BERLIN (Reuters) - The Bundesliga title race has been a virtual one-horse race since Bayern Munich took over top spot in late October and the defending champions are now just a matter of days away from a record-extending sixth consecutive league crown.
Bayern should make light work of relegation candidates Hamburg SV on Saturday but will need to wait at least until next week to mathematically seal a 28th German league title, their 27th since the introduction of the Bundesliga in 1963.
The Bavarians, who remain on track for a league, cup and Champions League treble, are a staggering 20 points clear at the top with nine games left in the campaign. Schalke 04, who are in second place on 43 points, are in action at Mainz 05 on Friday.
“Our players need to stay healthy and fit,” Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes said this week. “They have to be more motivated and more passionate, and they have to work for each other. If we can get that out of them, then we have a chance.”
Keeping them motivated, however, is not an easy task with the Bavarians poised to lift another title as early as March.
Former coach Pep Guardiola had a similar dominant season in 2013-14, also clinching the Bundesliga in March, but an inability to keep the players firing on all cylinders proved costly in their failed quest for a Champions League title.
Heynckes will not have Arjen Robben or James Rodriguez back against a Hamburg side who have not won in 12 matches, but the pair returned to training after recent injuries and will be a welcome addition to his attacking stocks in the coming weeks.
Bayern travel to Turkey next week for their Champions League Round of 16 second leg against Besiktas, another virtual formality following a 5-0 victory in the home encounter.
The side’s league title is as certain as the departure of Heynckes at the end of the season, however, with the veteran having come out of retirement to replace sacked Carlo Ancelotti in October and instantly turning Bayern’s season around.
“I came because Bayern were in a very difficult situation and in the short term could not sign a coach the club wanted,” the 72-year-old Heynckes said.
“I will do this until the end of the season and then they will have to see how to go on. That was my agreement. I am always in favour of clear facts.”
Schalke are desperate for a fourth straight win as they battle for a Champions League spot with Borussia Dortmund and Eintracht Frankfurt, who are both a point behind and face off each other on Sunday.
Bayer Leverkusen, who are a further point behind in fifth, host Borussia Moenchengladbach on Saturday.
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by John O'Brien