Defending champions Borussia Dortmund have climbed to second place and all they can do now is hope for a run of blunders by runaway Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich.
That is probably wishful thinking with Bayern 12 points ahead, but Dortmund have been doing their part not to lose more ground. They beat Bayer 04 Leverkusen last weekend to seize second place and have scored 11 goals in three wins since the season resumed. Nine of those goals have come inside the first 15 minutes, a Bundesliga record.
Today, Juergen Klopp’s team host Hamburg SV, who ended Dortmund’s 31-match unbeaten run with a 3-2 victory in September last year.
Their matches produce the most goals on average in the Bundesliga and Hamburg will be seeking to withstand Dortmund’s early pressure.
Bayern host slumping Schalke 04 today.
Hamburg have won only once in their past seven games in Dortmund and that was in 2007 (3-0).
Dortmund have been distracted by German media reports that have linked top striker Robert Lewandowski with a move to Bayern.
Lewandowski, who has 13 goals this season and was a key factor in Dortmund’s consecutive titles and last season’s domestic double, has another year on his contract. The Poland international has delayed any decision on his future until the season is over.
Dortmund could be tempted to accept a rich offer for Lewandowski, rather than have to let him go for free after next season, but they denied a Sky Germany report that Lewandowski had been given permission to negotiate with other clubs.
“That’s completely fictitious,” sporting director Michael Zorc said.
Klopp said the speculation was “neither a problem for him [Lewandowski], nor for me.”
“What matters is where he is playing now and that’s us,” Klopp said.
Dortmund’s Kevin Grosskreutz and Marcel Schmelzer are out injured, while Mario Goetze, Marco Reus, Lukasz Piszczek and goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller are also nursing various injuries.
Defender Neven Subotic will be back in the squad after recovering from a calf injury.
Bayern have refused to comment on what it has described as rumors.
If the club is indeed luring the striker, they could be seeking to weaken their toughest rivals in the Bundesliga, but they could also be creating another problem in their already star-studded lineup.
Germany international striker Mario Gomez has been supplanted by Mario Mandzukic, who tops the league with 14 goals. Gomez has been unable to return to the starting lineup after coming back from ankle surgery in November last year. Veteran Claudio Pizarro is also a backup.
“We have three top-class strikers,” coach Jupp Heynckes said.
In addition, winger Arjen Robben also appears deeply unhappy with his limited role in recent games.
Heynckes has been leaving the Dutchman on the bench, only sending him in as a late substitute. Robben stormed out of the dressing room into the team bus only minutes after last weekend’s 3-0 win over FSV Mainz 05.
Henyckes has a deep squad, but has made few changes in recent matches, though midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger has an ankle injury and could miss the match.
However, the problems of Dortmund and Bayern pale in comparison to the fate of Schalke, who have won only one of their past seven matches.
New coach Jens Keller has not gained the confidence of Schalke’s fans.
The club started out seeking to gain a UEFA Champions League place for the second straight season, but they have fallen from second to sixth and lost 2-1 last weekend to last-placed SpVgg Greuther Furth at home.
“We can forget the Champions League now,” sporting director Horst Heldt said.
Schalke will be missing several players, including striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who has an eye injury.
Leverkusen are two points behind Dortmund in third and will seek to avoid falling further behind at Borussia Moenchengladbach, who have not lost in their past seven Bundesliga matches.
Eintracht Frankfurt are coming off a 2-0 win in Hamburg behind goals from newly signed striker Srdjan Lakic and a victory at home against Nuremberg would keep them on course for a place in Champions League qualifying, an amazing achievement for the promoted club.
VfB Stuttgart will be seeking to end a four-match losing streak when they host Werder Bremen.
In other matches today, Hannover 96 host TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and VfL Wolfsburg visit Greuther Furth.
Tomorrow, Augsburg host Mainz and Fortuna Duesseldorf travel to SC Freiburg.