In the next three weeks, Felix Magath will find out if Schalke’s hopes of winning the German league title for the first time in 51 years have a realistic chance of succeeding.
Magath has a proven record as a championship winner – he won the Bundesliga twice with Bayern Munich and last season led dark horse Wolfsburg to its first title. He then moved to Schalke, a club long on tradition but short on titles, saddled by debt and disheartened by a poor season and an eighth-place finish that kept it out of lucrative European competition.
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Bayer Leverkusen leads the standings on goal difference over Hamburger SV, with both teams on 21 points. Schalke is third with 19 points. If Leverkusen falters at home to Borussia Dortmund on Friday and Schalke can get past Hamburg on Sunday, Magath will be back in familiar territory at the top of the table.
With Schalke hosting Leverkusen in the next round before traveling to Bayern Munich in two weeks, it has the chance to beat its closest rivals in successive weeks to put itself in a commanding position.
But Magath doesn’t see his side as a championship contender – yet.
“No matter how others see us, we’re not going to change how we see ourselves, even if we beat Hamburg,” Magath said. “Hamburg is the favorite but we have the potential to beat every top team at home, even without being a top team ourselves.
“I’d rather think of long-term goals than celebrate short-term successes. There’s still a lot to do.”
Hamburg is hurting after losing several top players to injuries, including strikers Paolo Guerrero and Mladen Petric.
“We’ve been able to defend our position despite so many problems,” Hamburg captain David Jarolim said. “If we can hold on until the winter break, we can achieve a lot this season.
“We’ve been playing well and can be confident about the upcoming games.”
Leverkusen, coming off a 0-0 draw with Hamburg, will be looking to defend its league lead against an in-form Dortmund side that has won its last two games.
Defending champion Wolfsburg – in fifth with 16 points – visits bottom-place Hertha Berlin on Saturday, while fourth-place Werder Bremen travels to Bochum on Sunday.
Sixth-place Bayern Munich seeks to rebound from a 2-1 Champions League loss at Bordeaux when it hosts Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday.
Also Saturday, it’s: Hoffenheim vs. FC Nuremberg; Hannover vs. Stuttgart; Borussia Moenchengladbach vs. FC Cologne; and Mainz vs. Freiburg.