The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
With Bayern Munich absent, Leverkusen and Dortmund seek to gain some ground
FRANKFURT - Bundesliga leader Bayern Munich is in Morocco, seeking to win the world club title, so Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund have an opportunity to make up some ground in the last round before the winter break.
No matter what, Bayern will spend the break atop the standings, seven points ahead of Leverkusen and 12 points ahead of Dortmund. Bayern kicks off the second half of the season on Jan. 24 against Borussia Moenchengladbach.
Leverkusen travels to Werder Bremen and Dortmund hosts Hertha Berlin. Here are five things to know about the Bundesliga weekend:
LEWANDOWSKI vs. RAMOS: Dortmund's home game against Hertha features the league's top two strikers, Robert Lewandowski with 11 goals and Adrian Ramos with 10. While Lewandowski is set to leave Dortmund at the end of the season, Ramos looks likely to stay in Berlin beyond 2015. The Colombia striker is negotiating to extend his contract and says "everything's been good so far. I can well imagine staying beyond 2015." Hertha is enjoying a fine season after promotion, sitting seventh in the standings.
Dortmund also announced the signing of teenage Japanese midfielder Mitsuru Maruoka on loan from Cerezo Osaka until June 2015, with a longer option. Maruoka is expected to play for Dortmund's reserves at the start.
LEVERKUSEN AND DE BRUYNE: Leverkusen wants to sign forward Kevin de Bruyne, who scored 10 goals for Werder Bremen before returning to Chelsea. Kicker magazine says Leverkusen's representatives met with the Belgium forward and his agent this week. Other Bundelsiga clubs, including Wolfsburg, are also reportedly interested in signing de Bruyne.
Werder has won only one of its last 10 games and had dropped dangerously close to the relegation zone. The northern German club is also winless in its last 10 games against Leverkusen, with six defeats. Werder also has conceded three or more goals in each of its five matches. Leverkusen is coming off an unexpected 1-0 loss at home to Eintracht Frankfurt.
HAMBURG'S FUTURE: With the January transfer window approaching, many Bundesliga clubs are looking for players to sign. Hamburg is seeking to retain the ones it already has. Pierre-Michel Lasogga, a striker on loan from Hertha Berlin, has nine goals and Hamburg wants to keep him, although Berlin has said it wants him back. Hamburg sports director Oliver Kreuzer said he spoke with Lasogga and his mother, the player's agent, "and I think it was positive."
Midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu was another talent Hamburg wants to keep at least until 2018. Kreuzer said the club would let him go only for an unspecified high transfer fee. "For him, the threshold of pain is very high," Kreuzer said.
Hamburg hosts Mainz hoping to snap a two-match losing run. Goalkeeper Rene Adler is still out injured but captain Rafael van der Vaart is expected to return.
NUREMBERG'S FRUSTRATION: Nuremberg has still not won this season, 16 matches into the schedule. It led 3-0 last weekend in Hannover, only to see the home team equalize with a flurry of late goals, including one that came from a glaring offside. "Such games can either make or break a team and I get the feeling that we are now really determined," sports director Martin Bader said. Nuremberg hosts Schalke, which is 17 points behind Bayern in sixth place.
Schalke has been very inconsistent, but it has managed to advance to the last 16 in the Champions League and is hoping to make sure of playing there next season as well. Coach Jens Keller has been given assurances that he will stay in charge and he can look to the return of injured players after the break.
FRANKFURT STOPS SLIDE: With its unexpected 1-0 win in Leverkusen, Eintracht Frankfurt stopped its 10-match winless run. Frankfurt kicks off the final round on Friday at home against Augsburg and wants to put together a winning run. "You can be behind for a long time but you can also get back quite quickly too," coach Armin Veh said.
Augsburg has been surprisingly solid this season and sits eighth, nine points above Frankfurt. Halil Altintop, whose previous clubs included Frankfurt, has been one of Augsburg's most important players. "I am really having a great time and team spirit is written in capital letters here," Altintop said.
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