Since losing its opening game of the season, Borussia Dortmund has built a seven-point lead atop the Bundesliga, fueled by an impressive six-game winning streak away from home.
Article continues below ...
That run will be tested when Dortmund visits Freiburg on Saturday. Freiburg is one of the biggest surprises in a season full of them and holds fourth place.
Bayer Leverkusen has the distinction of being the only team to have defeated Dortmund, and can boost its own hopes of finally winning the title if it beats defending champion Bayern Munich in another top game.
Eintracht Frankfurt, unbeaten in its last seven, looks to establish a more permanent presence in the top third of the table when it travels to Hoffenheim.
Mainz, which has lost three straight after opening the season with seven consecutive wins, visits Borussia Moenchengladbach hoping to end the slump.
Dortmund players and their coach Juergen Klopp have been careful to avoid talking about the title despite the club’s massive lead and impressive performances. Dortmund has the most wins, 10 from 12 games, has scored the most goals (29) and conceded the fewest (7).
"We haven’t set a target. We know how hard it will be to defend the lead," Dortmund’s defender Mats Hummels said ahead of the trip to Freiburg.
"With every success, our confidence grows. We want to win every game, we are not satisfied with a draw. We know that it’s going to be very difficult to keep winning points like this. But we also know how good we are," Hummels said. "The most important things is to always concentrate on the next game. I know this is a cliche, but it it’s true. If you start looking now at Round 20, that won’t lead to anything good."
Hummels is one of the four young Dortmund players who were called up to play for Germany in Wednesday’s 0-0 draw in Sweden, including 18-year-old Mario Goetze, touted as one of the country’s most promising players.
Freiburg lost two of its first three home games of the season but has since won three straight in its own stadium.
"We did not expect to be fourth after 12 matches," Freiburg coach Robin Dutt said. "It’s really extraordinary, even if all the results were close and we won seven games by one goal. But we also lost some close ones."
Dortmund has 31 points, Leverkusen and Mainz 24, Freiburg 21 and Eintracht 20, one more than Bayern.
"This is going to be our toughest game so far, Dortmund has an incredible attacking potential," Dutt said. "However, we have scored at least one goal in our last 16 games and if we don’t concede the probability is high that we’ll win. But we will attack, only we have to see how and when."
The last time Leverkusen beat Bayern was in August 2004 and has since failed to win in the Bundesliga in 11 games against the Bavarians.
"But at least we haven’t lost in the last three," said captain Simon Rolfes.
Leverkusen coach Jupp Heynckes doesn’t pay much attention to such statistics.
"We’d never won at St. Pauli, either, but we did last Saturday," he said.
Bayern has not lost in five games, winning three of them, but is already 12 points behind Dortmund.
"We really need wins now, nothing else," said midfielder Toni Kroos, who had a successful stint on loan to Leverkusen before returning to Bayern this season.
Leverkusen has been bolstered by the return of Rolfes, Renato Augusto and Gonzalo Castro form injuries, with defender Sami Hyypia also now available.
In other matches Saturday, Schalke hosts Werder Bremen in a showdown between two underachieving clubs, Hannover plays Hamburger SV and Nuremberg meets Kaiserslautern.
On Sunday, Stuttgart hosts bottom-place Cologne and Wolfsburg visits St. Pauli.