Borussia Dortmund may be playing for little more than pride when they travel to reeling Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga on Sunday.
Dortmund’s bid for a third consecutive title took it bigg
est hit to date on Saturday, with Marcel Schmelzer’s red card eventually consigning Jurgen Klopp’s side to a 3-2 defeat against Wolfsburg to leave them 14 points behind runaway leaders Bayern Munich.
Referee Wolfgang Stark sent Schmelzer off for handling the ball on the goal-line when it appeared to make contact with his leg in the 35th minute and awarded a penalty, which Diego duly converted.
Stark later admitted to the error but the loss, paired with Bayern’s 2-0 win at Augsburg, could well be enough to spell the end of Dortmund’s title defence.
Their next opponents Hoffenheim are in dire straits, with relegation from the top flight, after four promotions since 2000, now a distinct reality.
Frank Kramer’s first game in charge did little to reverse the club’s fortunes as they were handed a fifth consecutive Bundesliga defeat at the hands of Hamburg and are now a worrying six points from safety.
Substitute Mario Gomez made further progress in his injury comeback with Bayern’s second goal and could start on Friday against eighth-placed Borussia Monchengladbach, who are on a four-game undefeated streak.
Stuttering Schalke were on the end of a Vedad Ibisevic hat-trick in a 3-1 defeat to Stuttgart, their fifth winless game in all competitions and have now dropped out of the top four.
They now face Freiburg at home on Saturday, while Wolfsburg take on Eintracht Frankfurt and Mainz host Stuttgart, who joined Schalke on 25 points courtesy of Ibisevic’s 11, 12 and 13th goals in all competitions this season.
Second-placed Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern’s closest challenger 11 points behind, saw their four-game winning streak in the Bundesliga end in defeat at Hannover and will look to rebound at home to Hamburg.
Bottom two Greuther Furth and Augsburg will be scrapping for their lives on Saturday, with both sides managing just one win in 16 matches.
Sitting on eight points apiece both can ill-afford to taste defeat, with the 10-point gap to safety looking increasingly difficult to overcome.
In the other Sunday fixture, Werder Bremen welcome Nuremberg to the Weserstadion. A day earlier, 15th-placed Fortuna Dusseldorf will look to preserve their six-point buffer above the relegation zone when they host mid-table Hannover.