Gelsenkirchen, Germany – Borussia Dortmund all but locked up the Bundesliga title Wednesday, leaving European places and relegation as the focus over the final four matches of the season.
Although Bayern Munich would not concede the title after Wednesday's 1-0 loss, Dortmund holds a six-point cushion and would need to collapse down the stretch to not repeat as champion.
Considering Dortmund is unbeaten in 24 straight league games, not even a visit to the Veltins-Arena on Saturday to face third-place Schalke seems daunting.
Dortmund defeated Bayern for the fourth straight time, with another clash set for next month in the Pokal Cup final.
Although Dortmund was not ready to start celebrating the title, Jurgen Klopp's side holds a nearly insurmountable lead.
"We are six points ahead of Bayern and we have to keep on playing like this," said Dortmund's Robert Lewandowski, who scored the lone goal against Bayern.
Bayern could be better served to forget about the title race, as the Champions League semifinals against Real Madrid are on the horizon. Bayern also holds an important six-point edge over Schalke for second place.
Schalke could reignite the title race with a win over Dortmund, should Bayern take care of business at home against Mainz. But with Real Madrid set to visit the Allianz Arena for the first leg Tuesday, Saturday may not be a priority.
"We mustn't lose the plot now, so our heads have to stay up," said Bayern goalie Manuel Neuer.
Schalke has a four-point cushion over struggling Monchengladbach for third and the final automatic Champions League berth, while Gladbach has a seven-point cushion for the Champions League qualification spot over Stuttgart.
Gladbach hosts relegation-threatened Cologne on Sunday, when the visitors will debut Frank Schaefer as coach. Stale Solbakken was fired Thursday with Cologne 16th in the standings and fighting for survival.
Stuttgart will try to continue its late run Friday when it hosts Werder Bremen in a battle for Europa League places. Stuttgart sits atop the group of Europa hopefuls on 46 points, but Bremen is just four points back in a group of five all within striking distance of the top six.
Bayer Leverkusen holds sixth place and the second and final Europa place, but only on goal difference over Hannover. Bayer hosts Hertha Berlin and Hannover visits Hamburg as both face relegation-threatened sides.
Wolfsburg and Hoffenheim are level on 40 points, and could still have a say in the Europa battle. Wolfsburg hosts relegation-threatened Augsburg on Saturday, and Hoffenheim visits Freiburg on Sunday.
Last-place Kaiserslautern has all but assured its relegation, as it's 10 from safety ahead of Saturday's home match against Nurnberg. Nurnberg is 12th, out of the European battle but also six points clear of the drop.