FC Bayern München will look to strengthen their grip on a record fourth consecutive Bundesliga title when they welcome FC Schalke 04 to the Allianz Arena on Saturday.
The Bavarians are undefeated in five Bundesliga games, winning each of the previous four, and sit at the top of the table with 75 points, seven clear of Borussia Dortmund in second. Schalke are 30 points away in seventh, though the Royal Blues know that they could end the day in fifth, provided they can seal a better result than either Borussia Mönchengladbach and 1.FSV Mainz do on Matchday 30.
Ribery 'nearly at 100 per cent'
The soonest Bayern could wrap up the title is on Matchday 32 against Gladbach, assuming Dortmund drop all of their points between now and then. Coach Pep Guardiola is calling for consistency as he seeks his place in history, though, saying "we only need three wins and a draw to achieve something that no team in Germany has ever managed."
Bayern are favourites to pick up one of those wins against a side whom they have not tasted defeat since March 2011. The hosts have a welcome selection headache on the wings, with Douglas Costa, Kingsley Coman and Arjen Robben joined by Franck Ribery, who made a goalscoring return to action in Matchday 28's 1-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt. "It was a special goal," said Ribery of his 70th Bundesliga strike. "You don't see something like that in every game. I've never scored a goal like I did today."
Bayern are now on a league-high 69 goals scored, and the former France winger is confident he can add to that impressive tally during the run-in. "I am nearly at 100 per cent." Ribery told bundesliga.com in an exclusive interview. "I have had more and more minutes, which has helped me a lot. Now it is time to to put together a run of games. Then automatically you recover what has been missing as a player."
Belhanda: 'we'll do everything we can'
Schalke did Bayern a favour last Sunday, twice coming from behind to deny Revierderby rivals - and Bayern's closest challengers - Dortmund the spoils in a 2-2 draw. Despite inconsistent form of one win, one draw and one loss in the last three games, Schalke winger Younes Belhanda is optimistic.
"A sportsman always seeks the maximum and we'll do everything we can to qualify for the Champions League," said the Morocco international. "That's a realistic goal. We know we're four points behind Hertha Berlin but I'm convinced we can do it. We want to bring something back from our visit to Bayern."
Curiously, Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has now made 156 Bundesliga appearances with both the Bayern and the Royal Blues, the club with whom he made his top-flight debut nearly ten years ago. Games against Die Knappen will always carry a special significance for the Gelsenkirchen-born custodian, but with Wednesday's 2-2 draw at SL Benfica in the UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg so fresh in the memory, Neuer and Co. are not getting ahead of themselves.
"You always want to win the Champions League," said Ribery. "But there are many clubs in the competition who rank among the favourites. However, we cannot forget that this would be a fourth Bundesliga title in a row. This is very important for us. It would be the first time a club has managed that. Even saying that out loud: a fourth German title - it would feel like a big achievement."