Struggling Dortmund face must-win Ruhr derby
Crisis-hit Borussia Dortmund will look to get their crumbling season back on the rails when they face arch rivals Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga on Saturday, as coach Peter Bosz fights to keep his job.
Elsewhere, Bayern Munich hope to consolidate their grip on top spot with a win at Borussia Moenchengladbach, while RB Leipzig host Werder Bremen. This weekend, though, all eyes will be on the Ruhr derby, as Dortmund host Schalke.
Dortmund have not won a league game since September, and have lost five of their last nine in all competitions, leaving their hopes of challenging for the title in tatters.
Having held a five-point lead at the top of the table earlier in the season, Dortmund are now nine points behind leaders Bayern, having slipped down to fifth place.
Among those to have overtaken them are local rivals Schalke, who have climbed up to second, adding even more spice to Saturday's derby.
While Dortmund have been the dominant force in the Ruhr in recent years, the German media are now cautiously predicting a shift in power towards Schalke.
In terms of both points and pride, the derby is a must-win game for Dortmund.
"We have to win on Saturday. We simply have to win," said Bosz after Dortmund's defeat by Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday.
Bosz is under immense pressure to turn things around, his job security dwindling with every defeat.
At the beginning of the week, Bild reported that the Dutchman had two games to save himself. Having been knocked out of the Champions League, Saturday's derby may be his last stand.
Captain Marcel Schmelzer, however, said that the players, not the coach, were responsible for Dortmund's calamitous defending and ineffective attack.
"We're completely behind Peter Bosz," said Schmelzer on Tuesday. "We as players are responsible. The coach prepares us for every opponent, but we are responsible for what happens on the pitch."
- Schalke surging -
While Dortmund have struggled, Schalke have quietly found form, surging up the standings on the back of a six-game unbeaten run.
Schalke's last defeat in a competitive match came back in September and now lead the chasing pack behind Bayern. Victory against Dortmund would see them move six points clear of their local rivals.
"Dortmund's current situation won't play a decisive role," goalkeeper Ralf Faehrmann told Kicker. "The derby is always like a cup game, a knockout game.
"It's a lot about how much heart you have, and we have heart."
Faehrmann and his team will be further heartened by the prospective return of midfield star Leon Goretzka. Sidelined for the last four weeks, Goretzka returned to training on Wednesday, and hopes to make his Bundesliga return in the derby.
Elsewhere, Bayern look to bounce back from a difficult week when they travel to Moenchengladbach.
Despite winning a ninth game in a row under Jupp Heynckes, Wednesday's 2-1 victory over Anderlecht was an unhappy occasion for Bayern, with both Arjen Robben and Thiago Alcantara picking up injuries.
The pair join Manuel Neuer, Thomas Muller and Franck Ribery on Bayern's star-studded injury list, leaving Heynckes with limited options against Gladbach. Sebastian Rudy and Corentin Tolisso are both expected to start on Saturday.
Fellow title contenders RB Leipzig, meanwhile, will be full of confidence after their 4-1 win in Monaco on Tuesday.
Six points behind Bayern, Leipzig will be looking to narrow the gap this weekend, though they too have injury problems, with Marcel Sabitzer having suffered a blow to the shoulder in midweek.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Hanover 96 v VfB Stuttgart (1930)
Borussia Dortmund v Schalke 04, RB Leipzig v Werder Bremen, SC Freiburg v Mainz, Eintracht Frankfurt v Bayer Leverkusen, Augsburg v Wolfsburg (all 1430), Borussia Moenchengladbach v Bayern Munich (1730)
Hamburg v Hoffenheim (1430), Cologne v Hertha Berlin (1700)