Sports

Bayern, Dortmund Enter Final Straight Of Title Battle

After returning to the top of the table, title hopefuls Bayern Munich turn their focus to their traditional whipping boys Werder Bremen on Saturday.

One point clear of Borussia Dortmund, Bayern can guarantee an historic 11th straight Bundesliga title by winning their final four matches.

If Thomas Tuchel’s side defeat Bremen, they can go four points clear of Dortmund, who host Wolfsburg a day later.

Bremen’s last win over Bayern in all competitions came 30 matches ago, a 5-2 drubbing in Munich when a 20-year-old Mesut Ozil was pulling the strings in midfield.

Since then, Bayern have won 26, with four draws, a period which has included 11 Bundesliga titles for Munich. In comparison, Bremen have not collected a single piece of silverware and spent one season in the second division.

To motivate the men in green even more, a win against Bayern would ensure another season in the top division, with 12th-placed Bremen still in mathematical danger of relegation.

Bremen’s task got even harder on Thursday, with news that their top scorer and Germany number nine Niclas Fuellkrug has failed to recover from a calf injury and will miss the clash.

Bremen manager Ole Werner said of Fuellkrug, who leads all Bundesliga scorers with 16 goals this season, “we’re trying to get him fit week by week and build him back up gently”.

Despite Bayern sitting top, the Bavarians are enduring a rough phase of their own — and unlike most recent Bundesliga seasons, have an opponent breathing down their necks with the end in sight.

Dortmund’s opponents on Sunday, Wolfsburg, also fall into the category of whipping boys, at least in their record against Dortmund.

Before Wolfsburg’s 2-0 win over Dortmund in November, the Wolves had lost 13 and drawn one of their past 14 matches against the side, a run going back to the 2015 German Cup final between the teams, which Wolfsburg won 3-1 in Kevin de Bruyne’s last match for the club.

Despite having cause to fear their visit to Dortmund, Wolfsburg, under former Bayern manager Niko Kovac, have lost just one of their past nine and are pushing for European football.

For their part, Bayern have won just three from eight since Tuchel took over in the dugout, a period in which they have been eliminated from the German Cup and the Champions League, while they struggled to a 2-0 win against Hertha last Sunday which was far less comfortable than it looked.

Bremen coach Werner, who masterminded a shock German Cup elimination of Bayern as manager of second-division Kiel in 2020-21, said that to win his side would need to take advantage of a faltering opponent.

“We need luck to smile on us and the opponent to be somewhat inefficient,” he said on Thursday, his 35th birthday.

“But even if that happens, there’s still a lot beyond that we have to do.

“And that’s what we’re focusing on.”

Seeking his 12th title, Bayern’s veteran attacking midfielder Thomas Mueller said he wanted his side to forget their poor April and focus.

“I’m calling for a goldfish mentality,” Mueller, 33, said in a newsletter sent out to fans.

“With a memory of just ten seconds, so that we automatically look ahead from now on.”

One to watch: Marvin Ducksch (Werder Bremen)
In-form Werder Bremen forward Marvin Ducksch will be key as the home side push to gain the scalp of Bayern Munich.

Alongside Germany striker Niclas Fuellkrug, Ducksch scored 60 percent of Bremen’s goals in the 2021-22 season, helping the side return to the top division and gaining the gap-toothed duo the nickname ‘the Ugly Ducklings’.

With Fuellkrug injured, Dortmund-born-and-raised Ducksch has scored four goals in Bremen’s past two matches to raise his league tally to 12 this season, after scoring just three in the first 18 matches of the campaign.

Key stats
1-5: RB Leipzig won 5-1 at Freiburg to boot the hosts out of the German Cup on Tuesday. The teams meet again at the same venue on Saturday, with Champions League qualification at stake.

1: One point separates Bayern from Dortmund with four games to go. Only twice in the past ten years has the gap between first and second at season’s end been fewer than ten points.

9: Despite beating Stuttgart 3-2 on Wednesday to reach the German Cup final, Frankfurt are winless in nine league games and have fallen to ninth.

Fixtures (all times 1330 GMT unless stated)

Friday

Bayer Leverkusen v Cologne, Mainz v Schalke (1830 GMT)

Saturday

Freiburg v RB Leipzig, Borussia Moenchengladbach v Bochum, Hoffenheim v Eintracht Frankfurt, Hertha Berlin v Stuttgart, Augsburg v Union Berlin, Werder Bremen v Bayern Munich (1630 GMT)

Sunday

Borussia Dortmund v Wolfsburg (1530 GMT)

AFP

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