Race for Europe heats up
One of the most open races for a European place in years intensifies this weekend as the Bundesliga enters its last four games of the season.
Bayern Munich wrapped up the league title weeks ago while Dortmund secured their place in the Champions League last weekend.
Bayer Leverkusen need just two wins from their last four matches to join them, and then there is a lottery to join the top three in the Champions League, and to clinch the Bundesliga's two other places in Europe.
Just two points separate Schalke in fourth from Hamburg in eighth, and they both meet at the Arena AufSchalke on Sunday.
Any of five teams could yet join cup finalists Stuttgart in the Europa League, and the race begins in earnest this Saturday when Borussia Monchengladbach travel to Wolfsburg and Freiburg head to champions Bayern.
"We're right up there in the places for another qualification for Europe,'' said Gladbach striker Mike Hanke. "I will do everything I can so that our fans can travel throughout Europe again next season.''
Freiburg, who have never made qualifying for Europe one of their objectives this season, could climb to fourth with a win at Bayern, who have shown in recent weeks that their Champions League and DFB-Pokal commitments have not distracted them from honouring the end of the season.
Fifth-place Eintracht Frankfurt are then in action at local rivals Mainz on Sunday before Schalke's pivotal clash with Hamburg, who are beginning to dream of the Champions League themselves.
"If we win on Sunday, then of course we can think about that,'' said captain Rafael van der Vaart.
"But to do that, we have to play far better than we have lately.''
Behind the top eight, four sides are still lurking in hope of a collective collapse above them, but for the likes of Mainz, Hannover and Nurnberg, European football is unlikely before 2014.
"If we do qualify for Europe, then we can safely say we've done a great job,'' said Hannover's new director of sport, Dirk Dufner, who was unveiled today.
At the bottom of the table, Greuther Furth's relegation to the second division is looking inevitable, despite a 1-0 win at Nurnberg last weekend, but Hoffenheim and Augsburg are still looking to avoid the drop.
Augsburg currently occupy the relegation play-off berth, but they can move level on points with 15th-place Fortuna Dusseldorf with a win over Stuttgart.
Fortuna host Borussia Dortmund on Saturday evening while Werder Bremen, who are not safe yet either, have a tricky trip to Bayer Leverkusen.
Hoffenheim need to beat Nurnberg to keep their survival hopes alive while Furth will be looking for their first ever top-flight home victory against Hannover on Friday night.