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Title run-in: All eyes on Leverkusen

Published: Saturday 6 April 2002, 0.02CET
The 1. Bundesliga title is Bayer 04 Leverkusen's for the taking if they can hold their nerve.
Published: Saturday 6 April 2002, 0.02CET

Title run-in: All eyes on Leverkusen

The 1. Bundesliga title is Bayer 04 Leverkusen's for the taking if they can hold their nerve.

With five rounds to go in the 1. Bundesliga, Bayer 04 Leverkusen are on the verge of their maiden championship, but BV Borussia Dortmund, FC Bayern München and FC Schalke 04 will run them close.

Toppmöller's treble chance
As they continue to fight for titles on three fronts, it has already been an incredible season for Klaus Toppmöller's side. They face Schalke in the final of the German Cup and Liverpool FC in a UEFA Champions League quarter-final, but taking the 1. Bundesliga title away from Bayern will doubtless be a major consideration for Leverkusen's experienced coach.

Pathway to glory
Having come through their last major league test - a match away at Toppmöller's old club, 1. FC Kaiserslautern, which they won 4-2 - with flying colours, the league calendar has been kind to Leverkusen and their five remaining games look relatively winnable.

Four-point lead
As they defend their four-point lead over second-placed Dortmund, they begin with a home game against all-but relegated 1. FC Köln this weekend. A trip to Hamburger SV next week may prove more testing. After that they have another home game against SV Werder Bremen, a trip to struggling 1. FC Nürnberg and a last-day home fixture against Hertha BSC Berlin.

Bremen the kingmakers
Whether that game turns out to be a Leverkusen title-winning party depends very much on the form of their three closest rivals, and more saliently, how mid-table Bremen perform. Leverkusen, Dortmund and Bayern all face the Weserstadion side at home, while fourth-placed Schalke must travel to Bremen on 14 April and secure a win to keep their slender title hopes alive. They will at least be aiming for third and a place in the Champions League qualifying competition.

Dortmund ambitions
Second-placed Dortmund will be reasonably confident of playing in Europe's premier club competition next season, but they would love to close the four-point gap that has opened up between them and Leverkusen to grab the title.

Difficult tie
Their final push starts this weekend at home to TSV 1860 München and continues next week with a fiendish looking tie away at one-time title contenders Kaiserslautern. If Matthias Sammer's side can survive that - and the additional demands of their UEFA Cup campaign - they can look forward to three reasonably straightforward games to end the season: a home tie against Köln, a trip to Hamburg and, of course, a last-day home game against Bremen.

Enormous tension
Three points behind Dortmund, the tension is enormous with third-placed Bayern level on points with fourth-placed Schalke and only one of the two sides guaranteed a Champions League place. Of course, Bayern could make up for the disappointment of failing to defend their German title by winning the European Champion Clubs' Cup and thus qualifying automatically for next year's competition, but coach Ottmar Hitzfeld would prefer to be certain of a place in next season's competition before the 15 May Hampden Park final.

Bayern seek salvation
Seven points adrift of Leverkusen, both Bayern and Schalke are looking at a minor miracle if they are to grab the title, but both will feel there is a good chance of getting 15 points from their last five games. Unbeaten in eight games, Bayern start their run-in at home against the ubiquitous Bremen before travelling to Nürnberg. Hertha are next up at the Olympiastadion followed by a trip to VfL Wolfsburg and a season finale at home to FC Hansa Rostock.

Schalke's challenge
Low-scoring Schalke, meanwhile, kick-off the final leg of their  Bundesliga journey at home against Hamburg this Saturday before taking on Bremen at the Weserstadion next weekend. That will be followed by a home tie against Nürnberg, a trip to Hertha and Wolfsburg at home on what could be a nail-biting final day.

Last updated: 16/11/12 10.10CET

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