Euro crunch for Schalke and Leverkusen
The Bundesliga title has gone to Bayern Munich, but the race for the third Champions League place remains wide open - and Schalke host Leverkusen in a match that could go a long way towards deciding who wins it.
In recent weeks, Schalke have cut the gap between Leverkusen and themselves to four points from 11, but know defeat at the Veltins-Arena could dent their chances of qualifying for Europe at all next season.
"If a team is under pressure, it is only Schalke," Leverkusen captain Simon Rolfes told kicker. "If we win the match, end of story. The other way round? Certainly not. But they cannot overtake us on that day, and that is a psychological advantage for us."
At his pre-match press conference, Leverkusen boss Sami Hyypia said he was not interested in looking over his shoulder and stressed that his team would not play for a draw.
"We travel to Schalke to take all three points," he said. "If, ahead of the season, somebody had said we would hold a four-point lead over them with only six games left to play, he'd most likely have been declared mad."
Leverkusen are without suspended defenders Stefan Reinartz and Sebastian Boensich, while midfielder Gonazlo Castro is a major doubt with a groin injury.
Schalke will have to do without injured Peruvian winger Jefferson Farfan and also have worries over the fitness of United States international Jermaine Jones.
"We don't know if he can make it," Schalke boss Jens Keller said. He said centre-back Christoph Metzelder and former Leverkusen midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta were other major doubts, while Germany international Roman Neustadter is missing through suspension.
"We will have 11 competitive and willing players. I have no worry about that," Keller told Bild. "We want to defend our position and, if possible, attack third spot. By beating Leverkusen, we'd be on their tail. Bayer would not have a good feeling on their journey home."
Schalke general manager Horst Heldt said: "It is a very, very important game. But it is not a final."