kyriakos Papadopoulos (suspended) all out.

___

LEVERKUSEN ALARM

Bayer Leverkusen is in freefall after five successive defeats across all competitions and the club relinquished second place to Dortmund by losing 1-0 at home to Mainz last week.

"There's a big concern that we'll miss all our targets," Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Voeller said after his side's eighth loss in 10 games.

Leverkusen coach Sami Hyypia has been unable to halt the team's slide after an embarrassing German Cup exit to second-division club Kaiserslautern and a 4-0 home defeat to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.

The Finn will need to adjust at Hannover on Saturday with midfielder Stefan Reinartz and Omer Toprak both suspended.

___

BAYERN SUPREME

The title is just a matter of time for Bayern, which is on a record 15-game winning run and unbeaten in a record 48 games.

"Of course we're going to be champions," Bayern midfielder Toni Kroos said.

Bayern's 20-point lead over Dortmund after 23 games is also a Bundesliga record. Kroos told Munich newspaper TZ that Bayern was effectively using the Bundesliga to stay sharp for the Champions League.

"We still want to take each game seriously so we don't get into any rut with a view to the Champions League. Indeed it's difficult to flip the switch again," Kroos said.

Wolfsburg is trying to recover after last Sunday's 6-2 rout at Hoffenheim. Midfielder Christian Traesch was sent off and Luiz Gustavo also picked up a suspension, ruling the Brazilian out against his former club.

"We're not going into the game to wait and see how good the opponent is," Wolfsburg striker Bas Dost said. "Why do you necessarily have to lose against Bayern Munich? We're Wolfsburg. We're playing at home. Bayern are strong, but we also have our qualities."