BERLIN (Reuters) - There has never been a bigger gap in the standings between leaders Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 ahead of a Ruhr valley derby in the first half of a Bundesliga season.
But Schalke, last season’s runners-up who are languishing in 12th place, know the 19-point gap will count for nothing when they host Dortmund on Saturday in Germany’s ‘mother of all derbies’.
The Royal Blues also hope they can stretch their unbeaten run at home to five years against their in-form rivals, despite their own lacklustre shape.
Victory over Dortmund would instantly ease most of the pressure on embattled coach Domenico Tedesco, with Schalke having won just two of their last six league games.
“We know that the derby is something special. If we give it everything we got then we can win the derby,” said Schalke midfielder Alessandro Schoepf.
“Dortmund have yet to lose (in the Bundesliga) this season so it’s time. We won at home last season so why should we not do it again?”
Dortmund have so far played a sensational season, having gone unbeaten in the 13 league matches, making new coach Lucien Favre the most successful newcomer in Bundesliga history.
They have also scored a staggering 37 goals in 13 Bundesliga games, with top scorer Paco Alcacer and captain Marco Reus netting a combined 19 times, five more than the entire Schalke haul so far, for the best attack in the league.
Dortmund have also won eight out of their last nine league matches as they raced seven points clear at the top of the table, with teenager Jadon Sancho, voted player of the month in October, quickly becoming the revelation of the season.
“Our opponents are a top team this season, who are especially strong in attack,” Schoepf told his club’s website. “It is remarkable what Reus, Alcacer and Sancho, to name a few, are doing week in week out.”
“But we will not stay back. We want to play our game. Every team has weaknesses and we need to recognise them and exploit them,” said the Austrian.
With some 80,000 fans expected, Schalke will not get a bigger stage than Saturday’s to heave their season back on track.
Champions Bayern Munich, struggling this season in fourth place nine points off Dortmund, take on Nuremberg in their own Bavarian derby.
Second-placed Borussia Moenchengladbach host strugglers VfB Stuttgart.
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty