Borussia Dortmund’s CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke has warned Bayern Munich that his team is ready to pounce in the Bundesliga title race should Pep Guardiola’s leaders slip up at Stuttgart on Saturday.
With only six games left, the Bavarian giants are five points clear of second-placed Dortmund but face a tricky tie at Stuttgart in the south Germany derby.
Guardiola’s side has shown signs of fatigue in recent weeks.
They laboured to a 1-0 win over Benfica in the Champions League on Tuesday on the back of a workmanlike 1-0 victory over relegation-threatened Eintracht Frankfurt in the league.
“Bayern have to go to Stuttgart and that won’t be a friendly game,” said Watzke, indulging in some mind games certain to annoy Bayern’s bosses.
“Bayern need to make sure they give nothing more away this season, otherwise we will certainly be there (to take advantage).”
Likewise, Dortmund must keep winning to stand any chance of a first league title since 2012 and they are at arch-rivals Schalke on Sunday in the Ruhr Valley derby.
Bayern are bidding to come the first German club to win four straight Bundesliga titles, having won the league at a canter for the last three seasons.
But Watzke is pleased that Dortmund still have even a remote chance of breaking the Bavarians’ monopoly.
“At this stage of the season in recent years, it’s all been decided. At least now we are forcing Bayern into keep producing top performances,” he added, with Dortmund seeking to keep the pressure up until the final league weekend on May 14.
In Stuttgart, Bayern will be without Dutch winger Arjen Robben, who has not played since mid-March because of a groin injury.
“I am working on my return, but there is no schedule,” he told magazine Kicker.
And France winger Kingsley Coman struggled in Wednesday’s training session after a leg knock.
Stuttgart will be without Ivory Coast midfielder Serey Die, who will miss the rest of the season with a torn groin.
Guardiola is set to rotate his squad to keep his stars fresh for Wednesday’s Champions League quarterfinal, second leg, at Benfica as the Bavarians take their slender 1-0 lead to Portugal.
After he sat out Thursday’s 1-1 draw at home to Liverpool with a foot injury, Dortmund’s Ilkay Gundogan is doubtful for Sunday’s derby against Schalke.
Roman Buerki is set to return as goalkeeper having sat out their European matches.
Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel will want to rest some of his stars before the Europa League quarter-final return leg at Anfield next Thursday.
After a fresh shoulder injury, Schalke will be without midfielder Leon Goretzka, leaving Pierre-Emile Hoejbjerg to take his place for the Royal Blues.
On Friday, third-placed Hertha Berlin have a good chance of securing a confidence-boosting win over Hanover 96 to ease the pain of last Sunday’s thumping 5-0 defeat at Borussia Moenchengladbach.
Fresh from their stunning 2-0 win over Real Madrid at home on Tuesday in the Champions League, Wolfsburg host Mainz on Saturday night looking to bring their European form to Germany’s top flight.
Dieter Hecking’s Wolfsburg are winless in their last three league matches, but will want to rest their top performers ahead of next Tuesday’s crucial return leg at the Bernebau.
But sixth placed Mainz are no push-overs and they are the only team to have won at Bayern’s Allianz Arena this season when they poached a 2-1 victory last month.
Fixtures (all times 1330 GMT unless stated)
Hertha Berlin v Hanover 96
Hamburg v Darmstadt, VfB Stuttgart v Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen v Augsburg, E. Frankfurt v Hoffenheim, Ingolstadt v Borussia Moenchengladbach, Wolfsburg v Mainz (1630)
Schalke v Dortmund, Cologne v Bayer Leverkusen (1530)