As Bayern Munich fights Borussia Dortmund, Schalke aims to play the spoiler

DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) — Schalke, Leipzig and Cologne are the three teams standing between Bayern Munich and the Bundesliga title.

Beat all three and Bayern's season of upheaval ends with the trophy. Drop points and Borussia Dortmund can end the Bavarian club's decade-long record run of German championships.

Schalke is first up on Saturday and its priority is clear — avoid relegation. The lowly league position of 15th disguises strong recent form and what might be the grittiest, most determined squad in the league.

Schalke's 3-2 win over Mainz last week had perhaps the most dramatic finish of any Bundesliga game this season, even Bayern's stunning collapse in losing 3-1 to Mainz last month. Schalke twice let the lead slip away only to seal the win with a penalty in the 12th minute of stoppage time.

Schalke has been especially hard to beat in recent weeks. With a team packed with free signings and loans, only three of Schalke's last 14 games have been losses and the club has already dented Dortmund's title challenge in a dramatic 2-2 draw with its local rival in March.

Of course, there have been plenty of other twists and turns in the title race, not least Bayern's surprise decision to fire coach Julian Nagelsmann in March and appoint Thomas Tuchel to replace him. Serge Gnabry, on indifferent form for much of the season, has been key with the opening goal in Bayern's last two games.

Dortmund is a point behind Bayern but coming off one of the most dominant wins of any team in the Bundesliga this season.

After dropping into second place following a 1-1 draw against Bochum two weeks ago, Dortmund responded by hammering Wolfsburg 6-0. The win may have been far more impressive than Bayern's scrappy 2-1 victory over Werder Bremen the day before, but there's no difference in points won.

After Bayern plays Schalke, Dortmund takes on another team which relishes upsetting the Bundesliga's big teams. Borussia Moenchengladbach is an underwhelming 10th in a season which has seen it beat Bayern 3-2 in February and Dortmund 4-2 in November, but also suffer big losses to the likes of Werder Bremen and Hertha Berlin.

There's pride at stake against Dortmund in the “Borussia Derby,” too. A title for Dortmund would break a tie with Gladbach of five Bundesliga titles since the league's founding in 1963.

“Of course you’re motivated to play against Borussia Dortmund. They’re one of the best teams in the league, so you’re always going to be motivated to play this team, especially in their stadium with their fans,” Gladbach defender Joe Scally said last week. “It’s definitely going to be an exciting game. I think every time we play there’s a little grit in the game between players.”


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