BERLIN (Reuters) - It was 10 years ago when Borussia Dortmund killed off Schalke 04’s Bundesliga title shot, beating them in their Ruhr valley derby on the penultimate matchday of the season.
The royal blues are now hoping they can pay their bitter local rivals back when they host them on Saturday, with Dortmund fighting to hold on to the third spot that leads to an automatic Champions League group spot next season.
Schalke on the other hand are recovering from a prolonged slump that has seen them in the lower half of the table for much of the campaign.
All this will matter little in Germany’s most hard-fought derby, said Schalke captain Benedikt Hoewedes.
“Other things decide the derby, unlike normal games. These are ambition, passion, engagement on the pitch,” he said.
“Our focus is to be the better team in every respect on the pitch on Saturday,” Hoewedes told reporters. “Our opponents are a good team and they deserve to be in third spot at the moment.”
Hoewedes knows full well the derby could not have come at a better time for his team, buoyed by their Europa League quarter-final qualification.
They have also won their last two league matches to rise to ninth spot and rekindle hopes of European football next season.
“In the weeks leading up to the international break we got a lot of positive results. We are in the Europa League last eight and also beat Augsburg and Mainz 05,” Hoewedes said. “So we are going into the derby with a lot of self-confidence.”
Dortmund, though, are even more successful, having won four of their last five Bundesliga games and also advancing to the Champions League last eight and the German Cup semi-finals.
The Bundesliga’s leading striker, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, has rediscovered his scoring form after a brief goal drought earlier this season, taking his tally to 23 league goals, including scoring the winner in Dortmund’s 1-0 win over Ingolstadt on March 19.
Thomas Tuchel’s team is on 46 points, one ahead of fourth-placed Hoffenheim and three behind RB Leipzig, who are second.
“The derby is for us the start of our defining weeks,” Dortmund sports director Michael Zorc said. “That’s why this game is even more important for us now.”
Dortmund face AS Monaco in the Champions League next month before taking on holders Bayern Munich in the German Cup last four.
The Bavarians, whose president Uli Hoeness is already accepting congratulations for a widely expected title win in the coming weeks, are 13 points clear at the top and host Augsburg.
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; editing by Mark Heinrich