Schalke must recover quickly for Werder clash
BERLIN, April 10 (Reuters) - Schalke 04 have no time to dwell on a Champions League defeat by Barcelona as their chances of a return to the competition next season may well rest on Saturday's Bundesliga match away to Werder Bremen.
Bayern Munich, who are at home to Borussia Dortmund on Sunday in a dress rehearsal for the Cup final, enjoy a nine-point lead with seven games left in the Bundesliga and seem all but certain of a 21st league title.
Behind them, there is an almighty scrap going on for the remaining two Champions League places and it is only going to get uglier this weekend, with four of the five teams involved in direct competition.
Schalke are in second place on 48 points as they prepare for the trip to Werder, who are a point behind them in fourth.
On Sunday, Bayer Leverkusen, who have drifted to sixth place on 44 points, host resurgent VfB Stuttgart, who are a point better off in fifth.
Third-placed Hamburg SV, who are ahead of Werder on goal difference, have a good chance to press their Champions League claims by winning at home to strugglers Duisburg on Saturday.
Playing Werder just three days after a 1-0 defeat sealed their fate in the Champions League is a tough assignment for Schalke but coach Mirko Slomka will take heart from the way his team put the Catalans under intense pressure in the first half.
'The result was a real shame but when you have Barcelona under so much pressure at their own ground you know you've played a good match,' Slomka told reporters.
Werder put a bad run behind them to win 2-1 against Hertha Berlin last weekend.
They expect to have Torsten Frings in midfield, despite the fact that he was forced to miss training this week with a toe injury. Tim Borowski is more doubtful with a thigh problem.
Hamburg could be strengthened against Duisburg by the return to the starting line-up of Juan Pablo Sorin, who managed a brief appearance as a substitute in last weekend's 1-0 defeat by Stuttgart, after a long absence with a knee injury.
Leverkusen have lost their last three league games and badly need a win against last season's champions Stuttgart to re-energise their bid for Europe.
Their hopes of a place in the semi-finals of this season's UEFA Cup were all but ended by a 4-1 defeat by Zenit St Petersburg in the home leg, meaning the club are already looking beyond Thursday's almost hopeless return in Russia.
'We'll rest a few players in Europe,' Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Voeller told reporters with the team in Russia. 'The Stuttgart game is enormously important.'
It is important for Stuttgart, too. They got right back in contention with their win over Hamburg, a result that stretched their unbeaten run to eight matches in the league.
Bayern, meanwhile, will hope to land a psychological blow when they play Dortmund, less than a week before they meet again in the Cup final at Berlin's Olympiastadion on April 19.