Schalke hope to transform Bayern's slump into a crisis

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The Independent Online

With most of the major European titles all but decided, attention has turned to the Bundesliga which is threatening to become more than a one-horse race.

Bayern Munich remain leaders but, having dropped five points in their past two games, they are now just half-a-dozen clear of Hamburg. Two further points behind are Schalke 04, the League's in-form club and tomorrow's visitors to the Allianz Arena.

Schalke have taken 20 points from 24 since the winter break and this week became the only German club left in European competition. "There is no reason to be nervous," said Felix Magath, the Bayern coach. "We can now concentrate on the Bundesliga and show how strong we are."

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the club's former striker, now chairman, was more circumspect. "Schalke are the team of the moment and we have to stop them to end this little crisis we're going through," he said. Bayern are without Sebastian Deisler but Schalke are missing their playmaker Lincoln and the striker Kevin Kuranyi.

In Spain, Barcelona defend their nine-point lead at Real Sociedad tonight without Thiago Motta (suspended) and Lionel Messi (injured). Tomorrow, Real Madrid, in second place, host Real Betis.

In Serie A, Juventus, like Barcelona and Chelsea, are on course to successfully defend their title having taken a 10-point lead with nine matches left. In the circumstances there will be as much attention, in the wake of Fifa's belated crackdown on racism, off the pitch as on it.

The obvious flashpoint is tomorrow's match between Internazionale and Lazio, both of whose fans have previously displayed racist behaviour. However, Roma's notorious supporters will also be watched. They host Messina, whose Ivorian international Marc Zoro had to be talked out of walking off when abused by Inter fans earlier this season.

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