Bundesliga title race back on as Bayern and Dortmund clash
BERLIN: Bayern Munich's first Bundesliga loss at home has provided a timely injection of excitement to the title race ahead of Saturday's match against Borussia Dortmund.
Bayern's 2-1 loss to Mainz on Wednesday, coupled with Dortmund's 2-0 win at Darmstadt, leaves five points between the rivals ahead of their showdown in Dortmund.
A second straight loss would leave Dortmund, the best second-place team after 24 rounds in the Bundesliga, two points behind Bayern with 10 games to play.
"If we had an eight-point lead going to Dortmund we would have been a bit more relaxed with a view to the table," Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said. "Now, of course, it's a game we certainly cannot lose. I hope we can be better on Saturday."
Also Saturday, Wolfsburg hosts Borussia Moenchengladbach, Schalke visits Cologne, and slumping Bayer Leverkusen visits Augsburg.
Here are some things to know ahead of this weekend's matches:
Jhon Cordoba's 86th-minute winner for Mainz ended Bayern's run of 11 straight home wins this season and spoiled former Bayern president Uli Hoeness' return to the stadium after his prison release following a sentence for tax evasion.
It also gives Dortmund a chance to breathe new life into the championship race.
"Now we're looking forward to the duel a tick more," Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel said. "We're in a position we would have wanted and the chance to get real close. The ball is in our court. We'll do all we can to reduce the gap further."
Tuchel managed to rest Marco Reus, Shinji Kagawa and Lukasz Piszczek against Darmstadt on Wednesday. Henrikh Mkhitaryan made only a substitute appearance.
"We deliberately gave fresh players a chance," Tuchel said. "I'm happy it worked out. It gives us a huge boost."
Dortmund's 57 points from 24 games would normally be enough to lead the table. But Bayern has been even more clinical and has only dropped points four times all season.
"It was quite hard all along to be just the best second-place team, especially when you win every game but the gap on Bayern just doesn't get smaller," Dortmund captain Mats Hummels said.
Dortmund's refusal to give up is testament to the character and quality of the team, competing in the Bundesliga, Europa League and German Cup, where a semifinal match against Hertha Berlin awaits.
"The Munich players know what's coming their way on Saturday. But we also know what to expect. We simply want to win," Hummels said. "It will be an awesome game. It's going to be on fire."
Bayern coach Pep Guardiola is bidding to lead the club to an unprecedented fourth straight Bundesliga title in his last season in charge but the task is proving harder than expected in the face of Dortmund's stubborn resistance.
"Dortmund this year is a completely different side to the side of the last three years," Guardiola said. "In November people said, Bayern are already champions. I always said we'd have to fight to the last second."
Bayern has league top-scorer Robert Lewandowski on its side following his switch between the clubs in 2014. The striker already has 23 goals and has formed a formidable partnership with Thomas Mueller (17 goals) this season.
"I know that we'll play much, much better on Saturday," Lewandowski said after Wednesday's loss. "We still have more points but it's an important game for the future."
Leverkusen's 4-1 loss at home against relegation-threatened Werder Bremen was the side's third consecutive league loss and it piles the pressure on coach Roger Schmidt.
Schmidt had to watch Wednesday's loss from the stands because of his ban for refusing to leave the field when he was sent off in the loss to Dortmund.
Leverkusen slipped to seventh, three points off a Europa League-qualification place.
"It hurts. It's a difficult situation for the whole club," said Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Voeller, who pointed to a host of injuries and too many mistakes as factors in the downfall.
"We have to lower our sights, but shouldn't fall into self-pity," Voeller said. "That would be the worst."