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Mar 29, 2007

Bundesliga: Bayern face leaders Schalke

BERLIN, March 29 (Reuters) - Any lingering hopes Bayern Munich have of retaining the Bundesliga title rest on winning at home to Schalke 04 on Saturday.

They will only manage that if they regain a touch of their old ruthlessness.

Bayern are nine points behind leaders Schalke after throwing away five points in their last two games - a ridiculous 1-1 draw at home to Werder Bremen, when they missed chance after chance to make certain of victory, and a 1-0 defeat at Eintracht Frankfurt.

While their prime target remains a place in the top three and a return to the Champions League, the club have still not quite given up hope of a third successive title and coach Ottmar Hitzfeld wants them to stop giving away presents.

"It's madness what we've managed to fritter away recently," Hitzfeld said in reference to the last two league games.

"Now we only have finals left. We need to get back in the top three as soon as possible. Schalke is a decisive game, but then again so are all the others. We urgently need those three points."

Hitzfeld should have the luxury of a full squad, provided his players return from international duty unscathed later on Thursday.

Schalke coach Mirko Slomka has no such luck, with Brazilian forward Lincoln still suspended and Uruguayan Gustavo Varela almost certain to miss out through injury.

The good news for Slomka was to see Kevin Kuranyi return to form in such spectacular fashion on Saturday, with the striker scoring both goals in Germany's 2-1 win over the Czech Republic in Prague.

If Bayern do beat Schalke, Werder Bremen will be able to take over top spot with a win away to Energie Cottbus in another of Saturday's games.

Werder are just three points behind Schalke and, with a much better goal difference, any kind of win would be enough for them.

Midfielder Tim Borowski, recovering from a knee ligament injury, returned to training this week but he will not be fit enough for a place in the squad for another couple of weeks.

Striker Miroslav Klose should be fit, though, after recovering from a minor knock.

VfB Stuttgart, who are four points further back in third place, are at home to Alemannia Aachen, also on Saturday.