Dortmund boosted by Gotze deal
The best news for Borussia Dortmund came a few days before Friday's Bundesliga match against Stuttgart, when emerging midfield star Mario Goetze agreed to a contract extension.
Goetze's decision to stay in Dortmund until 2016 underlined Dortmund's ambition to become Bayern Munich's permanent rival and a second German powerhouse.
Dortmund is five points ahead of Bayern as it attempts to win back-to-back championships and is also investing in the future.
Before Goetze, Dortmund secured the transfer of Marco Reus from Borussia Moenchengladbach, another highly regarded midfielder. Bayern had expressed interest in both players.
In previous years, few German players were able to resist Bayern's call. Now, Dortmund seems to be just as fine an address.
''The entire package here fits,'' Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc said. ''It's fun to play here. That's why it made sense for Mario to stay here.''
Goetze, who has been with Dortmund since childhood, said ''family, coach, team and fans'' were the factors that made him decide to stay with the club. But his decision to stay and the arrival of Reus show that Dortmund may now be able to match salaries offered by Bayern, only a few years after the club barely escaped bankruptcy.
Dortmund coach Juergen Klopp has played down the status rivalry with Bayern.
''We don't have the feeling of being in competition with anyone,'' Klopp said. ''We are seeking to improve our situation and we have a lot of room to do that.''
Klopp is hoping the club will soon seal another deal - the extension of the contract of Japan midfielder Shinji Kagawa. Kagawa still has a season on his contract and has been in outstanding form in the past few weeks. Kagawa is also the team's second best scorer with 11 goals.
Dortmund is coming off a 6-1 win over Cologne and will be eager not to lose any points against Stuttgart, which is unbeaten in five matches. Stuttgart is one point away from securing a place in European competition next season.
Goetze has resumed training after a pubic bone inflammation that kept him sidelined since December but is unlikely to play against Stuttgart. Stuttgart will be without suspended striker Cacau, plus defender Khaled Boulahrouz and striker Shinji Okazaki, both injured.
Dortmund would like to keep its five-point cushion until it hosts Bayern on April 11 in what is likely to be the decisive match of the season.
Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has boldly predicted that ''if we win in Dortmund, we will win the championship.''
Bayern, fresh off a 2-0 win in Marseille in the Champions League, travels to Nuremberg on Saturday for the Bavarian derby. The team has been in fine form in recent weeks and has won its last three Bundesliga matches.
With seven matches remaining, Nuremberg is only four points away from the relegation zone and will be hoping at least for a draw.
Hamburg, another club rich in tradition, faces a crucial match at last-place Kaiserslautern. Kaiserslautern is six points behind Hertha Berlin and seven points behind Hamburg, which is currently sitting in the relegation playoff slot.
Kaiserslautern has not won in 17 matches and three points would revive its slim hopes of escaping relegation. A fifth straight loss could doom Hamburg, the only team never relegated since the founding of the Bundesliga in 1963.
Cologne travels to Augsburg in another key match in the struggle against relegation. Augsburg is equal on points with Hamburg and only one behind Cologne.
Also Saturday, Werder Bremen hosts Mainz, Freiburg visits Bayer Leverkusen and Hertha Berlin plays Wolfsburg. On Sunday, Hannover hosts Moenchengladbach and Schalke travels to Hoffenheim.