BERLIN (AP) — Borussia Dortmund will need to stop the seemingly unstoppable at Bayern Munich on Saturday to retain any realistic hopes of defending its Bundesliga title.
Dortmund is already 11 points behind the league leaders, who have won 12 games from 14 and lost only once, becoming the fastest side in 50 years of the Bundesliga to claim the unofficial title of "autumn champion."
"It'll be a difficult game, but we thought about it — we're still going there," Dortmund coach Juergen Klopp said Thursday. "We'll have to put everything into it but we've no other plans." Dortmund dropped to third after stumbling to a 1-1 draw with promoted Fortuna Duesseldorf on Tuesday, its fifth draw. Another setback on Saturday would surely end its hopes of a third consecutive title.
Dortmund defender Neven Subotic said his side always bounces back from a negative result. "That's one of our hallmarks," Subotic said. Bayern has lost its last two home league games to Dortmund, and is relishing the prospect of revenge.
Its 2-1 win over Dortmund in the German Supercup in August ended a run of five consecutive defeats to the league and cup champion. "Everyone is looking forward to the top game," Bayern captain Philipp Lahm said. "Especially us players."
Bayern kept its 10th clean sheet in the Bundesliga in Wednesday's hard-fought 2-0 win in Freiburg, where coach Jupp Heynckes rested midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger with an eye on Saturday's game. "Bastian has played in every game the last weeks," Heynckes said. "He's the player who delivers the big performances. So it was appropriate to give him a rest."
Arjen Robben is also working to be fit, but Bayern has such strength in depth that the Dutchman's absence with a torn muscle has barely been felt the last two weeks. Mario Gomez made his first start following his comeback from ankle surgery in August, giving Heynckes the luxury of three top-class forwards up front. Mario Mandzukic and Claudio Pizarro had already chipped in 18 goals across all competitions, including the Supercup.
Bayern is driven by the ignominy of two years without a title and it started the Bundesliga with eight wins in a row, with no goals conceded in its first five away games, while it has scored 40 in all and conceded only five — a record after 14 games.
Bayern's players are careful not to let the platitudes go to their heads. "The 'autumn championship' means nothing. You could see that last year," said Toni Kroos, referring to Bayern's second-place finish despite leading at the winter break.
Klopp was happy to take partial credit for Bayern's outstanding start to the season, aware that his side's successful brand of swashbuckling football was grudgingly admired in Munich over the previous two years.
However, as a consequence, Bayern is now "the most difficult opponent that you can face in the Bundesliga." Dortmund has question marks over the fitness of playmaker Mario Goetze, midfielder Ilkay Guendogan and defender Mats Hummels, who all missed the game against Duesseldorf.
Goetze is laboring with a bruised thigh and Guendogan has an ankle injury. Klopp said he could only decide on their participation at short notice. Hummels was more optimistic of playing against his former side after declaring his recovery from knee injury.
Sebastian Kehl should feature after making his return after a knee cap problem against Duesseldorf. Klopp took his captain off with about 20 minutes remaining to keep fresh for Saturday. He'll need all his players to be fresh.
"Bayern are favorites, they're playing in their own league," Klopp said. Elsewhere, Schalke hopes to overcome an alarming dip in form — just four points from five games — when it hosts Borussia Moenchengladbach on Saturday.
"We haven't played well in out last away games (three losses.) Thankfully, we're playing at home again this weekend," Schalke coach Huub Stevens said Thursday. Also Saturday, second-place Bayer Leverkusen hosts Nuremberg, Hannover visits Mainz, Augsburg plays Freiburg and Stuttgart visits second-from-last Greuther Fuerth.
Hoffenheim coach Markus Babbel needs a win at home against Werder Bremen on Sunday to boost his job security after the club's worst start to a Bundesliga campaign since securing promotion in 2008. Hoffenheim's 4-2 loss to Nuremberg on Wednesday left the side entrenched in the relegation playoff place.
"If you look at the goals conceded, of course you wonder what's going in the players' heads," Babbel said. "The guys have to understand that there's a hell of a lot at stake. It's not about me, about Markus Babbel."
Also Sunday, Wolfsburg hopes to get back to winning ways after its loss to Moenchengladbach when it hosts Hamburger SV, buoyant after beating Schalke for its first win and without the injured Rafael van der Vaart.
Duesseldorf opens the 15th round at home against Eintracht Frankfurt on Friday.